January 5, 2016 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1216

Palestinian Journalists, Intellectuals Speak Out Against Children Participating In Terrorist Attacks And Against Targeting Civilians

January 5, 2016 | By C. Jacob*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1216


The Palestinian public and leadership widely support the ongoing violent events which PA officials have dubbed a "popular uprising" and Hamas calls an "intifada."

The PA and Fatah do not condemn stabbing or even shooting attacks, and its officials and media outlets justify the current wave of terrorism, lionize its participants, commemorate attackers who were "martyred" and praise perpetrators who survived the attack. They also accuse Israel of executing Palestinians, especially children, and claim that it still intends to change the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.[1]

Despite the atmosphere of incitement and accusations against Israel by the PA, several Palestinian intellectuals and journalist, including Hafez Al-Barghouti, the former editor of the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida and a Fatah Revolutionary Council member, have criticized the attacks, and especially those carried out by children. They expressed outrage at the participation of teenagers, including very young ones, in stabbing attacks against Israelis, claiming that it was not the place of children, and that their childhood and lives must be protected. They accused the leadership of Palestinian organizations of "trading in the blood of children" and sending them to die by encouraging them to carry out such attacks and praising and glorifying those who do. Some intellectuals called to instill in the public and the youth values of life, study and work, rather than values of seeking death.

Some writers also urged the Palestinians to avoid harming Israeli civilians, for both moral and practical reasons. On the moral level, they claimed that Palestinians must preserve their humanity; on the practical level, they argued that harming civilians, especially at the present time, harms the Palestinian struggle and casues it to be associated with the global terrorism led by ISIS. Some even called to cease stabbing attacks due to their lack of effectiveness and their heavy cost in Palestinian lives, and called to find alternative modes of struggle.

The following are excerpts from the articles:

Criticism Of The Participation Of Children In Stabbing Attacks: We Must Protect Their Childhood

Some writers spoke out against encouraging children to carry out attacks, calling on the public to protect their childhood and not send them to their deaths. On November 11, 2015, Hafez Al-Barghouti wrote: "From the start we said: Do not send your children into the fray, even though the occupation does not distinguish between children, youth, and adults... We must not bring our children into the cycle of violence... Even the Prophet Muhammad refused to bring children into battle... We should keep our children away from the demonstrations in the areas of conflict and clashes so they can experience their childhood. Even if it is a difficult [childhood], it is better than the childhood of the injured, the prisoner, or the martyr who is [completely] bereft of a childhood."[2]

In another article titled "In Defense Of Childhood" Al-Barghouti added: "Do not cheer [the stabbing children] and do not take pride [in them], since this has become a game of blood. Those who scream and roar, congratulating a child for pulling out a knife or a schoolgirl for taking up a pair of scissors, should see them as though they were their own children. Would they agree to throw their son into this furnace?"[3]

Journalist Mohammed Daraghmeh echoed the claim that the attacks were pointless in an article in Sawt Al-Nisa, the women's and social affairs supplement of the PA daily Al-Ayyam. Addressing the youth, he wrote: "Do not march towards death. Palestine needs you alive. You may rage, rebel, and take to the streets and checkpoints. You can block roads, shout, and make your voices heard to the deaf world. If it does not hear you today, it will hear you tomorrow. But do not die. The homeland needs you alive. [True,] it will be a mark of shame for Palestinians, young and old, if they remain silent in the face of the occupation, or remain busy with their own affairs and forget the homeland. However, there must not be only two options: silence or madness. We were silent for a long time and today we are swept up in the madness of destructive revenge. A youth pushed [to the limit] by the occupation may lose all capacity for thought, hide a knife, and take to the street to seek a symbol of the occupation and slaughter it. This has happened and will [continue to] happen, but it remains on the level of individual acts. The youths of Palestine must not all rush to their deaths [en masse] in this fashion. The small number of soldiers killed by stabbing attacks cannot be compared to the large number of Palestinian youths who lay soaking in their own blood at the feet of armed and trained soldiers.

