Amid the growing phenomenon of Palestinian children perpetrating terrorism against Israelis, politician and columnist Nihad Abu Ghosh, a member of the PLO and a senior official in the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), came out against this phenomenon in his column in the daily Al-Quds, based in East Jerusalem. Titled "Our Children Were Born to Live and Our People Was Born to Be Free," the column deviates from the dominant discourse in the Palestinian press, calling on Palestinian society to take a firm and "courageous" stance against the participation of children in the armed struggle against Israel. Children, says Abu Ghosh, belong with their families and in school, and they should enjoy their childhood until they grow up and become mature enough to decide how to participate in the struggle against Israel. Abu Ghosh also condemns the Palestinian factions which, he says, compete with each other in lavishing praise on child terrorists, and urges them to send their adult fighters to carry out operations, instead of encouraging children to do so. He adds that "no sane man wants his children to wage war in his stead" or to see them killed, even for the sake of the homeland or some other lofty goal. "It is inconceivable that death should be our goal and the goal of our young people or children, who were born to live and [look towards] to the future," he concludes, and calls on Palestinian society to protect the children and spread awareness of this issue.
Nihad Abu Ghosh (image: alwasattoday.com)
In response to Abu Ghosh's column, Dr. 'Issam Shawer, a columnist for the Hamas daily Filastin, accused him of distorting the facts and directing false accusations at the Palestinian factions
, which are the backbone of the resistance against Israel. These factions, says Shawer, issue statements welcoming any operation against Israel, even before they discover the identity and age of the assailant – but they do not send children to carry out operations in their stead and do not expect them to do so. He adds that the resistance of the Palestinian factions is no longer carried out with stones and firebombs, but rather with missiles, bombs, drones and the like.
The following are translated excerpts from Abu Ghosh's column and from Shawer's response.
Nihad Abu Ghosh: We Must Take A Stance Against Children's Participation In The Armed Struggle; A Sane Person Does Not Want His Children To Wage War And Be Killed In His Stead
Nihad Abu Ghosh wrote: "Amid the recent consecutive waves of resistance operations – which were a natural response to the crimes of the occupation – there were some emotional operations carried out in the occupied territories by children younger than 18, that is, below the age of mental maturity and of legal responsibility, according to all the national and international laws. This in itself gives rise to some political, legal and moral questions that require us Palestinians – factions, individuals and institutions – to take a clear, courageous and firm stance against this phenomenon.
"There is no need to repeat the known fact that the crimes of the occupation do not distinguish between adults and children or between men and women. Every Palestinian is a legitimate target for the murderous uncontrolled weapons of the soldiers and settlers, who are supported and encouraged by the fascist [Israeli] government and are legitimized by an array of laws of racist discrimination. Resistance is the most noble form of political struggle known to the peoples [of the world], and it is usually the weapon of the weak and the defeated against the violence of the strong oppressor. International charters and laws support it, and it has become a lever of undeniable [effectiveness] in restoring our national Palestinian identity… But resistance needs good guidance, for it is a means rather than an end in itself…
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"We must be clear and firm regarding the phenomenon of children participating in [resistance] operations, and say unequivocally: Children under the age of legal responsibility must not be part of the armed struggle. Children belong with their families and in school. They have a right to enjoy their childhood until they can take a mature and conscious decision how to participate in their people's struggle. It is patently clear that children who take part in resistance are victims of the occupation, which pushed them and other youngsters to choose this way of responding. Children are sensitive and emotional beings, and seeing the daily crimes of the occupation agitates them to the maximal degree, causing them to take up anything that comes to hand, be it a pair of scissors or a screw driver, without training or planning. They pick up the closest and most available means, and thus become victims of the field executions that the enemy calls 'neutralizing' [the attacker].
"Our near and distant past is full of tales of heroism and martyrdom involving youngsters and children, of which we are proud, such as 'the RPG children' and 'the children of the stones' [in the First Intifada], but everything has its [appropriate] time and circumstances. Our people's factions and wise fighters never hid behind children or watched them carrying out operations only to boast about it later.
