RAFAH, Gaza Strip – Dozens of high school students scrambled among the sand dunes here in recent days, learning how to shoot AK-47 rifles, crawl under barbed wire and jump over burning tires. Their bearded commanders barked at those who were too slow in hoisting iron bars overhead or those who hesitated around the thick flames.
Having seen two major Israeli military operations in Gaza in their short lives, many of the teenagers came to this boot camp, which is run by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has led Gaza since 2007, to prepare for what they see as the inevitable next round.
“By then, I should be ready and know how to deal with the Israeli soldier’s gun when I pick it up from the ground,” said Mohammed Ghanem, 15. If the Israelis do not make another incursion into Gaza, he said, “we will go to fight them on the border.”
The six-day program, Futuwwa, enrolled about 13,000 boys at nearly a dozen sites across the Gaza Strip over the past week, with trainers from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. It was the first time the program had taken place during a school break, and it grew out of an elective that has been offered in Gaza’s high schools since 2012 that consists mainly of lectures about weapons, street-fighting techniques, fitness and Israel’s recruitment of spies.
“We target the students to create future soldiers and leaders who can defend their cause and appreciate the value of resistance,” said a Qassam member who spoke on the condition that he be identified only as Abu Mahmoud.
He was supervising 200 students here at the Hattin training base of Qassam, on the site of the former Israeli settlement of Atzmona, which was evacuated along with Israel’s other Gaza settlements in 2005. He was proud that when Israeli warplanes bombed a nearby Islamic Jihad base last week, he scuttled his students to safety in one minute.
The Futuwwa program, which was supported by the Hamas Education Ministry, followed other recent efforts by Hamas to inculcate Gaza’s youths with its militant ideology. Last year, for a required “national education” course in government schools, Hamas introduced its own textbooks that do not recognize modern Israel or mention the Oslo peace accords, which Israel signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s. Hamas lawmakers also voted to require gender-segregated schools and outlaw any educational cooperation with Israel.
Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, told Futuwwa participants at a graduation ceremony on Tuesday in Gaza City that theirs was “the generation that will achieve the liberation and independence” of Palestine. Suggesting that the program would soon be provided for girls as well, Mr. Haniya predicted that Israel would face “a Palestinian generation that weakness knows no way into their hearts.”
One participant, Osama Shehada, 15, said he wanted to study physical engineering to learn how to make bombs and explosives to target Israel. He said he had come to the Futuwwa camp to learn more about Israel’s use of Palestinian collaborators.
“The Israeli occupation doesn’t stop recruiting spies,” said Osama, in camouflage trousers and a black T-shirt, with black war paint on his face. “For us, the spies are more dangerous than the warplane.”