"When the second intifada ended, we stood up as one and said: We made mistakes here and there; sometimes we went mad and sometimes we lost our [humane] feelings. No one had the courage during the intifada to say what was said at its painful end, lest they be harmed. But today we must face ourselves with courage and call things what they are... Indeed, anyone who takes up a knife and attacks a soldier is committing suicide, because the well-trained and armed soldiers will kill him. Every day several Palestinian youths are killed, yet we remain silent or even praise their deaths. We should stand as one and say 'enough'...

"To the Palestinian youths who have lost hope and seek revenge, I say what I say to my children: Take to the streets, go and protest. This is only one round of the conflict, which will not bring about the end of the conflict, but rather a new phase that is necessary for each and every of us... Palestine is an international problem that will be not solved in a round of knife of suicide attacks, or protests and rallies, but only when the world understands that it must intervene and draw borders as it did in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and North and South Korea. How much longer [must we wait]? Until the day comes.

"We must protect the lives of our children and continue the national struggle... If someone asks whether the previous nonviolent struggle against the occupations [the first intifada] brought about the end of the occupation, I will ask in response: Did the armed military struggle accomplish this? The Palestinian problem is not local, but rather an international problem that the world created and only [the world] can solve, but it will not do so if we [either] remain silent or commit suicide."[4]

Jihad Harb, a political scientist and a columnist for the Amad website, which is run by former PA minister Hassan 'Asfour, called in an article to stop the stabbing attacks, since they have played themselves out. He expressed hope that the Palestinian leadership would heed him and protect the lives of the youths "who are pointlessly executed at checkpoints." According to him, "most of those who carried out such operations or attempted them, or those killed due to claims that they tried to stab, were younger than 18 and could not deal with well-protected, armed, and trained soldiers. The stabbing operations have given Israel a pretext to kill our young men and women at checkpoints... The call for the [Palestinian] leadership and organizations to work to stop the stabbing attacks - even though [this leadership and these organizations] did not join those who lead this activity [i.e., the stabbings] - comes to protect the lives of our sons and daughters, whom Palestine needs in order [to build] a better future. This is not a call for a tahdiyya [calm], but rather a call to redirect this activity and develop the methods and means of the popular resistance."[5]

Criticizing The Culture Of Death

Journalist Mahmoud Fanoun wrote in favor of the culture of struggle, victory, and life in place of the culture of pointless death: "You hear children younger than 10 wishing to die a martyr's death... [A child] wishes to die, rather than to live, struggle, fight the enemy, kill him and defeat him. He wants to offer himself up to die at the enemy's hands. Why? Why does he not wish to terrorize the enemy and persist until the enemy leaves Palestine?... When a youth dies wielding a knife - what is the wisdom of this? There is a battle. On one side is the enemy, its army and its settlers, and on the other side is a boy. The battle ends one-sidedly: the enemy kills the Palestinian fighter before he even launches his hidden attack. In this battle the enemy wins and defeats the youth before he even did anything. Had the youth planned this [attack], he could have attacked and survived or [only] sustained injury. These are the rules of war... They say that life is [but] a corridor to the hereafter and therefore it is all right if life is short, since at its end is Paradise and the black-eyed [virgins]. This [belief] does not anger the enemies; on the contrary, they are happy to have defeated the youths, and their soldiers are rewarded, while we experience tragedy in light of the loss of young life and the youths' chagrin at their failure in the battles against the soldiers.

"This is also true of [Arafat's] slogan: 'Millions of martyrs marching on Jerusalem.' Why martyrs? Are we in a swordfight where we are forced to crawl to Jerusalem while the enemy is armed with large quantities of firearms? Why not set out to conquer and win, and then we can arrive safe and sound, even if some of us are killed? These are the rules of war. This culture [of death] does not affect the enemy; on the contrary, the enemy is glad of it... We set out to die and we will indeed die, while the enemy continues to occupy the land from end to end. We achieve martyrdom, if anything at all, while the enemy achieves the homeland, instead of us defeating him and remaining alive."[6]

Criticizing Leaders Of Palestinian Organizations: They Encourage Children To Carry Out Attacks But Do Not Send Their Own Children

