JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hamas prevented 37 Palestinian children orphaned in Israel’s summer operation in Gaza from entering Israel for a visit coordinated by the country’s kibbutz movement.
The children, who had obtained permits from the Israel Defense Forces to make the weeklong visit to Israel and the West Bank, were turned away Sunday by Hamas security services at the Erez border crossing into Israel, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.
A Hamas spokesman told the Israeli news website Ynet that the children were stopped from traveling to Israel in order to prevent them from “normalizing relations with Israel” and to “protect the culture of our children and our people.”
The children, some from families with strong links to Hamas, had been scheduled to meet with their Israeli peers in Israeli towns and kibbutzim near the border with Gaza. A visit to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank also was planned.
The planned visits were led by Yoel Marshak, from the kibbutz movement. “There were a lot of people waiting to meet these kids, we received a lot of support and help. We will continue to work, mostly at the diplomatic level, to allow them to come. If not today, then in the future,” Marshak told Ynet.