Abraham Cooper and Dexter van Zile*
Until relatively recently it was estimated that some 300,000 child soldiers have served various masters, mostly in Africa and Asia. While the number has decreased, the exploitation of children in the name of a cause continues apace. Offenders rely on indoctrination, as well as direct recruitment.
In the Middle East, ISIS is certainly the worst abuser. http://abcnews.go.com/International/raised-terror-isiss-focus-indoctrinating-children/story?id=37463318 Children are forced into service as combatants and suicide bombers. They are trained to inform against their parents and sometimes asked to execute them. Girls are captured, bartered and sold as sex slaves. http://nypost.com/2016/07/05/this-is-the-face-of-the-isis-sex-slave-market/
In other parts of that difficult neighborhood, children are subject to different abuses. Children have lost their lives digging tunnels for Hamas’ unending efforts to expand terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians from Gaza. Palestinian textbooks demonize Israelis and Jews, ensuring the continuation of conflict and hate for another generation. http://www.thetower.org/3474-the-word-peace-does-not-appear-in-palestinian-textbook-watchdog-finds/
In the holy city of Masshad, Iran – touted to become a center of the development of video gameshttps://sputniknews.com/art_living/201607201043336432-iran-video-games-development/ – has sponsored a City of Games amusement park. https://www.memri.org/reports/irans-mashhad-municipality-opens-military-religious-amusement-park-%E2%80%93-reinforce-revolutionary Here, children wear military uniforms and are guided by a military commander whose orders they must obey, including launching plastic missiles and firing plastic bullets at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. and Israeli flags, and members of the Saudi royal family.
In October, it was not a make believe game when two eight year-old boys were thwarted in an attempt to attack the Israeli community of Migdal Oz. http://www.timesofisrael.com/palestinian-kids-8-detained-with-knives-outside-settlement/
Who sends those children on a mission to kill random Jews with knives? Likely the same adults who have succeeded in the past in dispatching 11 to 13 year olds to be suicide bombers.
The perpetrators of these atrocities rely on careful and early indoctrination of children. This indoctrination is in and of itself a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. Article 29 Obligates signatories to assure “the preparation of the child for responsible life…in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance… and friendship among all peoples.www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
No one would accuse an American church, the United Church of Christ (UCC), of anything remotely similar to the ghastly crimes in the Middle East. Yet, it employs the same tactic of indoctrination of children, prohibited by international convention. Its Global Ministries (which serves the UCC and the smaller Disciples of Christ denomination) recently released a Study Guide for Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and designed to be used in Sunday schools.http://www.globalministries.org/meinitiative_advent
Each of four lessons includes a lesson for the Sunday school teacher to present to children, and an activity for them to engage in. The centerpiece for each lesson is a letter from a child who describes what their daily life is like in the city or town in which they live.
The lessons focus on the separation barrier and curfews that make life difficult for Palestinians. The goal of the authors is transparent: to encourage students to focus intensely on Israeli policies toward the Palestinians without offering any of the context to understand why these policies were enacted. The text makes no mention of Hamas, an organization dedicated to Israel's destruction and responsible for suicide attacks that have killed hundreds of Israeli citizens and thousands of rocket attacks that have driven people from their homes during numerous conflicts over the past decade. It does not inform the children that the checkpoints and barriers on the West Bank were built after the deaths of many hundreds of Israelis – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – and have been hugely successful in thwarting of innumerable other terrorist attacks. Without such context, they turn Israelis into heartless monsters, preying on the weak and defenseless.
A letter from a nine-year-old Christian boy from Beit Jala, a town near Bethlehem, reports the following:
On Sundays, after church I go to Sunday school. We sing hymns and do drawings. Sometimes when the army came, there was a curfew and we could not go out from our houses or even come to school. Time was wasted and now we have to make up for the lost classes…People cannot travel and visit families in other towns because of the checkpoints. I would like us to travel freely and feel secure.
What child would not learn to hate the people who inflict suffering on others? To make matters worse, Global Ministries’ curriculum for vacation bible schools includes an activity in which children are asked to man an Israeli checkpoint. Children are asked to become soldiers that let some people through and deny others passage. Nowhere are children told why Israel has built such checkpoints.
The narrative is unmistakable: Israelis brutalize Palestinians, for no reason other than they are evil. They make life miserable and insecure for the people they oppress. G.K. Chesterton famously stated, “Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” Sunday school children, however, cannot be expected to be so discerning. Which surely is what the authors want. Poison their minds early, and they will retain their hatred of Israelis for life.
Many post-war Americans were introduced to new concepts of interracial tolerance by Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics in South Pacific: “You've got to be taught before it's too late/ Before you are six or seven or eight/ To hate all the people your relatives hate/ You've got to be carefully taught!”
The UCC mastered the meaning of those words, in its own nefarious way. Perhaps by next year, they will figure out – as did millions of other Americans - what the author really wanted us to learn from them.
*Co-author of this essay, Dexter van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for CAMERA