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Hamas Refuses to Let 37 Orphaned Children Visit Israel And West Bank on Bridge-Building Trip

( [email protected] ) Dec 29, 2014 12:38 PM EST

Hamas Blocks Bridge-Building Effort Between Israel and Palestinians
Dec. 28, 2014: Activists wait at the Erez border crossing for youths from Gaza, who were turned away by Hamas authorities. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

Despite the fact that there is still animosity on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians have tried to build bridges that could lead to long-term peace in the region. However, Hamas has gotten in the way in those latest efforts.

In a highly unusual move, Israeli officials gave their blessing to a weeklong peace-building visit that would have included 37 young war orphans from Gaza. Before they could pass the Erez border crossing, Hamas authorities refused to let them proceed at the last minute.

"This was a suspicious visit that aimed to normalize our children with the Zionist occupation," Eyad al-Buzom, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza, said in a telephone interview conducted by the New York Times. "In order to protect our sons, we prevented them from visiting the occupation."

Isabel Kershner and Majd al Wahedi of the New York Times reported that although Buzom did not elaborate why Hamas denied the orphans entry into Israel, he noted that "dangerous" trips of this kind would not be allowed in the future. The orphans, accompanied by five adults from Gaza, were between 13 and 16 years old according to Buzom.

According to BBC News, the visit would have taken the children to Arab towns in Israel, areas targeted by militants' rockets in the conflict, a mixed-race school and a Tel Aviv beach. It was organized by kibbutz leaders, the charity Candle for Peace and Arab-Israeli officials.

"The group's itinerary was to include visits to Tel Aviv and Jaffa; the safari park in nearby Ramat Gan; Kafr Qassem and Umm al Fahm; a school and a kibbutz near the border with Gaza; the Bedouin town of Rahat; and the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank," Kershner and Wahedi wrote.

Yoel Marshak of the Kibbutz Movement told the BBC that the children's visit included plans to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"In 20 or 30 years, these children will be the leaders in Gaza," Marshak said. "The idea was to give them a positive experience in Israel."

Marshak added that the orphans included the children of Hamas fighters who were killed during the 50-day war with Israel this summer. According to the New York Times, the hostilities ended in late August thanks to a cease-fire brokered by Egypt.

Marshak showed a copy of a permit from Israeli authorities granting permission for the visit to take place. The New York Times reported that the group's entry received approval on an "exceptional and one-time basis, in light of the special circumstances."

Hamas has consistently stated that it refused to recognize Israel's right to exist and has sworn to the Jewish state's destruction. As a result, Israel, along with most countries in the West, has considered Hamas as a terrorist organization and has refused to negotiate direct deals with that group.

Tags : Hamas, terrorist organization, Gaza, Gaza Strip, Erez border crossing, Egypt, Israel, Israel-Palestine relations, kibbutz, orphaned children Gaza, war orphans Gaza, Israeli occupation