Traveling out of Gaza isn’t easy, even if you’re just a kid who wants to play music

Last year we helped 19 students of the Gaza Music School to travel to a music summer camp held at the National Conservatory of Music at Birzeit University. This year, we filed applications on behalf of 47 students all hoping to attend the same camp.

The young musicians, between the ages of 8 and 16, had been waiting all year for the opportunity to travel from Gaza, some for the first time ever. However, just one day before they were set to leave, we were told by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) that only 30 students had been approved to travel. COGAT did not offer any explanation as to why the number of students had been limited and it was left to their teachers to choose which 17 students would have to stay behind.

We decided not to give up. We contacted journalists and shared the story with them, but very shortly after that, we received another phone call from army officials, telling us that the applications of all the children had been rejected. The reason – they "did not meet the criteria".  Once again, we had to call the school with bad news.

For the children, who were born into the reality of the Gaza closure, going to summer camp in the West Bank was to be a dream come true. They had been practicing their instruments for months, but now it looked as if all the hard work would go to waste.

The next day, every department in Gisha joined a group effort to get the army to reverse its decision. The legal department wrote an urgent letter to the State Attorney's Office (Hebrew) requesting its intervention with the military; the public department contacted the media to publicize the story; Gisha's executive director wrote a letter to Member of Knesset Zahava Gal-On who immediately wrote to the minister of defense (Hebrew). The military came under pressure from every direction: lawyers, journalists, Members of Knesset and ministers' aides, all asking to know why the army would not let a group of children from the Gaza Strip go to music summer camp.

And before long, we received the army's response: "The matter has been reconsidered and reexamined. Considering that these are children and that they had already been notified of their participation in the camp, it has been decided, as an exceptional circumstance and beyond legal requirement, to allow all the children to participate in the summer camp in the [West Bank]". With excitement and satisfaction, we called to tell the kids the happy news. A few days later, the young musicians from Gaza left for Birzeit and joined the summer camp.