Hamas, ministry of religious affairs, or United Nations? Summer camp wars in the Gaza Strip.

Notes from different corners of the world.
July 27 2010 1:57 PM

Gaza's Summer Camp War

Kids in the Gaza Strip can spend their summers swimming, studying the Quran, or learning about Palestinian prisoners.

(Continued from Page 1)

Sixteen-year-old Ahmed Abul Kass gave his Hamas camp a glowing review: "They take us on many trips, and I have a good time playing with the other kids here. Also, I learn about the Al-Aqsa mosque and prisoners in Israel," he says in one breath, flushed from participating in a sack race. When asked to describe what he learned about Al-Aqsa (known by Jews as the Temple Mount), Ahmed considers his answer. "I learned that Israelis are digging under it, and it might fall down, and no one cares about it," he says.

In the Hamas camp's art class, boys are asked to draw whatever comes to mind. Most often, volunteer art teacher Ibrahim Sukar says, the kids draw the Al-Aqsa mosque, violent scenes from Israel's 22-day 2009 offensive, or the Turkish flotilla that tried to break Israel's three-year blockade on Gaza in May. Sure enough, of the 15 boys in the room, 12 have put a Palestinian flag somewhere in their picture. Many have drawn the al-Aqsa mosque, and a few have sketched scenes of violence. Only one boy has produced a pastoral scene of a house in a field.

The children who attend the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs camps spend most of their time on the Quran. Once a week, children are taken on field trips, but otherwise they are occupied with religious matters.


All the groups—UNRWA, Hamas, and the ministry—segregate their campers. At every campsite, girls and boys attend different sessions with same-gender counselors.

In a ministry-run camp on the second floor of a mosque, about 90 girls sit in small groups of 10 to 15, taking turns reading from the Quran. It's quiet in the room—the ceiling fans whirl, pages shuffle, and soft voices recite the holy words.

The young women here are self-assured and disciplined, with no teenage awkwardness or giggling. Girls shout out their responses to questions. "I come here so I can be close to God. This is the way I show him I love him, by coming here," explains 15-year-old Alah Nasser. "The U.N. summer camps are empty," says Alah. "OK, they go for entertainment, but no good comes from it in the next life. Here, we learn the Quran and we hope to end up in paradise." She gestures forcefully as she speaks.

The administrators of the U.N. camps agree with Alah's assessment. Maher El-Sayes, a camp manager, explains: "The UNRWA wants kids to play and have fun, there's no other motive. Other factions try to make kids support them in the future. UNRWA was apolitical from the beginning and has nothing to do with the interior conflicts. That's why many people send their children here."

UNRWA camper Mahmoud Salim, 14, is busy at work at a craft table. He is building a kite. "I'm so happy here, everything is so great," he says, anxious to return to his task. He doesn't quite get the problem other camps have with his summer of fun.

"They're different than us." Mahmoud says. He pauses to consider the differences when prompted. "We swim in a pool, but they swim in another place," he decides, distractedly eying his kite.

Like Slate on  Facebook. Follow us on  Twitter.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.