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by Justus Reid Weiner and Michael Sussman


The emphasis that has been placed on facilitating political dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians often disregards the mindset and aspirations of the populations embroiled in the conflict. Thus, during the Oslo period, the parties struggled to negotiate one signed agreement after another, while little effort was devoted to fully implementing these agreements in daily life. History has shown that a peace agreement can only successfully end a conflict if it enjoys underlying, wide-ranging support from its respective populations. In particular, past efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace have failed to deal with, or even acknowledge, the deep-seated psychological mechanisms of partisanship that are endemic in Palestinian culture.[1]

The Next Generation is Full of Anger

According to Palestinian psychiatrist Dr. Shafiq Massalha, the next generation of Palestinians will be a very murderous population full of anger and hatred.[2] He reached this conclusion after his study found that over half the Palestinian population aged 6 to 11 dream of becoming suicide bombers.[3] Those familiar with the social, cultural, and educational Palestinian milieu would not be surprised. Since the beginning of the first intifada in 1987, Palestinian children have been mobilized by their leaders to throw stones, create diversions, fire guns, hurl Molotov cocktails, and, most recently, commit suicide attacks targeting Israeli civilians.[4] What is motivating Palestinian children to become involved in violence and terrorism?

The Palestinian Ministry of Information and Culture produced a short made-for-TV movie about the poster boy for the second intifada, Muhammed al-Dura. One segment contains the following message: "Sweet is the fragrance of the martyrs, how sweet is the fragrance of the earth, its thirst quenched by the gush of blood flowing from the youthful body."[5] In another segment, al-Dura calls on young viewers to follow him into paradise. His glorified life in heaven, including beautiful women, beaches and waterfalls, adds to the incentive placed in the minds of young viewers. The actor walks through an amusement park and states, "I am not waving goodbye, I am waving to tell you to follow in my footsteps."[6] The clip ends with a song whose lyrics read: "How pleasant is the smell of martyrs, how pleasant the smell of land, the land enriched by the blood, the blood pouring out of a fresh body."[7]

Family Values: Becoming a Martyr

The idea of the shahid (martyr) has become so ingrained in Palestinian culture that it is a major theme in formal education, family values, religious practices, television broadcasting, posters, pre-suicide eulogies, trading cards, family celebrations, movies, music, games, and summer camps.[8] A study done by psychiatrist and Middle Eastern expert Dr. Daphne Burdman has correlated this dysfunctional form of childrearing with a personality disorder known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder - considered to be an antecedent to terrorist behavior.[9] According to Dr. Burdman, as a result of these "strongly-held cultural belief systems and variety of deep-seated psychological mechanisms... there will be considerable difficulty reversing it [their propensity towards terrorism]."[10]

The power of this campaign of incitement can be measured by the upsurge in the number of child deaths. PA television reported that during a 25-day period in the beginning of the second intifada, 46 percent of the total Palestinian deaths in the conflict were under the age of 18.[11] Concomitantly, Dr. Fouad Moughrabi found that during the year 2000 (including the first three months of the second intifada), 105 children were killed. Of these, approximately 62 percent died in "active participation."[12] Astonishingly, nearly a quarter of the Palestinian children wounded in 2000 were under the age of twelve.[13]

According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were 125 suicide bombers between 30 September 2000 and 31 August 2002. The ages of 51 of the suicide bombers were also identified, six of whom were under the age of 18. Four were members of the Al-Aqsa Brigade and two were members of Islamic Jihad.[14]

The theme of martyrdom is not limited to the earlier example on PA television. Much cultural programming broadcast on PA TV features elements glorifying violence. It is commonplace for "television broadcasts [to] include songs and dances accompanied by photographs of violence, all emphasizing how noble it is to die for the sake of Allah."[15] An episode of a Palestinian educational program was aired in which young boys with raised arms chanted, "we are ready with our guns; revolution until victory."[16] On the same show, an 8-year-old boy announced to an audience of children: "I come here to say that we will throw them to the quiet sea. Occupiers, your day is near, then we will settle our account. We will settle our claims with stones and bullets."[17] When children are exposed to this manipulative programming, their perception of death is heavily influenced by glamorous portrayals of martyrdom.

Public Education and Terror

Intoxicated by the challenge of being recognized as heroes, tempted by martyrdom, and lacking the emotional maturity to calculate the dangers they are assuming, these young people are easily motivated to place themselves in harm's way.

