In April 1948, staffers James Vail, Kendall Kimberland and Edgar Castle began a two-month Middle East trip to explore the possibility of helping to facilitate reconciliation between Arabs and Jews. Their insights helped AFSC agree to the urgent request from the United Nations to take a 15-month engagement supporting displaced Palestinians (January 1, 1949 to March 31, 1950). Approximately four cubic feet of documents in our Archives include a wealth of reports, letters, telegrams, and oral histories from this period.
AFSC’s young and largely-inexperienced Gaza staff ultimately oversaw ten separate camps for which the AFSC Archives has files: Al Faluja, Bureij, Deir al-Baleh, Gaza, Jabalia, Maghazi, Nuseirat, Kahn Yunis, and Rafah. After tackling the most urgent needs of food, shelter, and sanitation, the staff turned their attention to education for all of the children. This was unique in a part of the world where girls and lower-class boys had no access to school, and its continuation became a prime concern when AFSC turned its work back into the hands of the UN. The Archival communications around this hand-off reveal a story of intense negotiations and great concern among AFSC staff and leadership.
Additional fascinating records pertain to the diplomacy that AFSC waged continually—openly in the U.S. press, and quietly in tents and offices all over the region. Our voice was one of the first and most forceful warning that intractable problems lay ahead if hundreds of thousands of people were abandoned in the desert, with no recourse for either returning home or making new lives elsewhere.