Hamas killed hundreds of children in the construction of its extensive tunnel network, built partly to carry out attacks on children across the Gaza border in Israel. That report–confirmed by Hamas itself–emerged in 2012, not from the Israeli government, but the sympathetic Journal of Palestine Studies, in an article that otherwise celebrated the secret tunnel system as a symbol of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli “siege” of the Gaza Strip.
The article, “Gaza’s Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel’s Siege,” was published in the Summer 2012 edition of the Journal by Nicholas Pelham, who writes for the Economist and the New York Review of Books, according to his bio. It is receiving new attention thanks to Myer Freimann of Tablet, an online journal of Jewish affairs, whose post about Hamas’s use of child labor has gone viral in social media.
Pelham wrote that despite the economic success of the tunnels underneath the Egyptian border, which enriched Hamas through a thriving black market as well as arming it with new weapons, there were a few drawbacks. One of these was a “cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities,” he noted. “During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials” (emphasis added).
Though some children likely worked voluntarily, the fact that there were public complaints about child deaths, to which Hamas felt compelled to respond at least superficially, is evidence of some amount of coercion. The number of deaths since 2012 has yet to be reported, but almost certainly exceeds the number Pelham reported.
To sum up: Hamas is not only using child labor, but likely child slavery, in building its terror tunnel network. While the world worries obsessively over the child casualties of Israeli attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza, it has ignored Hamas’s deliberate killing of hundreds of Palestinian children, over the objections of the local populace.
The knowledge that Hamas used children to dig tunnels for smuggling and terror up to 25 meters below ground changes the moral calculation of the war significantly. Not only does Hamas show extreme indifference to the lives of Palestinian children by using them as human shields, placing rockets in UN schools and the like, but it actively destroys those lives by sending Palestinian children to die underground in 19th century conditions.
Those defending the Palestinian resistance to Israel–and, equally, those demanding a ceasefire that would leave the Hamas tunnel network in place–are effectively defending a slaveholding regime more odious in moral terms than any the world has seen since the child soldiers of Joseph Kony’s brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, or the forced labor camps of the Nazis in the Second World War, who set children to work for the war effort.
It is rather ironic that President Barack Obama, who touted his own election in 2008 as an answer to the moral stain of slavery in America, would insist today on shoring up a Hamas administration that demonstrably uses child slavery. The Israeli government was reportedly shocked at how closely Obama’s ceasefire terms reflect the Hamas position. The American public ought to be shocked at how cynically Obama has cast morality aside.
Photo: Adel Hana/AP