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.