Saud Abu Ramadan
June 16, 2010 - 12:00am

Mohamed Atallah, a teacher and one of the mentors in a major summer camp run by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) on Gaza beachside insisted that mentors are not teaching school children any politics, but only entertaining them.

On Sunday, UNRWA inaugurated its own summer camps in the Gaza Strip to entertain refugees' schoolchildren. Streets of Gaza City saw UNRWA vehicles and hundreds of UNRWA children holding summer camps flame.

UNRWA summer camps were inaugurated a day before Gaza-ruling Islamic Hamas movement started its own camps. Hamas said in a banner that its camps "are religious and cultural and not summer camps of debauchery," in reference to UNRWA camps.

"Here, it's not allowed to think or talk about politics, we differ from other summer camps run by other organizations," Atallah said, adding "we are not linked to any political group, but we try our best to help the children to get out of the horrible situation they had passed over the past several years."

Attallah was speaking to Xinhua as dozens of UN blue flags, placed on top of a huge square blue tent, were fluttering, and hundreds of Gaza refugees' schoolchildren were enjoying a good time on the white-sand beach.

The tent, taking up an area of around one acre, was divided into six separate sections. In each section, there are 250 children, wearing their ordinary clothes and caps with the words " Summer Games 2010." There are two rooms in each section, one for the mentors and one for food and drinks.

In front of the six separate sections, there are two swimming pools for children. The children practice all kinds of activities, including drawing, sports games like volleyball and football, singing national traditional songs that do not contradict with Islam.

"The children here are allowed to practice freely all kinds of entrainment that never contradict with the culture, traditions or religion. But children express what they feel inside by drawing things related to the current situation," said Atallah, adding " they draw tanks and warplanes shelling schools and homes."

Yasmin Dib, an 11-year-old girl, said "we usually come here in order to joy and be happy. I really feel so happy when I come to this summer camp, I feel safe and secure and I can have a food time with my classmates, where we play, laugh and swim together."

On May 23, unknown masked militants vandalized the biggest UNRWA summer camp on the beach of southern Gaza City, as it was still under construction. UNRWA chief of operations John Ging had said his organization would renovate the camp.

The unknown masked militants, who are apparently extremist Islamists, considered the summer camps of UNRWA as encouraging school children for debauchery, while the Gaza Strip community is a religious and conservative one.

Suzan Ahmed, a Gaza woman supervisor responsible for taking care of a group of children joining the UNRWA summer camp on the beach of Gaza, told Xinhua that this summer camp is the biggest among the other 38 spreading all over the Gaza Strip.

"There are 60,000 male and female children of elementary schools joining the 38 summer camps in the Gaza Strip. There are two shifts per day in each camp, and each shift is five hours," said Ahmed, adding "there are 2,000 male and female supervisors and mentors, most of them are basically teachers."

There are 1,500 boys and 1,500 girls in the biggest UNRWA camp, Ahmed said, adding boys join the morning shift, and around 30 buses escort girls from schools to the summer camp for the afternoon shift.

In the northern Gaza Strip beach, Hamas movement established one of its summer camps. The camp sees a huge green tent, where four green Hamas flags were fluttering.

Hamas organizers of the camp said they have 5,000 children joining 30 summer camps in Gaza City only.

Ihab al-Eisawai, Hamas summer camps media officer, told Xinhua that Hamas launched its summer camps earlier than usual, adding as long as high-school children finish their exams next week, all summer camps are expected to be full of participants.

"Each summer camp carries the name of a Hamas militant killed by the occupation, or the name of a village destroyed in Palestine in 1948 and the name of the prisoners," he said, adding "we are expecting to have 100,000 children joining the summer camps."

Hamas has established 600 summer camps all over the Gaza Strip, divided into four categories, including camps run by the ministry of religious affairs, camps run by pro-prisoners organizations, camps by the Hamas movement itself and one run by Hamas women.

"UNRWA summer camps affected our summer activities this year, because UNRWA attracts the children by offering them entertaining games. Our camps are different, we carry out cultural, media, arts and technology activities, in addition to focusing on teaching them the real Islam," al-Eisawi said.


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