Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gaza's factions take their fight into the school playgrounds

The armed men who assaulted eight-year-old Shahab al-Akhras on a street corner in Rafah covered their faces with balaclavas. Shahab, who is small for his age, was wearing the hata, the black-and-white checked scarf associated with Fatah - the party once led by the late Yasser Arafat.

The four men who pushed him into a corner and thrashed his hands on new year's day were wearing the uniforms of Hamas's Executive Force, these days Fatah's deadly rival. 'They took off my shoes and put them on the scarf and stamped on them,' he said. 'Then they told me to put out my arms in front of me and beat me with a stick. They said that if they saw me wearing the scarf again they would shoot me in the legs. I hate them!'

The internal struggle between the Islamist Hamas and the Fatah movement in Gaza - which Hamas thought it had won after three days of fighting last June - has resurfaced. While acts of violence continue to be committed by adults on both sides, the battleground now is over Gaza's children.

It is not simply that both parties are seeking to influence the new generation. In Gaza the children of Fatah families in particular, who saw fathers, brothers and uncles defeated by Hamas last June, are taking responsibility for the adult world. And challenging Hamas in the way their adults cannot - in plain view on the streets. The phenomenon is dividing schools, worrying teachers and psychologists, even members of the rival parties themselves. And it is frightening for those children who wish to remain outside of the struggle. (The Guardian)


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