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Summer Camp Elates Palestinian Children

Youths from the South Hebron Hills kick around a soccer ball at summer camp in the West Bank village of Tuba on 28 June. The camp is a welcome break for Palestinian children caught in the upheaval of Palestinian-Israeli frictions. A nongovernmental organiza tion runs the program with help from volunteers with Operation Dove, the nonviolent peace corps of the Italian-based Pope John XXIII Community. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill) 

11 Jul 2013 – By Judith Sudilovsky

TUBA, West Bank (CNS) — In this tiny South Hebron Hills encampment of tents and cave dwellings, where camels cling to the sandy hillside and hardy goats scrounge for shoots of brush and desert grasses, it is summer camp time for the children.

It is not yet 10 on a late June morning and the heat is already intense. There is no shade. Camp counselor Amjad Addarah, 24, of nearby At-Tuwani village, has the boys lined up for a traditional debka dance in one part of the encampment. In another area, the girls, most with their hair covered, are practicing a song with counselor Intisar Addarah, 23. Later, the two groups will combine for a short performance.

Afterward, clutching blue helium-filled balloons, the children trek up a rocky, thorn-covered hill where they release them skyward.

“That balloon is going really far,” said 12-year-old Yousef, pointing to his colorful orb above the horizon.

“It is extraordinary, usually the boys need to help with shepherding the goats, and the girls help the mothers. But for two weeks they get to play,” said Matteo, a volunteer from Operation Dove, the nonviolent peace corps of the Italian-based Pope John XXIII Community.

He and the other camp volunteers asked that their real name not be used to avoid visa problems entering or leaving Israel.

After the two-week camp concludes, the children will spend time recounting the activities with their friends, said Mterah Jindieh, 50, who had five grandchildren joining the camp.

“The children are very happy ... but in two weeks time, they will be back to their routine and will be bored with nothing to do,” she said.

It is the 11th year in which the South Hebron Hills Popular Resistance Committee and the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli nongovernmental organization promoting cooperation, have run a summer camp for the children of Tuba and four other villages. The European Union funds the program.

The camp is usually held in At-Tuwani, the largest of the South Hebron villages. It’s where the children attend classes during the school year.

To get to At-Tuwani, the children of Tuba must walk past the Israeli settlement of Ma’on and next to chicken coops the settlers have built. At times, the settlers attack and harass the children, making for a perilous journey. During the school year, Operation Dove volunteers walk with the children and monitor their progress in order to dissuade attacks.

Only the children are permitted to go this way. Palestinian adults must take a longer route through the village of Yatta.

An Israeli Defense Forces escort is supposed to protect the children, but the soldiers do not always show up and seem not to take their job seriously, Matteo said.

This year, the camp met for two days in each village, giving all of the children a chance to host their friends. The camp is a special treat because of the distance between the villages and the danger in passing the Israeli settlement. Normally, there are no afterschool or summer visits with friends.

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Tags: Children Palestine Palestinians West Bank