One of the most powerful means of incitement of young Palestinians is through the public schools. The school curriculum includes incitement against Israel and the exaltation of martyrdom. Incidents have been reported of teachers commending their young students for wanting to "tear [Zionists'] bodies into little pieces and cause them more pain than they will ever know."[18] Posters in university classrooms proudly remind the world that the Palestinian cause is armed with "human bombs."[19]

On October 11, 2004, the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, reported that children were aiding gunmen in active combat zones. "In spite of family members' warnings, groups of children are spreading around the [Gaza] camp, both to pass on information to the resistance and to bring them water."[20] Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a Jerusalem-based organization that monitors incitement within Palestinian culture, has linked this behavior to the school curriculum. According to PMW, the grade school curriculum connects Islamic teachings to national aspirations, drawing analogies to Islamic history. One sixth-grade textbook, entitled History of the Arabs and Muslims, reads: "Asma, Abu Bakr's daughter, was my age when she played a role in supplying provisions and water and passing information about [the] Kuraish [tribe] to the Prophet and his companion during their secret hegira [withdrawal] from Mecca to Medina. What role can I play in order to support the national resistance movement against the occupier and colonialist?"[21]

In the Palestinian educational system, textbooks that venerate hatred of Israel and Jews, and glorify death in jihad, are also a major source of incitement. A seventh grade textbook states: "The Muslim sacrifices himself for his belief, and wages jihad for Allah. He is not swayed, for he knows that his death as a shahid on the field of battle is preferable to death in his bed."[22] A tenth-grade reading text claims, "Martyred jihad fighters are the most honored people, after the prophets."[23] Even before the violence that broke out in 2000, a New York Times reporter observed Palestinian summer campers staging the kidnapping of Israeli leaders, stripping and assembling Kalashnikov assault rifles, and training to stage an ambush. The young participants were given camouflage uniforms and imitation guns. They paraded in military formation and practiced infiltration and crawling on their stomachs through obstacles.[24] Since the onset of the second intifada, summer camps have been established with the sole purpose of teaching children "how to kill Israelis."[25] At these "military training camps," children as young as 7 are being taught how to fight.[26] At one camp run by the Popular Resistance Committees, a Sky News reporter witnessed a training session with a militant posing as a Jewish settler. The "settler" was pulled from his vehicle by gunmen and told that if this were a real situation he would be killed.[27]

Religious Incitement

Palestinian religious leaders regularly praise jihad in sermons, some of which are aired on Palestinian public television. In one sermon, Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, a member of the Palestinian Authority-appointed Fatwa Council and former acting Rector of the Islamic University in Gaza, called for Palestinians to "have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Americans who are like them - and those that stand by them."[28] Another cleric, Dr. Muhammed Ibrahim Madi, declared on PA-controlled television, "Shame upon he who does not educate his children [in] the education of jihad. Blessings upon he who dons a vest of explosives on himself or on his children and goes into the midst of the Jews."[29]

Over a thousand studies have linked media violence with aggressive behavior in children.[30] These studies have concluded that children under age 8 are the most vulnerable to being affected by media violence because of their inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. The messages that are portrayed through the media appear real to them.[31] According to Palestinian human rights campaigner Bassem Eid, violence in the media causes an increased level of aggressiveness and anti-social behavior, increased fear of becoming a victim, lack of sensitivity towards violence and victims, and an increased desire to witness and participate in violence.[32] Perpetuating this problem is the lack of realism that accompanies this fictional violence. Media outlets neglect to show the suffering of the victim or the lasting effects of the violence; nor do they show punishment or guilt of the perpetrator or any legal or social ramifications.[33]

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child states: "the child for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding."[34] The PA is clearly in violation of this nearly universal norm.

Despite the international community's neglect in addressing this child abuse, some involved in children's mental health have taken a stance and made some recommendations to curb the effects of the incitement portrayed within Palestinian society. Although an article entitled "How the Media Influences Children's Conceptions of Suicide" does not condemn the anti-Israeli/Semitic incitement being propagated through media outlets, it does recommend that Palestinian children should receive explanations to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and learn the social ramifications for violent behavior, the lack of effectiveness of achieving objectives through violent behavior, and alternatives to violence.[35]

The Child Soldiers Global Report[36] surveyed 194 countries and documented the contemporary use of child soldiers. Ironically, the Palestinian model of propaganda was left out and Israel was condemned instead. This is clearly an example of a political agenda standing in the way of accurate documentation. Even human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International, are biased in their criticism of the use of child martyrs by Palestinian society.

