Educating the younger generation in the Gaza Strip: summer camps organized by UNRWA in “competition” with Hamas, are a target for threats and assaults.

The fire-gutted UNRWA camp (, May 24, 2010).

The fire-gutted UNRWA camp (, May 24, 2010).

The summer camp after the fire (Russia Today TV, May 23, 2010).

The summer camp after the fire (Russia Today TV, May 23, 2010).

John Ging, director of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip

John Ging, director of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip

The fire-gutted UNRWA camp (, May 24, 2010).
The fire-gutted UNRWA camp (, May 24, 2010).

Arson at an UNRWA Summer Camp

1. At 2:30 on the morning of May 23 a group of 30 armed masked men broke into the construction site of an UNRWA summer camp. The site was located on the shore close to Sheikh Ajlin in the western part of Gaza City. They set fire to the camp and burned it to the ground. Water tanks, offices, equipment and games for the children and the fence were destroyed, according to an UNRWA spokesman.

2. The armed men gave a letter to the night watchman addressed to John Ging, UNRWA director in the Gaza Strip. It threatened his life and had four bullets attached to it. Ayman al-Batiniji, spokesman for the Gazan police, said a flysheet had also been found warning UNRWA from continuing its aberrant activities which "damage the morals of the children” (Russia Today TV, May 23, 2010)

The summer camp after the fire (Russia Today TV, May 23, 2010).
The summer camp after the fire (Russia Today TV, May 23, 2010).

3. According to UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna, the previous Friday, May 21, flysheets were distributed in the mosques throughout the Gaza Strip from a network calling itself "The Free Men of the Homeland.” The flysheets accused UNRWA and its directors of affiliation with "imperialism” and threatened the UNRWA activities’ administration and its employees (Russia Today TV, May 23, 2010)

UNRWA’s Response

4. John Ging condemned the event and called it "vandalism linked to extremism and an attack on the happiness of children.” He added that UNRWA would not be deterred by such actions and despite the destruction and threats, the camp would be set up and open, along with the other 35 currently under construction, on June 12, as planned1 (UNRWA website, May 24, 2010).

John Ging, director of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip
John Ging, director of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, comments on the event

(Russia Today TV, May 23, 2010).

5. UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna demanded an investigation, saying that he expected the de facto Hamas administration to put an end to such events. He added that the incident had serious international implications because UNRWA was a UN agency. He also said that UNRWA had agreed to every condition imposed by Palestinian society and that he therefore wondered what caused the attack (Radio Sawt al-Quds, May 23, 2010).

Hamas’ Response

6. Official Hamas sources condemned the burning of the summer camp but made an attempt through the media to marginalize it. Taher al-Nunu, spokesman for the de facto Hamas administration, said that the administration condemned the attack and opposed any infringement of security, and expressed indignation at the flysheets attacking UNRWA activities. He noted UNRWA’s support of the Palestinian people and John Ging’s efforts to "lift the siege,” as well as the commitment of the Hamas administration to ensure security for everyone, especially UNRWA employees. He appealed to UNRWA to conduct a dialogue with various elements to discuss controversial issues which "surprise the Palestinian street” (Radio Sawt al-Quds, May 23, 2010).

7. The interior ministry of the de facto Hamas administration said in a statement that it was taking care of "the partial burning of the summer camp’s roof” and that it had initiated an official investigation to discover who was behind the incident, despite the fact that "there were no eye-witnesses.” It also claimed that UNRWA had blown the incident out of all proportion and exaggerated what had really happened. The ministry advised UNRWA not to press for an investigation and to examine its educational curricula and adapt it to Palestinian society, a hint that perhaps that had been the cause of the incident (Radio Sawt al-Quds, May 23, 2010).

8. Police spokesman Ayman al-Batiniji said that an investigation was being conducted and that the incident had in fact been exceptional, in view of the fact that the arsonists had left bullets as a threat. He also said it was possible that parents who were not pleased with UNRWA’s curriculum were behind it. However, he did not reject the possibility that it was the work of so-called "extremist elements.” He said the police would deal strictly with the incident but also asked UNRWA to examine the program of the summer camps "to make them suitable to Palestinian society in the Gaza Strip” ( website, May 23, 2010).


9. There is no conclusive evidence that Hamas was behind the burning of the summer camp. It might have been the work of Hamas elements operating without authorization, or other terrorist organizations or Islamists.

10. However, ever since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, and especially after Operation Cast Lead, tensions have increased between the Hamas administration and the foreign relief organizations operating in the Gaza Strip, particularly UNRWA.