"It is puzzling that the national factions compete with one another in lavishing praise on operations [carried out by] children and in describing them as a natural phenomenon and a response to the crimes of the occupation. In fact, they even call for more such victims, without emphasizing that these children are actually victims of the Israeli murder machine. As long as they are convinced of that the armed struggle [is warranted], the factions should enlist their members and send them out on these operations, instead of taking pride in the actions of children…
"No sane person wants his children to wage war in his stead or to see them killed, even for the sake of the homeland or some noble ideal… We do not want to see our children or anyone else's children sacrificing their lives and becoming martyrs. Our beliefs regarding the destiny of the martyrs and the reward they receive from Allah in the afterlife does not detract from this simple truth, nor do any of the other things [we say] to comfort ourselves. We often insist on telling the mother of the martyr to be strong, bear her suffering with fortitude and [even] ululate in joy [at the death of her child] – and she may in fact do so, motivated by indescribable emotions, including a sense of oneness with the child she has lost. But, [despite this], the flame of her sorrow, pain and loss will never be extinguished as long as she lives. It is inconceivable that death should be our goal and the goal of our young people and children, who were born to live and [look towards] the future. Let us protect them like the apple of our eye by spreading awareness and a culture that shields our children and their childhood, so that they can live in a free country…"
Hamas-Affiliated Columnist: The Resistance Factions Welcome Any Attack On The Occupation, But They Do Not Encourage Children To Carry Out Attacks
The day after Abu Ghosh's column was published, Dr. 'Issam Shawer, a columnist for Hamas' daily Al-Risalah, published a response in which he accused Abu Ghosh of distorting the facts. The Palestinian factions, he said, indeed welcome any action against the occupation, no matter who carried it out, but they do not send children to fight in their stead. He wrote: "The Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupier has reached a state that the enemy never imagined even in his worst nightmares. We now see that the enemy, who [once] refused to tolerate even children throwing stones, is trying to get used to living [in a new reality], whereby the resistance factions use various kinds of weapons and are able to reach every part of occupied Palestine. The Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip has managed to impose new equations of struggle that make things even harder and more complicated for the occupier... [a situation] that turns [the resistance] into an almost existential threat to the occupation. This is a reality that the occupation state and the international community acknowledge.
"Amid this situation and these incontestable truths, some among us are trying to distort the facts without any evidence or proof. An example is what was done by a political analyst who used to be a senior PLO official. He used a stabbing carried out by a Palestinian boy as an opportunity to attack the resistance factions, especially those in the Gaza Strip, and make all kinds of accusations against them, claiming that they have given up their weapons and their resistance and are waiting for the children of Palestine to act [in their stead].
"The Palestinian factions do not send children to carry out operations and do not expect them to do so, nor do the Palestinian families. These are rare cases that happen because some children are affected by the brutality of the barbaric actions carried out by the occupation army against [people] around them – whether against their family or against the Palestinian society [in general] – which are shown on the media. The statements [issued by] the factions welcoming these operations do not encourage the children to carry them out. These welcoming statements are published after every operation against the occupation, even before the identity and age of the attacker, or other personal details about him, become known.
"The backbone of the Palestinian resistance is the factions in Gaza, whose leadership is known, and who follow calculated plans and decisions. They no longer wage resistance with stones and firebombs, but fight with missile launchers, mortars, Kornet [anti-tank] missies and anti-aircraft missiles. They use drones and other gear and means, some of them known and some unknown to us and to others. This kind of resistance cannot be carried out on an everyday basis or in response to very crime of the Israeli enemy, even if it is a big crime in the eyes of the Palestinian public, the political analysts or even some of the hasty leaders of the [resistance] factions…"
 The reference is to children in Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps who were sent to fire RPG rockets at the Israeli forces during the 1982 Lebanon war.
 Al-Quds (Jerusalem), February 19, 2023.
 The reference is to an attempted stabbing carried out on February 13, 2023 at the Shu'afat checkpoint in northern Jerusalem by a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammad Basel Zilbani.
 Filastin (Gaza), February 20, 2023.