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Feature: Palestinian kids see beach for first time with help of Israeli volunteers

by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, July 13 (Xinhua) — It was a hot July morning at the Tel Aviv beach, where the waves were as high as the humidity under the scorching sun.

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Near the shore, volunteers were blowing up dozens of water floats, preparing for the arrival of a bus of Palestinians from the West Bank.

For these Palestinians, it will be their first time to arrive at a beach.

Since Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War, it has controlled the territory as well as the Palestinians living there.

Their movement is largely restricted by high-tech surveillance and checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers. They do not have access to the sea which is under full Israeli control.

The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank territories. In 2016, the United Nations adopted a resolution describing the Jewish settlement activity as a “flagrant violation” of international law.

When the children and their mothers arrived, they ran to the beach, gasping at the sea they had seen for the first time.

Some were hesitant but most made a sprint to the waters. At this moment, the politics were left behind.

“It was difficult and we spent about an hour and a half at the border. They checked us there. The weather was hot and my children were tired,” said one of the mothers, recalling the challenging journey to Tel Aviv.

The group of around 50 Palestinian women and children were from the West Bank city of Hebron, one of the most controversial cities and main hotspot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Every summer, the Israeli volunteers bring about 24 groups from different cities and villages in the West Bank to the sea.

“Many of the Palestinians … did not know the sea was salty. They did not know it was wavy … It was one of their biggest dreams to come to the beach,” said Amira Ityel, one of the volunteers.

The project has been going on for more than a decade. Jonathan Enoch, who is about to turn 13, has been a volunteer with his father since he was 10.

For him, the joy of seeing young children at the beach for the first time keeps him in the volunteer team.

“You see them, you see how much fun they have and it is making their dream come true,” he told Xinhua.

“I have never seen the real waves. I saw them via TV. We went to the swimming pool but there are no waves. Here we can see waves and beautiful things,” said one of the Palestinians.

The women who organize the event come from a left-wing group called Machsomwatch. Founded in 2001, it has been opposing the Israeli control over the Palestinian territories. Its members monitor Israeli military checkpoints frequently and try to intervene when they see human rights infringements.

Every summer, they compile lists of West Bank residents who want to come to beach and apply for permits for them to enter Israel. The process of the permits usually takes two weeks.

Their endeavors are sometimes not understood by the Israelis.

“Israelis cannot understand that. It is very difficult for them to understand the mothers who have not been to the beach even if they were in their 30s or 40s,” Ityel told Xinhua.

“My children are happy. We live in the old city of Hebron and you can feel that the residents there are under lots of pressure, because the Israeli occupation created a lot of checkpoints and you cannot move freely,” said one of the Palestinian mothers.

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