One major hindrance to a final resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the indoctrination of children for the political purposes of jihad. The PA's manipulative use of shahid and glorification of martyrdom exponentially complicates the possibility.


1. Daphne Burdman, "Education, Indoctrination, and Incitement: Palestinian Children on Their Way to Martyrdom," Terrorism and Political Violence, v. 15, no. 1 (2003): 96-123.

2. Quoted in "Hillary Decries Brainwash of Child 'Martyrs,'" WorldNetDaily, November 4, 2003.

3. Ibid.

4. Justus Weiner, "Child Abuse: The New Islamic Cult of Martyrdom," Faultlines, v.16 (2005): 63-87.

5. Burdman, "Education, Indoctrination."

6. Ellis Shuman, "What Do Palestinians Teach Their Children?" Israelinsider, May 16, 2001;

7. Ibid.

8. Weiner, "Child Abuse."

9. Daphne Burdman, "Child Rearing, Personality Development, and Terrorism," (unpublished), 1.

10. Burdman, "Education, Indoctrination."

11. Ibid.

12. See Fouad Moughrabi, "A Nation at Risk: The Impact of Violence on Palestinian Children," Gaza Community Mental Health Progamme,; Daphne Burdman, "Education, Indoctrination." Burdman's definition of "active participation" includes "violent demonstrations and confrontations."

13. Moughrabi, "A Nation at Risk."

14. Burdman, "Education, Indoctrination."

15. Nadav Shragai, "Child Writes to Mother, 'Rejoice Over My Death,'" Ha'aretz, January 8, 2003.

16. Matthew Dorf, "Palestinian Children's Show Sparks Anger in Washington," JTA, August 17, 1998.

17. Ibid.

18. Justus Weiner, "Child Abuse in the Palestinian Authority," Jerusalem Post, October 3, 2002.

19. Ibid.

20. Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, "Palestinian Children in Combat Support Roles: Behavior Mirrors Teachings in PA Schoolbooks and Popular Culture," Palestinian Media Watch Bulletin, October 17, 2004;

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. John F. Burns, "Palestinian Summer Camp Offers the Games of War," New York Times, August 3, 2000.

25. Emma Hurd, " Gaza's Killing Schools," Sky News, July 13, 2004.

26. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian Children Get 'Guerrilla' Training at Summer Camps," Jerusalem Post, July 14, 2004.

27. Hurd, "Gaza's Killing School."

28. Information Regarding Israel's Security (IRIS), "The Palestinians in Their Own Words - Quote Sheet #50," October 16, 2000,

29. Shragai, "Child Writes to Mother."

30. See Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., "Problems and Solutions Associated with Media Consumption: The Role of the Practitioner," Pediatrics, v. 116 (2005): 327-328.

31. Bassem Eid, "Children in Conflict and the Media," Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, August 2003,

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child states the international precedent for the rights of a child. The Convention was adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession by General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989 and ratified on 2 September 1990, in accordance with Article 49. The United Nations defines a child as being under the age of 18. The United Nations, "Preamble," The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, September 2, 1990,

35. Brian L. Mishara, "How the Media Influences Children's Conceptions of Suicide," Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, v. 24, no. 3 (2003): 128-130.

36. The Report on Child Soldiers is a non-governmental organization that monitors the recruitment and use of child soldiers in 194 countries around the world. Every three years the organization publishes their findings in the report. The research done by this organization is used by governments, various factions of the United Nations, peacekeeping missions, intergovernmental organizations, news media, academic sources, and human rights and humanitarian organizations.

Justus Reid Weiner is currently Scholar-in-Residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is also an adjunct lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Tel Aviv University, and formerly taught as a visiting associate professor at Boston University School of Law. Weiner's articles have been published in leading journals of international law, intellectual magazines, and newspapers. His scholarship addresses human rights, refugee claims, freedom of movement, the Oslo peace process, planning law, peacekeeping forces, immigration law, refugee claims, war crimes, freedom of movement, and freedom of religion.

Michael Sussman was a research assistant at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs during the academic year 2004-2005. The authors express their appreciation to Louis Pasek for his assistance in research and editing.

This article was published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) as Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 537, in December 2005, Contact JCPA at

Thanks are due to IsrAlert ( for bringing this article to our attention.


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