Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
News

For Group of Gaza Children, a Vacation Thwarted

Haifa, Israel — In a reversal of the usual fight over border crossings — with Gaza’s rulers demanding they be opened and Israel refusing — Hamas has stopped a group of children crossing to Israel for a therapeutic vacation.

On the evening of January 28, a group of 47 Gaza children age four to 13 — some of them orphans as a result of the fighting — arrived at the Erez crossing to begin a two-week break in Northern Israel.

The trip was planned and bankrolled by the Kibbutz Movement, the umbrella organization to which most kibbutzim are aligned, which says it secured the approval of Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum via cell phone.

Barhoum was not immediately reachable for comment.

Contact with Hamas by an Israeli organization is unusual, as most — including human rights bodies sending aid — adopt the Israeli government’s approach of shunning all direct contact with Hamas. Nevertheless, the Israeli government encouraged the trip.

“It was arranged with Hamas as they are in power in Gaza today, but the Kibbutz Movement is not an official entity of Israel,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Hayat explaining why the government did not raise objections. “It was not an official negotiation with Hamas,” he said.

Kibbutz Movement officials said they worked with an independent organization in Gaza, which they declined to name, to locate children who could benefit from the project.

But when it came to the point of the children actually crossing, Hamas troops ordered the driver of their school bus to turn around at a Hamas checkpoint just seven minutes from Israel’s Erez crossing. Two of the group’s leaders and one child who had gone ahead of the others had already entered Israel – where they remain – when the order came.

Joel Marshak, the Kibbutz Movement official who organized the trip, told the Forward: “We spoke to [Barhoum] about the plan to bring [the children] to Israel and they agreed that it would happen.” His understanding is that Hamas forces subsequently took a more hard-line approach to the prospect of Gaza children taking part in a trip organized by Israelis.

Marshak said that as the children neared the border, but before they were turned back, “there were families who called and told their children to return”—the result, he said, of intimidation by Hamas troops.

Marshak said he still hopes that Hamas can be swayed and that the trip will take place.

The government is disappointed that the trip is not taking place, said Hayat. “We viewed the trip as humanitarian and also educational – we hoped that those children who came would come to not see Israel as the enemy,” he said.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.