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Gaza cadet camps; between consent, criticism and anger

January 24, 2014 at 10:15 am

Cadet training at schools launched by the Ministry of Education in the Gaza Strip has faced much scrutiny, questioning and criticism by the Palestinian government in the West Bank. The government in Gaza defended it as a project, while the government in the West Bank has severely criticized it as has the Israeli occupation.

Hamas were happy with the training and its outcomes which it said were positive, despite the high costs added to its already exhausted budget as a consequence of the Israeli siege, as this training aims at achieving more than one goal.

The Islamic movement depends on the upcoming generation to carry out its clearly adopted project of resistance. This project is largely dependent on the youth and it feels that this generation’s ideology is being targeted. Nurturing this generation is Hamas’ primary goal.

The Ministry of Education in Gaza wanted to revive an old idea deeply rooted in Islamic and Arabic history, which is caring for the youth through social containment programs; this is what Hamas has been emulating, and this is its second goal.

Hamas believes that the youth generation has two examples of political streams; the first is one which adopts resistance and confronts the occupation. This stream holds firmly to Palestinian traditions and customs. Thousands of youth are already involved in this stream, including members of the Izzidin Al-Qassam Brigades.

The second stream is one which adopts the fashionable vision and imitates the West. This stream is mainly concerned with living standards, even if they are low. The followers of this stream do not affiliate to any of the resistance movements and form the opposition to Hamas policies in Gaza. Sometimes, they severely criticize Hamas through social media, which is massively common among Palestinian youth.

The thirds goal was to find a criterion by which Palestinian youths could choose and attend camps if they wanted.

The Ministry of Education also fulfilled a fourth goal, which was to find a field within which it could attract Palestinian youths to, and take them away from, the effects of internal political division. Schools were the fields through which it attracted both sides of the youth equation.

While attendance was optional, the training camps attracted very large numbers of youth surprising the Ministry of Education. Youths from various political backgrounds were brought together of their own volition thwarting Fatah’s adversarial allegations against the camps.

Contrary to all expectations, the Ministry of Education, through the training camps, found a growing generation prepared to quickly rid themselves of the effects of internal political division. While the training camps had an apparent military identity, they reinforced the spirit of partnership and dialogue among the youths.

Government approval of the outcomes of the project, which cost Hamas highly, was faced with great anger by Fatah for several reasons. Firstly, they asserted the view that education was being hijacked and militarized by Hamas. However, this is not true because it recognizes that Hamas is taking education towards a containment policy, which endangers Fatah’s project.

Secondly, Fatah sees that Hamas is attracting Gaza’s youth to its side. Fatah has the right to think this way. But Hamas is taking a route that Fatah itself took in the early 1990s and spent millions of dollars on similar scout and youth camps.

Fatah camps included normalization activities that brought Palestinian and Israeli youths together. This aroused severe popular and factional criticism. It is still facing the same scale of criticism in the West Bank.

The arguments of Fatah and the Palestinian government in the West Bank against the training camps in Gaza have completely failed. Attending the camps was optional and they were successful to a degree that surpassed Hamas’ expectations.

Criticism by Fatah and the Palestinian government in Ramallah against the training camps are in line with their criticism of everything carried out by the government in Gaza. They consider all activities carried out by the government in Gaza an enforcement of the division and a threat to Fatah. The rival movement sees that the growing generation in Gaza is slowly being integrated into Hamas programs. However, it suffers from a lack of youth leadership able to offer an alternative to Hamas activities.

Fatah criticism of the cadet projects have kept up with Israeli anger over them and considered them a way in which Hamas is exploiting schools to carry out military activities in the Gaza Strip. They have concentrated on the military side of the camps, despite this being their least emphasized aspect, in order to recruit an international lobby against Gaza that guarantees the maintenance of the siege and justifies the repeated Israeli targeting of educational facilities during the previous two wars.

The Israeli occupation criticized these camps because it recognizes the danger of reviving the national spirit of the growing Palestinian generation which is being fed on resistance. However, this generation has opened its eyes to the developments of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the wars on Gaza. These incidents have left a black picture of the occupation and its crimes in their minds.

Despite all criticism, the Education ministry in Gaza seems even more persistent in organizing similar camps next year because it believes that previous camps were successful in preventing the political polarization of the new generation. It has also succeeded in dealing with certain bad behaviors which would have been difficult to confront within a different context.

Such training camps, with all of their social and interactive programs, reflect the development of Hamas’ abilities to deal with several social issues. It reflects its transition from a policy of deterrence and confrontation to one of containment; successful cadet camps have proved the success of soft policies over those of deterrence and confrontation.

The author is Editor in chief of Felesteen Newspaper, Gaza.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.