Gaza Summer Camp Takes on Extremism

The UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) has received a serious amount of criticism from onlookers in recent years, but according to a Christian Science Monitor article published recently, it looks like they got at least one thing right.

The article is about recently concluded summer camps in the Gaza Strip, where children had an outlet from their otherwise stressful and dangerous surroundings. In a safe environment, these children played sports, worked on arts and crafts, and, you know, acted like kids.

But more than just “a break from the oppressive and depressing environment which is their daily reality,” as UNWRA Gaza director John Ging said, the camps have an important ideological purpose:

The camps were about more than fun and games, they were about countering the extremism that can take root here at the earliest ages…

The militancy [Ging] wants to combat has existed for years here and is reinforced at summertime programs run by Hamas, the Islamist group now in control of the Gaza Strip. It runs its own summer camps where children learn martial arts, train with fake weapons, and chant slogans of hatred toward Israel and the United States.

“[The extremists'] currency is violence,” Ging says. “The circumstances unfortunately do assist them in their recruitment of supporters. This is a reality. But every time we have put it to the population here to choose between the agenda of extremists or the agenda of a civilized society, we have never been disappointed.”

Ok, so it’s not Camp Ramah, but this is definitely a positive move by the UN. With the situation so hot in the Middle East these days, and with extremists on every side of the situation jockeying for power and public support, here’s to hoping as many children as possible escape their clutches and reach adulthood with a possibility for peace.

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

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3 responses to “Gaza Summer Camp Takes on Extremism

  1. Ben, does this mean the “trick-or-treat-for-UNICEF” conundrum has at last been resolved? Hooray. I collected “for poor children” for years as a child. (2 orange boxes formed ‘ears’ on my aluminum-foil-robot in 5th-grade.) Later, I was told UNICEF was anathema for funding “terror camps” in Palestine. I’m glad now to see that UNICEF both salutes Tel Aviv (as a World Cultural Heritage Site) and, as you note, may be doing some good in its camps.

  2. I don’t know what this means as far as UN’s role in Israel/Palestine in the future, but I know I don’t envy their position.

    I mean, they HAVE to take care of the Palestinian refugees, who for reasons both Israelis and Palestinians are responsible for, live for the most part in squalor. And every single circumstance is a political powder keg so it’s hard for the UN to come out strongly and blast either Israel or Palestinian leadership.

    That’s why, in my opinion, it’s best to celebrate the good things when they come, and hope that there’s more to celebrate than lament.

  3. We know that it’s not hard for the UN to come out strongly and blast Israel. But they have a harder time blasting the Palestinians. This story churned my stomach. Great for the kids, but it’s only a few weeks until the UN packs up their PR kits and leaves the kids back where they found them, in squalor and misery. And as they get older, a few weeks of summer day camp is not going to turn them from a life of violence. How about freeing up a million of the international aid dollars secreted away by Arafat and his cronies and de-squaloring some of that area? Or does that go against someone’s political agenda?

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