On January 7, 2014, the ministry of the education of the Hamas administration in Gaza, in collaboration with the ministry of the interior, announced the opening of the training camps of the second round of the Al-Futuwa military training program. Al-Futuwa is a Sufi term that has some similarities to chivalry and virtue or young-manliness. The camps, which last for about a week, were held last year for the first time. Al-Futuwa includes theoretical military topics and practical military training. According to the organizers, this year the program was expanded to 49 high schools throughout the Gaza Strip, with 13,000 students participating, as opposed to 5,000 who participated last year.
Osama al-Muzeini, Hamas minister of education, held a press conference at one of the high schools, where he said that the ministry of education had decided to expand the program in light of its great success the previous year. He called it a “national project” which objective was to raise a generation of Palestinian youths capable of “liberating and defending their country.” He added that the program would train the students in combat skills and make them familiar with weapons so that they would be able to “‘resist the occupation.” He condemned those who criticized the camps by claiming they were educating for violence and terrorism, saying that “the program instills good social values”. Fathi Hamad, Hamas minister of the interior, said that the students participating in the camps will have “the main role in liberating Al-Aqsa mosque from the pollution of the occupation.” He said that it was worth their while to train and prepare to participate in “the liberation of Ashdod, Yavne, Jaffa, Acre, Lod, Ramla and all the villages in Palestine.”
Hamas began integrating the Al-Futuwa program into high schools in the Gaza Strip in September 2012. A report by the The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) explains that the program provides thousands of high school boys with theoretical military studies and practical military training. The program includes weekly military studies taught to students on school grounds throughout the school year. Some of the lessons are taught by operatives of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military-terrorist wing; concentrated practical training in camps, each round lasting for six days. The training camps are held during school vacations, sometimes in the school itself; practical military activity, including having the students participate in the operational activity of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, such as night patrols, security missions and manning of roadblocks. Muhammad al-Nakhaleh, Hamas ministry of the interior director of Al-Futuwa, said the training also includes lectures on security issues, which, he said, would warn them about “Israeli intelligence traps.” According to one of the instructors, in addition to rifles they are also trained in the use of machine guns and RPGs.
The website of the Hamas administration’s ministry of the interior posted an interview with a boy named Mahmoud Ghanem, who is currently participating in the program. He said that what had motivated him to join it was his “strong longing to live in the time when he will be an important operative in the future campaign against the Zionist occupation.” He said he and his friends had entered the program, despite their young age, to learn the art of military warfare and become the generation that would “liberate the land and its holy places.”
Senior Hamas figures regard fostering Al-Futuwa of imperative significance. They often visit the training camps and schools where the program is taught and speak before the students. Even Ismail Haniya, head of the Hamas administration, attends the various ceremonies and activities connected with the program. For example, on January 14, 2014, Ismail Haniya, Osama al-Muzeini and Fathi Hamad all attended the graduation ceremony of one of the courses held in the Gaza City. Ismail Haniya gave a speech in which he called the participants “the stone generation, the rocket generation, the tunnel generation, the suicide bombing attack generation.”
Al-Futuwa is one aspect of Hamas’ comprehensive policy of practical activities combined with indoctrination for the youth of the Gaza Strip. It begins in kindergarten and continues through university, and its objective is to foster a new cadre of military-terrorist operatives and political activists inculcated with Hamas’ ideology.
On January 14, 2014, an Al-Futuwa training camp graduation ceremony was held in Gaza City, attended by senior figures in the Hamas administration. The students, dressed in full military uniform, demonstrated the martial skills they had learned, such as firing machine guns and RPGs.
The program has been met with mixed reactions by the Gazan population. It has been received negatively by some people and by human rights organizations, and viewed as a tool for militarizing the next generation and encouraging violence. Samir Zakout, director of the field research unit of the Al-Mezan Center in the Gaza Strip, was severely critical of the program. He called it “empty and with no educational content.” He added that the Hamas administration first had to solve more important problems in Palestinian education in the Gaza Strip and provide them with educational values in a different way. He said that Al-Futuwa was liable to endanger the schools in the Gaza Strip and expose them to attacks by the Israeli Air Force. Others consider it an important tool in the struggle against the so-called Israeli “occupation,” and a way of preventing the moral deterioration of the youth.