Hamas introduces voluntary weapons training in Gaza high schools
Students at secondary level in Gaza Strip schools have the option to learn how to use rifles as an extra-curricular activity. (Reuters)
Running through the schoolyard, the youngster points his AK-47 assault rifle at a target as the other students quickly get onto the ground.
In the Gaza Strip, where conflict with Israel is always a possibility, the military-style exercise in a high school is part of a program sanctioned by the Hamas Islamist government to teach students how to use weapons.
“We are in an occupied country and always need to teach our children how to protect the nation using all means available to us,” said Lieutenant Mohammed al-Seiqali, head of weapons training in the school in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.
During the schoolyard training session only one of the weapons – the AK-47 aimed by the youngster – is real, and there is no live ammunition. Lying on their stomachs his classmates follow his lead by pointing their mock guns, made out of wood, at imaginary targets in the distance.
But the students are taught how to strip and assemble real assault weapons, preparation for the day when some – on reaching the age of 18 – can volunteer to join Hamas forces.
In one classroom, students look at a screen showing fighters from Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigade, and listen to a briefing on the use of weapons, including sniper rifles.
Dressed in a black uniform, student Mohammed al-Bayouk said he will learn how to defend his country.
“I learn how to defend my nation and to defend the holy places and this nation’s honor. This helps us in the future, any war that might take place we will be ready,” Mohammed al-Bayouk said.
Hamas, shunned by the West over its refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence, took over Gaza in a brief civil war in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election. It last fought Israel in November 2012, in an eight-day conflict of rocket salvoes on Israeli cities and Israeli air strikes on Gaza.
Only boys can sign up, with their parents’ permission, for the voluntary program in the 138 Hamas-run high schools in Gaza.
Mohammed Seyam, an official in the Hamas-run education ministry in the Gaza Strip, said they hoped to include female students next year in the training program, which also focused on improving school discipline.
“It is a national educational and behavioral project. We have reduced by over 90 percent the problems we used to have in our schools, there is discipline in the schools and great respect between the student and the teacher, therefore we have achieved the main goal from this project,” Seyam added.
Education officials in Gaza say some 6,000 students have joined the training initiative.
Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, has urged the ministries of education and interior to start a military academy in the territory.