The writers also criticized the leaders of the Palestinian organizations, accusing them of encouraging children to carry out attacks while not sending their own children into the fray or carrying out attacks themselves. Hafez Al-Barghouti wrote: "Some organizations and clans that are morally bankrupt go too far with their slogans, acting as though [every] child is a massive army. They make statements, chant [slogans] and call to escalate this action, but in practice they [only] trade in the blood of others and place themselves as the patrons of our blood, while never spilling a single drop of their own."[7]

Hafez Al-Barghouti (Source:, November 23, 2015)

One day earlier, Al-Barghouti criticized Hamas, which encourages children to participate in violent action: "We must not encourage children to get hit by bullets on the streets. True, we cannot calm raging spirits and boiling blood, but public awareness against [stabbing attacks by children] can create an atmosphere that reduces the pointless motivation [to march] towards the occupation's traps and snares that are present everywhere."[8]

Harsher criticism was voided by Palestinian journalist 'Amid Dwaikat of Voice of Love Radio, who wrote: "Let those who cause children to reach this state show themselves. Let them show us their own children. Do not call to continue [attacks] while you sit [safely] in your offices. God knows what resort your children are vacationing in. Children are not robots that you activate by the push of a button and can shut off as you wish. The blood of these children is on your conscience."[9]

Moahmmed Daraghmeh called on the political leadership of the organizations to speak up: "[The leadership] must channel the surging national rage into protest against the occupation. Protest without death; protest that is all life, revolution, and hope for change."[10]

Journalist Ihab Al-Jariri of Radio 24 FM stated similarly: "Those who write theories on Facebook, behind a computer monitor, and support the idea of children carrying out stabbing attacks and encourage them to do so, should first do it themselves and only then ask the young ones to follow in their footsteps."[11]

Criticism was leveled not only at those who encourage children to carry out attacks and praise them, but also at those who remain silent. Emad Al-Asfar from the Media Development Center at Birzeit University addressed Palestinian organization leaders on his Facebook page, saying: "Send your own men [to attack] with knives and stop welcoming and exalting the actions of children, since you are inciting them to die in vain. Even worse than you are those who do not speak out against this death, especially media personalities and intellectuals.[12]


Schools Should Educate Children To Love Life Instead Of Death

Some writers argued that schools should teach children to love life and explain to them that resistance does not necessarily mean choosing a meaningless death. Hafez Al-Barghouti wrote: "We must set aside [special] classes for young children in schools and teach them how to avoid this slippery slope... Better for the enemy to kill us than for us to encourage our children to march towards this end in vain... Death is not a goal in itself, so do not praise it, so that we do not die in vain. It is our duty to educate the younger generation and instill in it the love of life, study and diligence."[13]

Al-Ayyam columnist Muhannad 'Abd Al-Hamid wrote of the need "to set aside programs in schools and the media to strengthen positive values such as freedom and liberation from the occupation, as well as moral and humane excellence, and justice... There is a need to question social and cultural norms, the political and media discourse, and everything else that might encourage children to embark on violent action that contradicts the qualities of childhood and its natural development." He also called to adopt a national policy that encourages children to participate in nonviolent protests such as candlelight marches, art shows, and music festivals "far from clashes and violence."[14]

Blogger Muhammad Abu 'Allan, who writes about Israeli media, called on Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam "to send a message to schoolchildren that they have a long educational path to complete before [they can contemplate] facing a certain death... Resistance to the occupation does not necessarily mean dying in vain..."[15]

Mahmoud Fanoun wrote: "Why do we educate [children] to die instead of educating [them] to struggle, plan and train for combat?... Why do we educate youths and young children to die, to the point that a youth does not only want people to say to his mother, 'O, mother of the martyr, ululate in joy,'[16] but even dreams of this."[17]

Calls To Keep The Struggle Clean, Avoid Harming Civilians

The involvement of children in perpetrating attacks also prompted a debate about the moral dimensions of the struggle, such as the legitimacy of exposing Palestinian children to danger and also of harming Israeli civilians - an issue not often debated in PA media. Some writers called to avoid targeting Israeli civilians in order to ensure the moral character of the struggle and/or in order to keep the world from labeling the Palestinian struggle as terrorism and as part of the global  jihad lead by ISIS.

