Palestine Pulse

Will canceled camps mean a deadly summer for Gaza's children?

Article Summary
As the Great Return March enters its 18th week, the killing of Majdi al-Satari, 12, by an Israeli sniper at the Gaza-Israel border highlights the lack of summer camps this year to keep children busy elsewhere.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — During a typical summer in Gaza, Palestinian children would be occupied attending camps, but this summer is different.

On July 28, Majdi al-Satari, 12, from the Shaboura refugee camp in Rafah, was killed by a bullet to the head fired by an Israeli sniper at a protest on Gaza's border with Israel. The protest, called "Friday of Our Martyrs' Children," was part of the Great Return March, which has entered its 18th week. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that a young man, Ghazi Abu Mostafa, was also killed and 264 others injured.

Satari had been participating in the border protests since they began on March 30. On the day he died, Satari, along with neighbors and friends, took the bus from Shaboura to the symbolic refugee camps set up by the Higher National Commission of the Great Return March and Breaking the Siege, consisting of representatives of the various Palestinian factions taking part in the protests.

Majdi's mother, Kholoud al-Satari, told Al-Monitor, “I knew that the Israeli army makes no distinction between a child and a man on the border. I had forbidden Majdi from going to the marches of return but to no avail. His curiosity was stronger than anything else.”

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During previous summers, Majdi had enrolled with his cousins and friends for the camps held by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) across Gaza. The camps were canceled this year, however, due to the agency's financial crisis, stemming from the United States cutting aid to the organization. Despite several attempts, Al-Monitor was unable to obtain a comment by UNRWA about the suspension.

“Majdi had not joined any summer camps this year, because we were not informed of any UNRWA summer camps. We did not know why,” said Majdi’s mother. “He loved these summer activities and would come back home happy to tell us what he had done and learned.”

In a July 27 UN News report, David Hatton, head of UNRWA's Gaza Community Mental Health Program, was quoted as remarking that the financial crisis had led to a sharp decline in “funding humanitarian efforts in general in Palestine.”

Nikolai Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, condemned Satari's death, tweeting, “Yesterday’s killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy by Israeli fire in Gaza is shocking and tragic. Children are not a target! Too many lives have been lost. It’s time for this to stop.”

Ashraf al-Qadra, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Eighteen boys and two girls under the age of 18 years have been shot dead while participating in the return marches.” He added, “Thirty-two hundred Palestinian children have been injured with live bullets. Children were directly targeted during the marches.” Qadra called on organizations dealing with children’s rights to intervene and stop the grave violations committed by Israel against Palestinian children.

On July 23, Al-Monitor attended the closing ceremony for one of the regular Hamas-organized summer camps for children. This year the camps' motto was “I Am Returning to My Homeland,” inspired by the marches of return.

“Around 40,000 children between the ages of 10 and 16 from across the governorates of the Gaza Strip participated in the camps,” Amjad Mazid, chairman of the central committee of Hamas' summer camps, told Al-Monitor.

Hamas' five-day summer camps include such activities as sports, scouting and self-defense. They also offer lessons in Palestinian heritage and history and learning religious songs. Two days of this year's camps included activities near the camps set up for the Great Return March to further familiarize the children with the right of return.

The children painted tires that protesters would later set ablaze during Friday protests. They also launched colored balloons bearing the names of Palestinians killed in confrontations with Israel and the names of the cities from which their ancestors were evicted during the Nakba of 1948.

Fadel Abu Hain, head of the Psychology Department at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Summer camps should be set up for Gazan children in well-considered places. Well-thought-out activities should be implemented to help alleviate their psychological distress and frustration.”

“These kids are feeling the repercussions of the bad economic and stressful situation in the Gaza Strip,” he remarked. “Following up on children's cases from the past wars and military escalations, we found that the psychological harm suffered by the children was more onerous than physical injury. A child might act as a hero during the day, but at night his fears and terrors would flare up.”

The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights issued a report on July 25 on violations against children during events in Gaza for the first half of the year. According to the report, children were targeted by Israeli soldiers, with 22 killed “directly or indirectly” by them. Israel arrested 18 children from Gaza.

Dozens of children had taken part in a protest held June 24 at the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, in northern Gaza, to demand the lifting of the siege and to be able to live a decent life. Until a political breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lives of children in Gaza will remain at stake.

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Hana Salah is a Palestinian journalist who focuses on financial, business, agricultural and development issues. She is currently pursuing her master's degree in economic development from the Islamic University of Gaza. She has worked for Palestinian newspapers, Turkey's Anadolu News Agency and developmental organizations.

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