"Where could it be safe to build a kindergarten in Gaza?" Adnan Abu Al Sa'ud responded when I questioned whether building on the edge of the Gaza/Egypt border would be a safe location for a kindergarten. It was hard to imagine teaching children against a backdrop of bullet-riddled buildings, heaps of rubble from houses pulverized by Israeli bombing and bulldozing, and the continuing airstrikes of the nearby tunnels at night. Yet I understood Abu Al Sa'ud's point — what made me determined to go to Gaza was watching the news during Israel's "Cast Lead" military offensive, when not even schools, hospitals, and the UN compound were spared from attack.

"Where could it be safe to build a kindergarten in Gaza?" Adnan Abu Al Sa'ud responded when I questioned whether building on the edge of the Gaza/Egypt border would be a safe location for a kindergarten. It was hard to imagine teaching children against a backdrop of bullet-riddled buildings, heaps of rubble from houses pulverized by Israeli bombing and bulldozing, and the continuing airstrikes of the nearby tunnels at night. Yet I understood Abu Al Sa'ud's point — what made me determined to go to Gaza was watching the news during Israel's "Cast Lead" military offensive, when not even schools, hospitals, and the UN compound were spared from attack.

The UN reports that 18 schools, including 8 kindergartens, were completely destroyed and over 40 percent of Gaza's schools were damaged in this assault. No kindergarten could ensure children's safety in Gaza but building one alongside Yebna Refugee Camp would provide these children an invaluable head start in their education. This kindergarten would also provide psychosocial therapy for these kids traumatized by frequent bombardment.

Last month I was invited by the Rebuilding Alliance to meet with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Gaza who were the intended recipients of aid donated by Americans and sent via the M.V. Rachel Corrie, the last vessel of the international aid flotilla attempting to breach the blockade. The cargo included cement to help Yebna Community Charity (YCC) build a kindergarten.

Israel agreed last week to allow the UN to deliver goods from the Rachel Corrie to Gaza. The cargo that is now being processed for delivery includes wheelchairs, soccer balls, prosthetic limbs, and other goods that the blockade has made nearly or entirely impossible to import for three years.

Will the cement be delivered to build a new kindergarten in Yebna? It's unclear as all cargo was handed over to UN custody rather than given to its intended owners in Gaza. In a meeting with John Ging, the head of Gaza operations for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), I discussed the importance of delivering the aid to Gaza NGOs to strengthen local capacity. He was very supportive, but explained to me some of the obstacles the UN faces in its negotiations with Israel.

While Israel has lifted the ban on most consumer imports, the blockade on exports, imports of raw materials for the private sector, and the movement of Gazans in and out of the Strip continues. Local NGOs like the YCC are still prohibited from importing their own construction materials.

The Gazans who are trying to rebuild their war-torn society are targeted by the blockade, and it's the children — nearly half the population of Gaza — who are most vulnerable to policies meant to stifle Gaza's development. As U.S. taxpayers who partially subsidized the destruction of so many of their schools, we have a particular responsibility to ensure that Gazans are able to build new kindergartens. The blockade must be entirely lifted to help secure a peaceful future for all of the children in the Middle East.

Kate Gould

Ashland

Kate Gould has called Jackson County home for the last 15 years. She will be speaking about her 8 months living and working in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at the Gresham Room of the Ashland Public Library.