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Think. Discuss. Act. Middle East

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Review: Arafat’s Kids At Work

Stanger, T. (1989, May 22). “Arafat’s kids at work: A children’s army is fueling the Palestinians’ violent revolt against Israel.” Newsweek. p. 22.


According to the article

‘Arafat’s kids’…as they are now called by their admiring, if sometimes anguished, elders are changing the face of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are transforming the INTIFADA (which they created on December 9, 1987) into a long-term war and test of wills…The Palestinian Strike Force is a children’s army…

With military music blaring from twin loudspeakers, the 200-strong ‘army’ paraded (in May 1989) through the streets of Siir, a West Bank village…It was a daring show of force, since the occupied territories are closely patrolled by thousands of armed Israeli regulars. The…parade was explicitly illegal under Israeli military law, and the participants could have been (shot or) punished. But daring has now become the hallmark of young Palestinians.

The troops (in this parade) ranged in age from 5 to 20. Many wore uniforms of dark shirts and matching pants. They were equipped with slingshots, kitchen knives and homemade swords with pointed tips…In unison the youthful soldiers chanted, ‘With our hearts and red blood, we shall fight for Palestine,’ while adult villagers cheered and applauded.

While most Israelis who think they know the Palestinians thought INTIFADA would soon fade away, it has become more determined and ferocious as time has passed. About 450 Palestinians have died so far in the rebellion-34 in April of 1989, alone.

Since children brought initiative, discipline, and unity to Arab adults under Arafat, the fact that 65% of the West Bank and Gaza strip are under age eighteen bodes ill for continued Israeli occupation. An expert in Palestinian affairs, Mark Heller of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, says, “Twenty-two years of Israeli rule have created a new generation of young Palestinians who do not hesitate to confront Israel’s rule.” Jerusalem Arab journalist Radwan Abu Ayyash adds, “For all their lives, these kids have experienced the Israeli occupation everywhere, on radio, television, at military checkpoints on the roads. Now they are primed to fight.”

In the detention camps, where 20,000 males and some females have been sent, there are presently about 6,300 Palestinians-mostly youth. About these camps, Heller says, “There’s not much to do in the camps but sit around and talk. The young get lessons in Palestinian history. The prisoners in their 40s serve as instructors. It’s inevitable that the younger ones have a new political awareness when they are released.” Abu Ayyash continues, “Having nothing to do all day long increases the frustration level. We don’t have playgrounds or sports clubs for them. They are thrown into the streets.”

Israeli policy makers are realizing that

  • Israeli occupation is training a new breed of Palestinians.
  • The tougher military occupation gets, the more young rebels are spurred on to greater resistance.
  • Closing West Bank schools gives time for demonstrations and increases parental discontent.
  • The wounding of Arab children and youth is creating heroes and new leaders.

Marwan, a typical Arab teenager who has served time in detention camps, asserts:

We don’t need schools. We need more prisons. Before prison, I was so scared of the Israelis. Now I can be a leader for others. The prison camp did that for me. It’s something no school could do. If the Israelis put me back in prison, I will not cry.

Mark Heller agrees:

The most prominent victims of the INTIFADA become its leading figures. It’s a red badge of courage to have been wounded by the Israelis, and someday it will be indispensable for the CURRICULUM VITAE of any Palestinian leader.

INTIFADA has also accelerated the passing of traditional Arab society. A social worker in East Jerusalem, Nora Kurt observes, “The uprising is changing the traditional structure of the Palestinian family. It’s hard to contain them. These youngsters feel their place is in the streets, confronting the Israelis (and leading their Arab elders).”

In April of 1989, these kids issued a military order prohibiting Palestinians from West Bank roads at night so that they could throw stones at all passing vehicles without concern that they would injure their own Palestinians.

In conclusion, the article notes:

For the time being, the Palestinian Strike Force is largely smart salutes, symbolism and bravado. They are more an irritant than an outright military threat. But…Yasir Arafat has put the Strike Force on the PLO’s organizational chart as an ‘internal arm’ of Force 17, Al Fatah’s elite squad…Whether it’s with rocks or rifles, Arafat’s kids will keep the conflict smoldering for many years to come.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How important have Arab and Israeli youth been in this Middle East conflict?
  2. What differing political opinions do you find among Israeli youth? Are there different levels of political awareness and commitment among Arab youth?
  3. What do Israeli and Arab youth have to lose?
  4. How would you lead a discussion among Arab and Israeli youth?


  1. This article is obviously written from an Arab viewpoint. It is important to have the comprehensive Israeli and Palestinian/Arab opinions in mind as you approach this complex discussion.
  2. The political awareness, understanding, and commitment of today’s Arab and Israeli youth challenge students around the world.
  3. The United States has worked diligently-mostly behind the scenes-to help bring resolution to this conflict. The meager, though significant, results should serve to curb typical American presumption about our power to resolve all problems. Hopefully, the United States’ patient efforts will continue in cooperation with all other interested parties.

Dean Borgman
© 2018 CYS

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