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Inside the Hamas summer training camp for Gaza teens

Two years on from the war which flattened them, the dusty streets of Beit Hanoun are still lined with indignity.

There’s been very little reconstruction here, so big families who once owned grand houses live under shelters fashioned from tarpaulin and corrugated iron.

When visitors arrive, there’s none of the usual kerfuffle of a Palestinian welcome, with gilt-edged cups of beltingly strong coffee and bowls full of fat dates. There’s no running water for a start, and the electricity only comes for a few hours a day. Besides, there’s nowhere for us to sit.

So Hamzi al-Masri stands in front of me, his shoulders slumped in the punishing summer heat, trying to convince me of the wealth of the life he once had.

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His wife Yasmin is embarrassed by their circumstances, busily shooing away her children to distract attention from the hospitality she can’t offer.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of aid money was promised to people like the al-Masris after the destruction wrought by weeks of Israeli bombing.

But the construction materials it has paid for still haven’t arrived.

There are lots of political and bureaucratic reasons for that, but the biggest one is Israel’s continuing economic blockade of Gaza, which the UN has condemned as ‘communal punishment’.

120,000
homes damaged during 50-day conflict in 2014
20,000
homes destroyed
10%
less than 10 per cent have been rebuilt in the two years since
75,000
people still without a home to return to
45%
current unemployment rate
2020
Gaza could be 'uninhabitable' by this date according to the UN

Israel says it keeps up the blockade because it fears that construction material would be used for military purposes by Hamas, the militant organisation which governs Gaza.

At a military training centre for young recruits on their school holidays there’s some evidence for that.

There’s a concrete-lined tunnel being used here by Hamas cadets as they practise carrying out raids inside Israeli territory, to capture Israeli soldiers.

They also have instruction in handling everything from pistols to grenade launchers.

It’s a terrifying type of summer camp.

Palestinians take cover in a building that was damaged during the 2014 war, Credit: Reuters
Hamas cadets use a concrete-lined tunnel to practise carrying out raids inside Israeli territory. Credit: ITV News
There are few opportunities for young people in Beit Hanoun, where unemployment is 45%. Credit: ITV News

The isolation of Gaza has led to an unemployment rate of 45 percent. Behind the closed borders, there are vanishingly few opportunities for young people, who’ve grown up to expect a limited life, punctuated by bouts of devastating violence.

But at the training camp, I notice something different about the way people carry themselves. Backs are straightened, and chins jut out. In a place where sources of self-respect are difficult to find, the militant uniform of black combat fatigues and green bandannas delivers some.

There’s one thing the bravado can’t conceal though, and that’s the terrible absence of hope.