Hamas's approach to jihad: Start 'em young
The group takes a patient approach to deriving political support from religious conviction.
Gaza City, Gaza
As a weapon in its struggle with Israel, Nahool the Bee doesn't look like a particularly threatening addition to the Hamas arsenal. He doesn't even have a stinger.Skip to next paragraph
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But what the bright yellow star of "Tomorrow's Pioneers" on Hamas-owned Al Aqsa television lacks in muscle he makes up for in fervor. Speaking in a recent episode, Nahool vowed to help take back Jerusalem from the "criminal Jews" and expressed his hope that he and all of his listeners would grow up to become holy warriors.
The show, along with paramilitary-style summer camps for Gazan boys, reveal a key element in Hamas's long-term strategy.
Like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which spawned Hamas, the group takes a patient approach to tapping religious conviction to build political support. It is the movement's youth focus, critics say, that sets it apart from Hamas's rival, Fatah, which controls the West Bank and enjoys US and Israeli support.
The basic unit of the Hamas organization isn't cells or political committees – it's families. The organization has shown that by introducing children early enough to Hamas's hard-line Islamic thinking, it can recruit lifelong supporters.
"It hurts us so much when the international community misunderstands us," says Samir Abu Mohsen, a senior director at Al Aqsa. "Nahool isn't for teaching hate. It's for teaching children to think in the right way, to socialize them in our culture's way of life, and, of course, to remind them of their rights to the land that was taken from us."
Hamas's revolution will be televised
The Nahool puppet replaces a Mickey Mouse-like character named Farfur, who, in an episode several months ago, was shown being killed by an Israeli official after he refused to sell his land to Israelis. Director Mohsen says the show killed off Farfur because of complaints they were infringing on Disney's copyright.
Nahool tells his young audience in a high-pitched voice that his anti-Zionist passion is fueled by the memory of his grandfather, who was murdered at the hands of Israeli settlers. Both life-sized puppets have stirred outrage among critics who say that Al Aqsa television teaches children to hate.
Mohammed Ramadan, the young man who dons the Nahool costume and who also played Farfur before that character's televised martyrdom, says he's been "shocked" by international allegations that his characters teach children to hate.
"Look, Israeli aggression against us is a fact, they kicked these children's grandparents and parents from their homes, and we're not allowed to talk about this?" he asks. "They need to know."
Nevertheless, Mr. Ramadan says that he won't cross certain "red lines." "A red line would be telling children to go kill Israelis. But talking about our right to our land, to one day return? That's not a red line. That's what they need to know."
"Nahool exists for two things," says Mr. Mohsen. "Teaching basic stuff like respect for adults, looking twice before crossing the road, and respecting the environment. But No. 2, we want to make sure they remember that we're exiles from our own land, land they have to be committed to regaining."
What effect Nahool's antics have on young minds is hard to gauge.