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Palestinian children’s drawings find sanctuary at Swat

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This drawing from the upcoming exhibit is one of the many drawings by children from Gaza that were a part of an art therapy program. (Courtesy of http://tiny.cc/ywbtp.)

After being blocked by Jewish lobbyists in Oakland, California, an exhibit of drawings by Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip will be coming to Swarthmore on April 6. The project’s originator and organizer, Susan Johnson, met with the Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP) on Monday night to discuss the specifics of their collaboration effort.

The drawings were collected by Johnson herself, who, in 2009, visited the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory that borders Egypt and Israel and is home to approximately 1.5 million people. Operation Cast Lead, a three-week bombing and invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israel that took place in early 2009, resulted in the death of around 1,300 Palestinians and caused enormous and largely irreversible destruction (to the regional economy and infrastructure). Johnson and her group visited centers, where they were shown drawings made by Gaza’s children as part of an art therapy program that dealt with the trauma sustained during these three weeks of invasion.

“I sat and I cried the whole time [the director] was showing the pictures to us … I decided that there had to be a traveling exhibit of these children’s drawings,” Johnson said during the meeting.

Johnson contacted six different centers that then asked their children to create drawings themed around the experiences they lived through on the weeks of Operation Cast Lead. The drawings were created with the express purpose of showing them to the rest of the world.

“I think that seeing a child’s suffering through his paintings can send a strong message,” SPJP President Ahmad Ammous ’13 said. Ammous is an international student from Ramallah, a city in Palestine’s West Bank.

After passing through 10 states and being received quite enthusiastically, the collection, titled “A Child’s View From Gaza,” traveled to California’s Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA), where it was blocked by Jewish groups, according to Johnson.

“I was devastated, because I was so excited that the drawings were going to be in a museum — a real museum,” she said. “But in the long run they shot themselves in the foot … We would have never gotten that kind of attention if it weren’t for them [the Jewish groups].”

Daniel Hirschel-Burns ’14, a Jew and active member of SPJP, does not understand how anyone could have blocked the exhibit. He said that the images were “powerful” and “far more disturbing” than he could have imagined.

“To not feel anything after seeing these pictures, and to think that they are purely a political statement, I think, is missing the point. These are just children and they suffered terribly,” he said. “Even if you are pro-Israel and you believe that Operation Cast Lead was a strategic move that Israel had to make, not allowing the suffering of these innocent children to be exhibited is pretty incomprehensible.”

Ammous, like Hirschel-Burns, thinks it is a shame that some groups are willing to use their influence to prevent “the truth from coming out.”

“This is not an armed militant who’s being subjected to such horror, but kids,” he said. “Hopefully the exhibit will increase awareness of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip, and make sure that the attacks are not forgotten.”

The children whose drawings will be displayed are aged seven to fourteen. The collection is tentatively scheduled to arrive at the college for four or five days later this year in April.

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