11. Hamas, which makes a constant effort to tighten its control over the Palestinian populace in the Gaza Strip, regards UNRWA as a competitor (and sometimes even as a rival) because it comes into direct contact with the Palestinians and can have social, cultural and educational influence. The Hamas administration would like to minimize the influence of UNRWA (and the other foreign relief organizations) by making it an organization providing financial and material support to the Gazans through Hamas and not directly.

12. The nature of the education provided by UNRWA to the Gazan children, through its many educational institutions spread throughout the Strip and its summer camps, is a long-standing point of contention between it and Hamas, as well as the other radical and terrorist Islamic organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. This was not the first time that the disagreement was manifested by assaults on UNRWA educational institutions, which Hamas and other radical Islamic groups in the Gaza Strip represent as corrupting the morals of Palestinian youth. It was also not the first time John Ging received threats.

13. Hamas and radical Islamic groups also exerted pressure on UNRWA in the second half of 2009:
A. On Friday May 29, 2009, the preachers in the mosques in the Gaza Strip warned parents not to send their children to UNRWA’s summer camps. Ahmed al-Safadi, a preacher in a [radical Islamic] Salafi mosque, claimed that the camps were not suited to Islamic religiou law because they allowed for "the mingling of the sexes.” Another preacher urged parents to send their children only to "religious camps” where the Qur’an and Islam were studied (Al-Quds Al-Arabi, May 30, 2009). On July 12 Fatah’s Internet forum reported that Hamas had distributed flysheets in the mosques accusing UNRWA of "an attempt to corrupt the younger generation,” and that many preachers had urged parents not to allow their children to participate in UNRWA’s summer camps.

B. Yunis al-Astel, a member of the Hamas faction in the Palestinian Legislative Council, claimed to Palestinian media that at the UNRWA summer camps the sexes mingled, drugs were distributed, the youth learned how to dance, and that there were even activities to promote reconciliation between the Palestinians and Israel.2 Filastin al-‘Aan, a Hamas-affiliated website, even claimed that UNRWA’s summer camps spread disease (Filastin al-‘Aan website, July 16, 2009).3

C. At the final ceremony of the Hamas summer camp in Rafah on August 2, 2009, Yunis al-Astel again attacked the "barbaric attack on our children at the inferior summer camps” [i.e., those run by UNRWA], whose objective is to corrupt their morals by distributing drugs and other things…” (Hamas Legislative Council faction website, August 3, 2009).

14. Hamas’ pressure on UNRWA shifted to its school curriculum when the new school year began. In September 2009, before studies began, Hamas attacked UNRWA’s educational system for teaching the Holocaust of the Jewish people. In the background there was information that UNRWA intended to include basic lessons about the Holocaust in the eighth grade studies dealing with issues of human rights. In response to what was perceived as a dangerous precedent (the Holocaust is not taught in Palestinian Authority schools), Hamas spokesmen showered abuse on UNRWA, calling the Holocaust "a lie invented by the Zionists” and teaching it "a war crime,” "support and service for the Zionists,” and other choice epithets.


1 UNRWA’s camps are called "Summer Games” and have been held for the past four years with the support and involvement of local residents. It is a program for the summer months planned for 250,000 Gazan children. The camps provide facilities for sports, swimming, arts and crafts, theatre and drama (UNRWA website, May 24, 2010). Hamas conducts its own summer camps, which integrate social activities with Hamas movement indoctrination and sometimes semi-military activities.  For further information see the August 16, 2010 bulletin, "Hamas summer camps in the Gaza Strip integrate social activities with political and Islamic indoctrination and semi-military training. The camps’ goal is to foster the next generation of Hamas terrorist operatives” at

2 For further information see the July 2009 bulletin, "The Islamization process promoted by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and its social and political implications for the local, Middle Eastern and international scenes” at

3 The Hamas campaign against UNRWA and its Gaza Strip director John Ging for the hearts and minds of Palestinian youth does not only concern its summer camps. Hamas has accused UNRWA of corrupting the morality of the Palestinian people ("polluting” conservative, pure Palestinian society) by its educational institutions.

4 For further information see the September 6, 2009 bulletin, "The battle for hearts and minds in the Gaza Strip: Hamas attacks UNRWA for planning to teach the Holocaust in its schools. The attack reflects Hamas’ ambition for absolute control over education in the Gaza Strip and to inculcate students with its radical Islamic ideology, including hatred and terrorism against Israel” at