Kite festival in Gaza offers children rare break from ongoing war

"We fly kites instead of warplanes," 13-year-old Hala Fayyad said.

March 29, 2024, 4:50 PM

GAZA -- Hala Fayyad is proud of her handmade kite, decorated in the colors of the Palestinian flag. The four pieces of colored plastic -- red, white, green and black -- are held simply by white plastic sticks and a few strings.

"We fly kites instead of warplanes," the 13-year-old told ABC News as she held her kite, moments before setting it free to ride the wind.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a religious non-governmental organization, hosted a kite festival at a school in Rafah this week. Hundreds of children of different ages participated in the day of games and activities, which culminated in the children flying their kites, carefully crafted in the past few days, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

AFSC volunteers help children make kites for the festival in Rafah.
American Friends Service Committee

Of the more than 32,000 Palestinians killed in the military response from Israeli forces since October, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, 45% have been children, they have said. Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack in Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 others hostage, according to Israeli officials, who say roughly 100 hostages may remain alive inside Gaza. Israel maintains that their goal is to free the hostages and eliminate Hamas, ensuring it no longer remains a threat to Israel.

The Gaza Health Ministry reported that children are the majority of the over 70,000 injured, too. UNICEF estimates that 1 million children in the Gaza Strip have been affected by the conflict.

AFSC volunteers help children make kites for the festival in Rafah.
American Friends Service Committee

UNICEF, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), Save the Children and other international organizations have warned of the disproportionate cost that children in Gaza are bearing in this conflict in terms of food insecurity and starvation, thirst, displacement and lack of basic healthcare.

"We saw the change in the behavior of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip as a result of displacement, living in tents and shelters," Firas Ramlawi, the director of AFSC in Gaza, told ABC News. "So we wanted to alleviate this, through games and recreational activities."

The kite activity, in particular, provides more than that, the organizers told ABC News. Gazans have a long history of kite-making and flying, connected with symbolic calls for freedom among Palestinians amid the ongoing conflict with Israel, they have said.

Gazans even set a Guinness World Record in 2011 for most kites flown simultaneously, flying over 12,000 kites in one day. Ramlawi said the kites they made this time bore the names of children who were killed in the war.

Palestinian children attend a kite festival organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in which they attempt to break the Guinness world record for the largest number of kites flown simultaneously, July 28, 2011.
Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

On March 30, the AFSC says it will host a parallel kite festival in Washington, D.C., aimed at raising awareness about the price that Palestinian children are paying in this war and calling for a cease-fire in the war.

This will happen as a part of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival and will have a tribute to the late Palestinian professor and poet Refaat Alareer, who wrote the viral poem "If I Must Die" around the kite symbolism. "Refaat said, 'let the kite be a symbol of hope,' which is exactly what we need at this moment: hope to keep our people safe," Jennifer Bing, the organizer of the parallel festival in D.C. and a friend of Alareer, told ABC News ahead of the event.

AFSC volunteers help children make kites for the festival in Rafah.
American Friends Service Committee

Alareer was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza in early December, according to human rights monitor Euro-Med.

"He was 44, so we are having 44 white kites, and a multitude of Palestine-themed others," Bing said, adding that they hope to send a pacifist message to the powerful decision-makers in the United States.

"We fly kites in order to rest our souls from the occupation planes, even for one day," said Basil Ayman, a child who participated in the festival in Rafah. "Why do wars happen anyway? I hope the war stops."

-ABC News' Samy Zyara contributed to this report.

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