One of the rare articles calling to avoid harming civilians was published by columnist Hamada Fara'na in the PA daily Al-Ayyam. Responding to an article by journalist Ari Shavit in the Israeli daily Haaretz that dealt with Jewish terror against Palestinians, Fara'na expressed his hope that a Palestinian intellectual would display the same courage and oppose all Palestinian attacks on civilians on the grounds that they are terrorism. He wrote: "The Palestinian struggle against Israel's Jewish-Zionist imperialist enterprise is legitimate, just, and even necessary in order to ensure that Israel pays a steep price for its occupation... However, the Palestinian struggle must be clean of any suspicion of terrorism and must not target Israel's Jewish civilians. It must be a humane and just struggle against the imperialist enterprise that is occupying Palestinian land, and [it must be] the complete opposite of the Islamic terrorism of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, whether [their terrorism] against Muslims or [their terrorism] against Christians and Jews... We must understand the importance of the moral dimension of the Palestinian people's struggle, so that the world feels solidarity and identifies with the Palestinian cause and with the struggle against Israel's imperialism. We must be brave and condemn every act of terrorism, whether it is perpetrated by Palestinians or Arabs, by Muslims or Christians."[18]     

Hafez Al-Barghouti wrote similarly: "We must avoid inhuman acts in order to preserve [our] humanity..."[19] In another article he wrote: "It is true that the acts of the lone attackers are not directed [by anyone] and cannot be restrained by the push of a button, but public awareness must nevertheless be directed towards a controlled and moral struggle."[20]

We Must Keep The Struggle Clean To Avoid Being Likened To ISIS

Journalist Mohammed Daraghmeh also called to avoid harming civilians, for practical reasons. He wrote in Sawt Al-Nisaa, Al-Ayyam's women's and social affairs supplement: "The world will resolve the Palestinian problem only if we maintain the humane character of our national struggle. The world will not accept stabbing and vehicular attacks against civilians, just as it opposed suicide attacks. [If we perpetrate such acts] the world, which we are trying to enlist to our cause, will condemn us and distance itself from us. We will lose its [support] and, at the end of the road, we will find ourselves alone, just as [we found ourselves] at the end of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Our children take up kitchen knives [against the enemy] out of [raw] emotion. We must stand up and say to them: You are throwing away your lives and ours. Palestine needs you alive."[21]

Barghouti, in one of his articles, also focused on the issue of the possible comparison with ISIS. He wrote that the Palestinians should not act so soon after the Paris attacks, since this will only harm them: "We have an obligation to keep our sons and daughters from following in the footsteps of the fanatics and carrying out useless attacks, since the enemies, in their media and diplomacy, associate these attacks with the terror attacks carried out by the terrorist organizations in Paris and elsewhere, in order to present us as inhuman... After the September [11] attacks in New York, [then-Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon [adopted] the term 'terrorism,' which was applied to those attacks, and applied it to our national struggle. Back then I warned against this, and called to keep a low profile until the storm [of the attack in] New York passed. But the term 'Palestinian terrorism' [nevertheless] became common and [was used] instead of the term 'terrorism.' Today, after the Paris attacks, we must keep a low profile so as to avoid being associated with the crimes of ISIS and its ilk. The world is slumbering and will not soon awaken, and therefore we must learn our lesson and wait... The struggle must wait for the right circumstances, and for men [rather than boys]... We must not lose control, and must preserve the essence of the Palestinian cause..."[22]


* C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.




[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 11, 2015.

[3] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 24, 2015.

[4] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 29, 2015.

[5], November 5, 2015.

[6], November 7, 2015.

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 24, 2015.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 25, 2015.

[9], November 24, 2015.

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 29, 2015.

[11], November 24, 2015.

[12], November 24, 2015;, November 23, 2015.

[13] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 24, 2015.

[14] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 8, 2015.

[15], November 24, 2015.

[16] Quote from a poem by Palestinian poet Mais Shalash.

[17], November 7, 2015.

[18] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 12, 2015.

[19] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 11, 2015.

[20] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 25, 2015.

[21] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 29, 2015.

[22] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 24, 2015.


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