Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hammas Summer Camps

Award winning Gaza journalist and NCF member, Adel Zanoon, writes to send us this:

GAZA CITY, June 17, 2009 (AFP) - Summer has arrived, school's out, and on the carpeted floor of a Gaza City mosque Ala al-Ramalawi is reciting the Koran to a group of 12-year-old girls in colourful veils.
For most of Gaza's children summer camp still means swimming, horseback riding and campfire songs.
But the number of children attending Hamas-run religious camps has soared in the two years since the group seized power, reflecting the growing religious awareness among the enclave's impoverished residents.
"There is no way for us but learning ... The enemy wants to condemn us to a siege and shelling and poverty," says Ramalawi, 16, who prides herself on having memorised the Koran but says she is not a member of Hamas.
Anwar Nassar, the director of the Koran camps, says Hamas supporters make up at most 60 percent of the youth who attend the camps, but that the total number of attendees has soared since the group seized power.
Since the takeover on June 15, 2007, Israel and Egypt have sealed Gaza off to all but limited humanitarian aid, crippling the local economy, fueling massive unemployment, and stalling reconstruction efforts.
Israel has insisted that the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas -- which is backed by Iran and Syria and committed to the Jewish state's destruction -- from arming itself.
But human rights groups have slammed the restrictions as collective punishment of the overcrowded territory of 1.5 million people, where the vast majority of the population depends on foreign aid.
The lack of most building materials has meant that Gaza has recovered little from the devastating three-week Israeli offensive at the turn of the year that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
"The stronger the siege gets and the more frustration there is, the more it pushes the youth towards religiosity and Koranic studies," Nassar said.
More than 20,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 20 will attend the two-month-long religious summer camps this year, up from just 3,000 the year before, he said.

'No future for girls except to learn religion'

Another 100,000 are attending camps that Hamas says are purely recreational, according to Ayman Dalul, the director of the "Victory of Gaza for Jerusalem" camp.
"We will teach the participants arts, swimming, riding horses and history. There are other camps especially for scouts, technology and computers," he says, insisting that military training is not part of the curriculum.
Although many of the youth attending the camps are not Hamas supporters, the growth in interest in Islam serves the interests of the movement, which is committed to the destruction of Israel.
"Hamas is interested in the youth from childhood on," says Sheikh Hamza, a 22-year-old teacher with a long, scraggly beard, one of 1,200 instructors paid 250 dollars a month to teach the Koran and religious studies.
"Teaching the Koran is part of the religion. These are the generations that the movement will rely on for steadfastness and confronting enemies."
Hamas will spend more than 3.5 million dollars on the camps this year alongside its vast network of charities and other social programmes, with much of the funding coming from international Islamic charities.
Such activities, which date back to the movement's founding in the 1980s, have helped it to build up grass-roots political support and contributed to the increasing religious conservatism in Gaza in recent years.
Umm Mohammed, her face concealed beneath a long, black Saudi-style veil, proudly sends her three daughters to a Koranic camp held on the second floor of a mosque near her house.
"Every path is blocked," she says. "There is no future for girls except to learn the religion and the Koran in order to raise their children to serve Palestine and Islam. Everything brings frustration. We have to be stronger."

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