Honor Students From Gaza Visit U.S.

March 4, 2010
Honor Students From Gaza Interact With American Youth

About the Authors: Vince Murphy and Shannon Quinn serve as Foreign Service Officers in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

In January, two groups of honor students from Gaza had the extraordinary opportunity to meet and share their experiences with some high school students from the Washington, D.C. area. The ability of Palestinian refugees to travel outside Gaza has been severely restricted since Hamas took over in 2007, making cultural exchanges like this one a rare occurrence. The group of 15 ninth-grade Palestinian girls from Gaza, followed a week later by a group of 15 boys, visited the United States to learn about American perspectives on human rights.

The tour was sponsored by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and funded by the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). The girls and boys were selected out of thousands of ninth-graders in recognition of their high performance in the newly expanded human rights curriculum taught in UNRWA-operated schools in Gaza.

Students from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland's D.C. suburbs met with the kids at the Smithsonian museums. The Americans helped interpret at the museums, and then escorted their guests back to Bethesda for an evening of dinner, indoor basketball and soccer, and visits to local homes for dessert and video games.

Highlights of their trip included meeting former President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center and learning about the civil rights movement in the U.S. at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta; touring the White House and meeting with members of Congress in Washington; and conversing with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the UN in New York.

But certainly some of their fondest memories will be of the American kids that reached out to them with no agenda beyond just making friends. Language and cultural barriers could not withstand the warm smiles and enthusiasm generated by the encounter. Students from both places had a unique opportunity to learn about each other and establish friendships in a relaxed setting far from the tensions of Gaza.

In 2009, the Department of State provided $267 million to UNRWA to support 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in the region, including 1.1 million in Gaza. UNRWA teaches 220,000 students principles of tolerance and human rights in its 220 schools in Gaza.



tina L.
United States
March 4, 2010

Tina in USA writes:

That's a great program I think. But i think it's a little odd to mention Hamas as being a restricting agent and have no mention of Israel in the entire article. What do you think?


Brad B.
March 4, 2010

Brad in Canada writes:

I never understood the decision to allow Hamas to run as a political party. The Europeans have always been weak this way but I thought the US had a certain amount of common sense.

Between the then administration and State, this move was profoundly destructive.

I am left wondering if it was deliberate or the result of misplaced idealism.

Anyway I wish these kids well. With a Hamas government and UNRWA running their schools, they need all all the luck they can get.

Donald M.
Virginia, USA
March 4, 2010

Donald M. in Virginia writes:

@ Tina in USA

Welcome to the Dipnote chat

Virginia, USA
March 4, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

I have often wondered why the rest of the world allows Republicans to run as a political party. I always thought Europeans had more common sense. They let the Republicans elect Bush and look where THAT got us! They should have tried harder to influence Ohio in 2004. Their halfway measures in that state kinda blew up in their face. A Belgian Commando at every polling place would have set things straight. That's the way REAL democracy works!

As for Canada, Bloc Quebecois shouldn't be allowed to run as a political party. After all, they speak French! Mon dieu!

New Mexico, USA
March 5, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Caption that photo-

"girls just want to have fun."

Sounds like they did, as well as an education.

Karen S.
Maryland, USA
March 5, 2010

Karen S. in Maryland writes:

My son Adam was involved as one of the students from BCC. Our kids were just as enriched by this wonderful meeting and we are blessed to be in an area where opportunities abound for our kids to learn about those from the wider world outside our boundaries. I am very thankful to Vince Murphy for extending this to our school!

Catherine C.
Maryland, USA
March 5, 2010

Catherine C. in Maryland writes:

Thank you State Dept and Vince for making this wonderful exchange happen. My son and I really enjoyed meeting the Gaza kids, who were so bright and thoughtful. It felt like a small, but concrete step in the right direction out of the seemingly intractable crisis that is Gaza.

Robert S.
Oregon, USA
April 1, 2010

Robert S. in Oregon writes:

Jerusalem is not only sacred to Jews; it is sacred to Christians because Jesus led his followers, with their demands for justice, into the city during the week of “passover”, and to Muslims because Mohammad went to Jerusalem before ascending to Heaven. The Government of Israel should build equal-sized apartment complexes not only for Jews but also for Christians and Muslims. It should also build a single social center for use by members of all three apartment complexes. Then it should require that only residents who are willing to live in peace with members of the other two faiths, and to make social contact with them, be allowed to live there. This would demonstrate to the whole world that persons of these three faiths, who claim a common spiritual ancestor, Abraham, can live together in peace.


Latest Stories

September 23, 2016

The Solar Age

The rising demand for energy is placing enormous stresses on the environment. Yet, a quiet but profound revolution is underway… more