For one day only, the sky above Palestine was filled with colourful kites rather than mortar shells and bombs. On the afternoon of 30 July, children from Gaza gathered at a beach to break the world record for the number of kites flown simultaneously.
6,000 children flew over 3,000 kites in a beach west of Beit Lahiya, UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency), the organisation coordinating the event, estimates.
This festival is part of the annual Summer Games organised by UNRWA, who have provided education, social and relief services to over 4.5 million registered refugees in Palestine since 1948.
Around 240,000 Gazan children have taken part in these Games for the last 3 years; each year thousands took part in a group kite race. Once it became clear that the previous record was for around 700 kites, UNRWA felt the children should break it.
The previous record was set in Melle-Gronegau, Germany, at 967 kites. The BBC reports that Guinness did not send a judge to Gaza and are awaiting Saturday’s final tally to determine whether the record has been broken or not.
In a telephone interview, spokesperson for UNRWA Chris Gunness provided details of the event itself and its impact on the scores of participants.
The kites were made of paper and lightwood, provided by UNRWA. UN blue and Palestinian red, green and black were the most common colour themes; childlike designs and colours such as trees and animals were also prevalent.
“I am so happy today, I never felt so happy. My kite was highest in the sky”, says 9-year-old Mohammed. 11-year-old Sana was “full of happiness” and 12-year-old Ali said, “we are world champions, thank you UNRWA”.
Greeting the press, UNRWA’s Gaza director John Ging commented: “The symbolism of thousands of children, in the world’s most locked-up communities, creating beautiful kites, letting them soar upward, is beautiful…[It’s] an expression of the demand for liberty.”
These children suddenly have the possibility to become world champions – when their daily lives are full of such suffering, that is truly wonderful. Their hopes and dreams flew alongside those kites, far away from their day-to-day worries, and they looked to the skies. There was a genuine sense of fun and excitement during the entire day.
The uniqueness of this event lies in its location – in another city this would be a beautiful sight, to be sure, but would not have generated so much public interest. For one day, Palestinian children could do what all children do. They could build toys and play with them, and watch their creations fly in the sky.
There is a beautiful simplicity in that – for this day, they were children like any other. They know daily suffering as no child ever should, but all these were put aside as the children of Gaza celebrated a Kites Festival with family and friends.