Sea Days for Palestinian Children is a project that started in 2007, and takes place every year in the summer months.
The project enables children and their mothers from the West Bank to reach the sea, to enjoy a fun vacation day, and to meet Israelis who are not wearing a military uniform and carrying weapons. Despite their relative proximity to the sea, for most of the participants this is the first chance to see the sea and to enjoy its pleasures.
Palestinians require a permit to enter Israel. The purpose of entry can be work, medical care, family visits, or joint activities with human rights organizations. A tour in Israel is a separate category that enables a group entry for one day, with a personal permit for each participant. The request for permits for the Sea Days is managed by MachsomWatch through a bureaucratic system required by the army.
The mothers and children reach the checkpoint at 8am, and after passing through the checkpoint they travel to the Tel Baruch Beach (in Tel-Aviv) in chartered buses financed by the project. The children race to the water, each with a swimming tube inflated in advance by the volunteers. A midmorning snack of sandwiches, drinks, watermelon and popsicles is served. After several hours at the sea, splashing in the waves, playing in the sand, laughter, and games with the many volunteers, the group continues for lunch at a Jaffa restaurant.
After the meal, professional volunteers lead the children in creative activities in the Ravita Community Center in Jaffa. The activities include drawing, movement, theatre, yoga, and various handicrafts. At the same time, a Women’s Circle is held. The purpose of this circle is to listen to the voices of the Palestinian women and hear about the reality of their lives, and to tell them about us. Our purpose, beyond being humanitarian, is primarily political: to bring together Palestinians and Israelis so as to reduce, if only a little, the fear and threat felt by both sides. These circles always leave the participants with a taste for more. The day ends with a boat trip on the Mediterranean Sea leaving from the scenic Jaffa Harbour
Participant groups are arranged by Palestinians whom we know from our activities with MachsomWatch or other human rights organizations in the occupied territories, and also through inquiries from Israelis and Palestinians who call us, after having heard about this project. The groups come from across the West Bank, from south Hebron Hills and from the city itself, from villages in the Bethlehem area, from Nablus area, from the Jordan Valley, and from the northern West Bank to Jenin, and the Bedouins of the Jahalin community in the Jerusalem region.
Our goal is to bring as many children and mothers to the sea as possible. However, due to our scarce resources, we concentrate on those with limited means, on those who live in areas of friction with settlers who make their lives difficult, and on those who suffer from activities of the State which restricts them in various ways such as land expropriation, limits on water supply, restriction of movement, and so on.
In 2007, the project started with one minibus with two families. The project developed quickly, and since 2011 we have had the privilege of bringing about 24 groups annually with about 55 participants per group, a grand total of about 1300 children and mothers per year. The costs are funded entirely through donations.
We are a team of 7 women who organize and manage the project, 15 other women who assist us with day-to-day management, and also a growing group of volunteers. It is important to note that the existence of the Sea Days depends on there being enough volunteers who come to be with the children at the beach, and on the donations that finance all the costs, including travel, food, equipment, and material for the creative activities. In the summer of 2019, about 400 volunteers participated in various Sea Days activities, and 250 people made donations to cover the costs.
Thankfully, the Sea Days attract a large and diverse number of Israeli volunteers, who say that they have become “addicted” to the project, thus creating beautiful direct connections between Israelis and Palestinians. The experience is very special and moving, and its vibes are growing stronger year after year. We see great significance in increasing the involvement of volunteers and donors in the Sea Days community, as part of the change to which we aspire.
We hope that days of peace will come and that one day we will all be able to swim together in the sea without restrictions. As one of the volunteers wrote:
“Despite the fact that most of us didn’t speak each other’s language, the waves and everything we could do in the water provided us with a common language and common joy. I believe it is urgent to increase the number of such projects. First, all children around here deserve childhood with beaches and fun in the sun. In addition, such projects make us all see the basic things that can bring us closer together.”