Charity on the one hand, bombers on the other

Visits to health clinics, kindergartens and vocational training centres run by Hamas make it hard to believe the same Palestinian group sends out teenage suicide bombers to dispense death in Israel.

On the second floor of a building in downtown Gaza City, women—veiled from head to toe with just a slit through which to see—sit behind their sewing machines at a training workshop.

“We turn to Thee, Allah, there is no power greater than Yours,” reads a handwritten inscription on the blackboard.

“They will become professional seamstresses within six months, but some will stay on longer,” explains principal instructor Amal Abed.

“They study and train six hours a day. They learn everything they need in married life: how to become good mothers and good wives,” she adds. “They also follow a religious education.”

One floor down, about 20 children under five are being looked after in a kindergarten.

Childish posters are pasted to the walls alongside portraits of the radical group’s founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated in an Israeli air strike last March.

Yassin’s house, in Gaza’s Sabra neighbourhood, lies close to Al-Mujama al-Islami—a charitable society he created next to a mosque complex.

The paraplegic sheikh had just finished his morning prayers there when he was torn apart by a rocket.
Traces of shrapnel are still encrusted in the mosque’s outer wall.

Hundreds of men and children flock to the charity every day at sundown for the iftar meal, which breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Al-Mujama al-Islami distributes food to the needy, as well as providing health services and education in Gaza City and beyond.

About 4 000 orphans and 500 families also receive financial support, explains a bearded employee.

The charity has 100 volunteers and employs 240 staff, with its annual budget amounting to $1,2-million, says 26-year-old Motassem Dallul, already a father of four.

This year’s iftars are financed by the Emirati Red Crescent—the equivalent of the Red Cross in Muslim countries.

Hamas, an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement that also means “fervour”, was founded in 1987 at the outset of a first Palestinian intifada. It is backed financially by local and foreign donors, many from Gulf countries.

And if Hamas designated one of Dallul’s sons to become a suicide bomber?

“He will be killed by the Israeli army long before,” answers the young father impassively.

“I agree with the idea of dispatching suicide bombers. Everybody knows what the Israeli army is doing: women and children are being assassinated.

“One day, the Israelis will be exhausted. Remember Vietnam, it’ll be the same,” Dallul adds.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged Palestinian armed groups to stop recruiting children to carry out anti-Israeli attacks, citing Hamas as one of several organisations resorting to teenage bombers.

The New-York based rights group also urged Israel to protect Palestinian civilians, particularly children.

“One quarter of the more than 130 Palestinians killed” during an Israeli army offensive in the northern Gaza Strip last month were “aged 18 years and under”, it noted in a statement.—Sapa-AFP

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