Hamas Summer Camp Teaches Children How to Liberate Jerusalem Holy Site, Says Report

Hamas militants
Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, take part in a gathering in to pay tribute to fellow militants who died after a tunnel collapsed in the Gaza Strip, in Gaza City, on January 31, 2016. One of the co-founders of Hamas is recovering in the hospital after accidentally shooting himself in the head.  Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty

New footage appears to show children in the Gaza Strip attending a camp run by the territory's militant rulers, Hamas, re-enacting clashes over the contested Jerusalem holy site at the heart of recent tensions.

The footage, first published on the YouTube channel of Hamas-affiliated news site Al-Resalah on July 19, shows children dressed as Hamas fighters and a replica entrance to the holy site known as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews. It is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism.

The apparent "graduation ceremony," as the Times of Israel refers to it, shows the youngsters as worshippers at the site, and several others playing the role of Israeli border police protecting metal detectors at the entrance. The setup seemingly referred to the Israeli government's recent decision to implement new security measures after a shooting attack launched from inside the site killed two Israeli policemen.

According to the translation reported in the Times of Israel, in the scene, one of the children pretends to stab one of the guards before he feigns to be shot dead. Then the other children throw rocks at the guards. The officers pretend to shoot at the crowd and an announcer says a "martyr" has been killed, and the group carries the child away.

Militants clad in black, representing Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, arrive and destroy the metal detectors. They then take over the makeshift holy site amid shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is great!"

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, dismissed reports alleging the summer camps were aimed at teaching children how to "liberate" the holy site.

"This is not true. These are just summer camps for children that take place every summer in Gaza," he says in an email to Newsweek, "to empty them emotionally, and educate them about their reality, the causes of their suffering and how to build their future and instill a culture of love for their homeland."

Gaza remains under an Israeli economic blockade imposed since 2007, and the United Nations has predicted that the coastal enclave could become "uninhabitable" by 2020 because of a lack of employment, ravaged infrastructure after three wars with Israel and little economic opportunity or recovery.

Another Hamas official did not respond to a Newsweek request for comment about the camp. A Palestine Liberation Organization official questioned the authenticity of the footage, as it had been circulated by pro-Israel organizations, but said if confirmed, the exercise is anyway "worthless and isolated."

Such summer camps have been documented by Western journalists, including ones where young Hamas members carry out drills in tunnels during their summer holidays, to prepare for raids into Israeli territory or to learn how to handle weapons.

Hamas Gaza Middle East Qassam
Members of the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, take part in a gathering on January 31, in Gaza City, to pay tribute to fellow militants who died after a tunnel collapsed in the Gaza Strip. Mahmud Hams/AFP

The twist on this summer camp comes after weeks of unrest following Palestinian anger at Israeli security measures at the contested site in East Jerusalem. Israel imposed metal detectors but subsequently removed them on the recommendation of security officials.

The measures caused uproar among Muslims, who said Israel is interfering with the status quo at the site. Riots then broke out between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, with dozens of Palestinians injured in the clashes.

Following Friday prayers at the height of the tensions on July 21, a Palestinian entered the West Bank Jewish settlement of Halamish and killed three Israeli settlers in their home as they sat down to eat Shabbat dinner. Hamas did not claim responsibility for the two attacks, but it said that such attacks were "a natural response to Israeli terrorism."

Jews cannot pray on Haram al-Sharif and instead pray at the adjoining Western Wall. Israel captured and occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, but a Palestinian-Jordanian waqf, or Islamic trust, still governs the site on account of its sensitive status.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, the last a seven-week conflict in the summer of 2014, during which Israel invaded the coastal territory to disrupt Hamas's tunnel network and rocket-fire into Israeli territory.

The Israeli operation, named Protective Edge, killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, many of them civilians and children, according to the United Nations. Hamas killed more than 70 Israelis, many of them soldiers.