By Sue Fishkoff
j. the Jewish weekly of Northern California 

Kids playing (way too realistically) with guns


Summer is here and kids are getting ready to go off to camp, where they’ll swim, play games, do arts and crafts and, probably, complain about the food. Or, if they’re in the Gaza Strip, they’ll smear green paint on their faces, brandish mock rifles and pretend to kill Israeli soldiers.

That’s right, folks, it’s time once again for summer camp Hamas-style, where, in addition to fun and games, youngsters receive paramilitary training and ideological indoctrination that, according to one organizer, will prepare them to fight for the liberation of Palestine.

Last summer, according to the Israeli foreign ministry, 100,000 Palestinian children attended such camps, most run by Hamas but a few organized by Islamic Jihad and their ilk. The media was filled with scary pictures of young boys wearing camouflage and toting machine guns as explosions go off in the desert behind them (to see some of the photos, visit

I’m looking at one of those photos right now, shot by Agence France-Presse in July 2012, and I’m examining my feelings. Horror. Sadness. Anger.

But what is it exactly that upsets me? After all, every kid who’s gone to summer camp has “played” color war, or knows someone who has. When I was a kid I’d play “army,” a half-baked game thought up by my next-door neighbor that, so far as I recall, involved the two of us chasing each other around the block. And let’s not get started on violent video games.

All kids fight, for real or in play. Why should we be shocked?

What’s different, in my opinion, is, first, the playacting in these Gaza camps is way too realistic, and it’s directed against actual, living “enemies”—against me, as an Israeli citizen, and by extension against Jews in general.

But the worst part is not that me and mine are the target of these war games, but that adults are organizing the entire operation. And that takes it out of the realm of childish posturing and muscle flexing, making it something much more insidious.

Israeli journalist Oded Even-Or wrote about this last week for But his point was different: How can Israel (or the Jewish community) complain about paramilitary training for Palestinian kids when, he wrote, they are just playing “the same games Israeli kids have been playing since before the State of Israel was born?”

Even-Or recalled when he and his fifth-grade class were taken to the Caesaria beach and instructed to pretend they were pre-state Irgun fighters attempting to smuggle illegal Jewish immigrants into the country while fighting British soldiers. Even-Or and his classmates “had to crawl under wires, run for cover under fire and engage in several other ‘combat drills,’” he wrote.

Did that make them “would-be terrorists,” the charge lobbed against today’s young campers in Gaza?

Well, one could argue that a one-day historical re-enactment is very different from weeks of simulated combat against a contemporary “enemy.” Fair enough.

Then Even-Or points to a more recent example: an article published by his own news outlet last June that described, in very positive terms, a “tourist attraction” in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank where American visitors, under the watchful eyes of former Israeli commandos, get to pretend-shoot Palestinian terrorists.

Picking up realistic-looking M16 rifles, the visitors shoot clay bullets at a row of smiling “terrorists,” while their instructors shout at them to “take him out.” The reporter interviewed several families who said they had “heard on the news about shootings in the West Bank” and wanted to “see it in person.”

One father, a 40-year-old banker from Miami, brought his 5-year-old daughter who “burst into tears” when she entered the shooting range. A half-hour later, the reporter wrote, “she is holding a gun and shooting clay bullets like a pro,” while her dad “proudly watches.”

Like a pro? This is a good thing?

I look at her picture, and I put it beside one of a Gazan kid learning to shoot Israeli soldiers. And I think, shouldn’t these children be learning to play soccer or climbing trees? What kind of parent sends their kids to such places? And what kind of society permits it?

Sue Fishkoff is the editor of j., and can be reached at


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