How hard can it be to get to band camp?

Photo: The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music The Palestine National Music Competition is meant to be open to Palestinian students of music from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. Traveling from Gaza to the West Bank, however, involves a complicated coordination process and meeting strict criteria for travel. Potential participants must submit their applications long before the competition is set to take place and undergo security screening. In April of this year, music students from Gaza were compelled to take part in the competition via video conference because their applications to participate in the competition in person were rejected for not meeting Israel’s criteria for exit from the Strip.

In July of this year, however, Gisha was able to help 19 young musicians between the ages of 8 and 15 to travel to a music summer camp at Birzeit University in the West Bank, along with four adult chaperones. The 19 boys and girls are students at the Gaza Music School, a one-of-kind institution in Gaza that teaches Arabic and western music to more than 120 students.

The students were invited to attend the summer camp by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, which also hosts the Palestine National Music Competition in Birzeit every two years. Members of the conservatory were excited to finally meet the students in person and could hardly imagine the amount of red tape they had to go through in order to arrive.

It is not a small amount of red tape. Ahead of the summer camp, we asked the 19 students and their five chaperones to contact the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee which submits permit requests to its Israeli counterpart. On June 19, we contacted the army’s Gaza District Coordination Office to submit a request for the students and their chaperones to be permitted to travel. Eight days later, the DCO replied that the students’ application had been approved, but the chaperones’ denied. We clarified to the DCO that a group of children, the oldest of whom was 15, could not travel from Gaza to the West Bank without adult supervision and that one of the accompanying teachers had received a permit to travel to the West Bank in recent weeks. The DCO approved travel for that teacher the next day. Since she was unable to chaperone 19 students for ten days, the students left on July 2 with only one teacher and without their music teacher. It was only on the following day that the applications of three more chaperones, including the music teacher, were approved. The application of the fifth adult, also a teacher, was not processed since she is not a Palestinian resident and has a foreign passport rather than a Palestinian identity card.

The students ultimately managed to get to the summer camp, where they met students from the West Bank, played music with them, and attended classes taught by guest teachers from around the world. Eight-year-old Abd al-Rahman, 10-year-olds Zina and Mahmoud, 11-year-olds Wail, Shafiq and Ramzi, 12-year-olds Salwa and Nicole, and the rest of the students returned to the Gaza Strip after ten days, hoping to never have to go back to the days of attending summer camp via video conference.