Herzog reveals Hamas documents outlining directives for ‘terror summer camps’ in Gaza

Speaking on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ president dismisses notion that Israel seeks forced displacement of Palestinians from Strip

President Isaac Herzog appears on NBC's 'Meet the Press' on January 7, 2024. (Courtesy)
President Isaac Herzog appears on NBC's 'Meet the Press' on January 7, 2024. (Courtesy)

President Isaac Herzog revealed on Sunday evening what he said was a Hamas document discovered by Israeli troops in Gaza dealing with summer camp programs hosted by the terror group.

He presented the documents during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and told the news show that the recently discovered documents were “a directive by the commanders of Hamas as to how to manage summer camps for children in order to disseminate the values of jihad. It says it clearly — to disseminate the values of jihad, and the values of the resistance, meaning terror, and how to make it a militarized society.”

The president said that while normal summer camps are about enabling “youngsters, kids and adolescents to become citizens of the free world and with liberty, with happiness with joy, with sports — here their entire aim is to make them terrorists.”

Summer camps run by terror organizations in the Gaza Strip have been a well-documented phenomenon over the years, with both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad operating their own versions, featuring kids training in use of weapons and practicing activities such as fighting, kidnapping and killing Israelis.

During a press briefing earlier this month, the IDF showed reporters footage that it said depicted terror groups indoctrinating young people.

It accused the organizations of using minors to carry out tasks for them during the war, and asserted that children had been sent by the terror groups to battlefields in Gaza after an attack “to assess the damage and report it to the terrorists who are hiding in shelters.”

An undated image released by the IDF on January 3, 2024, showing Palestinian children playing on a mock tank next to Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

In 2021, a Hamas-run summer camp trained children to shoot soldiers at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque through computer simulations. Other activities the children were encouraged to participate in included a simulated kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.

At a similar camp operated by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 2023, PIJ official Darwish al-Gharabli told AFP that “Hundreds have participated in the camps of the al-Quds Brigades, the camps of glory and pride, ensuring that jihad and resistance will continue.”

Rockets are seen next to children at an Islamic Jihad summer camp in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, June 22, 2023. (AP/Fatima Shbair)

Asked during “Meet the Press” about comments made by several right-wing government ministers in recent days in which they have advocated for encouraging the mass emigration of Palestinians from Gaza, Herzog firmly rejected the notion that displacement is an official government policy.

The idea, he said, “is not the position of the Israeli government or the Israeli parliament or the Israeli public.

“But we are a democracy,” he continued. “And in a democracy, you have a variety of ideas in a variety of areas, and in a society where free speech is the basis of our national DNA, people can say whatever they want.”

“In a cabinet meeting of 30 ministers, a minister can say whatever he wants. I may not like it, but this is Israeli politics,” he added.

Comments advocating for the mass displacement of Palestinians which were made by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir have received fierce backlash in recent days, including from the US State Department, which called their rhetoric “inflammatory and irresponsible.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

For his part, Ben Gvir told reporters that the war in Gaza presents “an “opportunity to concentrate on encouraging the migration” of the coastal enclave’s residents, while Smotrich told Religious Zionism Party members during a faction meeting that the “correct solution” to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be to “encourage voluntary migration.”

Reiterating that “officially and unequivocally, this is not the Israeli position,” Herzog cautioned that Israel’s national psyche should be taken into consideration when interpreting what is being said.

“In the last three months, we have seen so much agony, pain and sadness,” he said, adding that there are still more than 130 Israelis held in Gaza, including Kfir Bibas, who is just one week shy of his first birthday, as well as several Holocaust survivors and other elderly people.

“Because of that, our nation is worried, is agonized, and we are doing whatever we can, to do whatever it takes to bring back these hostages.”

Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza erupted after the deadly terror onslaught on October 7 in which thousands of terrorists burst into Israel from Gaza, slaughtering some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — amid scenes of horrific brutality and seizing around 240 hostages.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip, which the terror group has ruled since 2007, and launched an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation, which the United Nations estimates have displaced around 85% of Gaza’s population.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has said that since the start of the fighting, more than 22,800 people have been killed, although these numbers cannot be independently verified. The figure does not differentiate between civilians and combatants and includes Palestinians killed by errant rocket fire from Gaza. Israel says it has killed 8,500 terror operatives inside the Strip since the start of the war.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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