Exploiting children for propaganda: beyond the Ahed Tamimi campaign


In the Middle East propaganda wars, 2018 is the “year of the child,” at least for the Palestinians.
Allegations that Israel is torturing, abusing and otherwise attacking Palestinian children are central themes in advocacy campaigns led by Palestinian Authority officials, non-governmental organizations, sympathetic media platforms and affiliated U.N. frameworks.

As is often the case, the allegations are factually deficient and legally innovative (in other words, fictitious). But children are good subjects for victimization campaigns, and whenever the allegations lead to more criticism of Israel, the goal of isolating Israel is advanced.

The most effective impacts result from accusations via what are generally considered to be credible and neutral platforms. For example, the website of the Washington-based Brookings Institution recently posted an article, “Ahed Tamimi and the plight of Palestinian child detainees,” repeating the standard claims. It was written by Mia Swart, who is listed as a non-resident fellow at the Brookings branch in Doha and research director of the Qatar Human Sciences Research Council. (Swart’s piece was originally published by a South African blog — the Daily Maverick.)

Swart’s attack did not focus on or even mention the numerous examples of Palestinian minors who have committed vicious crimes, such as the July murder of Yotam Ovadia, the father of two small children, by a 17-year-old. Instead, she repeated the story of Ahed Tamimi as an ostensible example of how Israel abuses Palestinian minors.


Although not the author’s intention, the Tamimi case is important in illustrating the systematic exploitation of children by Palestinian adults and organizations for use in this political warfare, as well as the due process and other safeguards of the Israeli justice system.

Throughout her life, Tamimi has been repeatedly sent to taunt and engage with Israeli soldiers, while family members and NGOs film and share the highly scripted confrontations on social media. In her most recent performance, Tamimi became increasingly violent, slapped a soldier, screamed slogans calling for violence, and was then arrested and brought to trial. In a plea bargain, she and her mother (and coach) admitted guilt and each served eight months.

In addition to erasing this essential context, Swart, like other publicists who have written similar analyses, omits any mention of the treatment of minors involved in criminal acts, including terrorism, in other Western democracies. For example, on charges of assaulting an officer, Tamimi would be subject to five years in jail in Canada, three years in Australia and four years in Sweden. For charges of “incitement to terror,” she would face up to life in Canada, 10 years in Australia and six years in Sweden.

Expanding from the Tamimi case, Swart goes on to other accusations, following a confused path which mixes trials and convictions (as in the case of Tamimi) to the entirely exaggerated claim regarding Israel’s use of “in administrative detention.” In fact, as of December 2017, two Palestinian minors (not 350, as Swart implies) were held in administrative detention — thereby demonstrating Israel’s adherence to the United Nations standard that this method be used only in “exceptional circumstances.”

The skewed and false allegations in the op-ed closely echo the text of a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who in turn, repeated the language of an NGO calling itself Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), which is leading the campaign exploiting children.

Swart, her Brookings colleagues, as well as McCollum and her 34 Democratic co-sponsors, are apparently all unaware of the extensive connections between DCI-P and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terror group recognized as such by the United States, Canada, the European Union and Israel.

The PFLP, which is a member of the PLO structure, like the Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, and systematically indoctrinates children, was responsible for numerous mass killings, including the 2014 massacre in a Jerusalem synagogue, killing six.

Also repeating DCI-P’s most heinous forms of incitement, Swart claims, without any evidence, that instead of prosecuting some minors involved in terror, Israeli soldiers simply kill them “in cold blood.”

Had she bothered to examine the details, she would have seen that almost all of the 15 Palestinian minors killed in confrontations with Israeli security forces in 2017 were participating in violent life-threatening clashes, including stabbings and car ramming attacks.

Many Palestinian children are taught to hate from a very young age, and their role models are terrorist “martyrs.” Yet those like Swart, who claim to care about “the rights of the child,” show no interest or concern over these Palestinian child soldiers. Far from protecting children, this exploitation for both terror and propaganda endangers them.

And as a highly regarded Washington-based think tank, the Brookings Institution, which claims to value independent research and integrity, erred in providing its imprimatur to a propaganda campaign that exploits children.

Gerald M. Steinberg is a political science professor at Bar Ilan University and president of the Institute for NGO Research in Jerusalem.

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