As a former elementary school teacher and a human being, my heart breaks for the children of Gaza.
Picture a 5-year-old eagerly skipping to school, still navigating the intricacies of being in the world. In those formative years, curiosity knows no bounds, and imagination has no limits. Having witnessed this as an educator and experienced it as a child myself, I understand the permeable line between a young mind and the world it inhabits — a realm where everything appears possible. Drawings created, songs learned, and playtime activities all lay the groundwork for shaping one’s future self. A simple art class might spark dreams of becoming a sculptor, while an inspirational gym teacher fosters aspirations of winning the World Cup. Papier-mâché volcanoes explode with baking soda and vinegar, and a chemist is born.
Now, imagine you are a child in Gaza. You attend a school run by a UN agency, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), one of whose primary goals is to keep you, a child, in a perpetual state of victimhood by indoctrinating you into believing that you are, and will always be, a refugee, and that there is no way to escape from this identity. At school, you are taught that there’s an evil force — the Jews — out to destroy you and your people. Your textbooks in all subjects, from writing to math, are embedded with calls to maim and murder these nefarious Jews, and you are taught that if you don’t wage jihad against them, your life is rendered meaningless. You learn that heroes are people who blow themselves up on buses or massacre young adults at a music festival, rather than visionaries who cure diseases or write groundbreaking books. Dreams are maliciously stolen, and a singular path is laid out by teachers, leaving malleable minds with no choice but to succumb to the incitement. Oh, and there’s a good chance your teachers are Hamas members, too.
This is what the children of Gaza learn, day in and day out.
Evidence continues to mount of UNRWA staff’s involvement in the October 7th Hamas massacre, their assistance to Hamas in hiding Israeli hostages in Gaza, and the ties of thousands of UNRWA employees to terror groups. Dozens of countries around the world are freezing their aid to UNRWA in response, sparking outrage from some prominent voices, such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When I think about those children in Gaza, I say that any country who has not ceased financing UNRWA is complicit in child abuse. Anyone expressing horror at cuts to UNRWA funding by exclaiming something along the lines of, ‘b-b-but the children of Gaza!’ is actually perpetuating the abuse of the children of Gaza.
There is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. That is a fact, and it is heartbreaking. We should all be concerned about it, and it must be effectively addressed. Let us be clear, however: it is a Hamas-perpetrated, UNRWA-upheld humanitarian crisis. The UN has mechanisms in place to effectively deal with humanitarian disasters. It is perfectly capable of bringing trucks of supplies into areas that need them and providing support for at-risk communities around the globe. I saw one example of this myself when I worked with South Sudanese refugees in Uganda: the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, was there, day in and day out, to assist people in need. There are alternatives to UNRWA, even within the confines of the UN itself. Calling to keep UNRWA in place because there is ‘no other solution’ is naïve and lazy at best and malicious at worst.
I have yet to have children of my own, but when I imagine my younger sisters and me growing up in an UNRWA school system instead of the American public school system, I feel sick. As kids, my sisters and I were instilled with the value of living meaningful lives and repairing the world. Who would we have become if we had attended UNRWA schools? I shudder at this chilling possibility; we would not be ourselves. If the children of Gaza are to have a real chance to dream, to play, to create, to evolve, and to think for themselves, two things must happen: Hamas must be eliminated, and UNRWA must be disbanded.
I dream of a real future for the children of Gaza, a future in which they can dream, too.