Maurine and Robert Tobin regularly travel to Palestinian refugee camps, deliver sweaters hand-knitted by Penobscot resident Bundy Boit to the Lajee Center, a cultural center at the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank. Photos courtesy of Maurine Tobin

Locally knit sweaters going to help Palestinian refugees

DEER ISLE — In 2013, playwright and Penobscot resident Bundy Boit wrote “Hatty,” a play about the life and times of Harriet Jacobs, a slave girl whose autobiography was published in 1861.

Boit remembers one night, after a performance of “Hatty” at the Stonington Opera House, an audience member told her something she would never forget.

“A man came running up to me and said, ‘It’s fine to do a play about someone 200 years ago,’” Boit recalled. “You should do a play about the Palestinian-Israeli situation.”

The man’s comments struck a chord with Boit.

“The Palestinian situation is so very tragic,” she said, referring specifically to the plight of Palestinian children. “They spend years and years in refugee camps. Sometimes they’re prohibited from hospital visits and all kinds of things.”

According to the United Nations, there are nearly 5 million Palestinians whose ancestors were displaced during the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948. Today, 1.4 million of those Palestinians live in 58 refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Their situation is precarious. According to the United Nations, refugees in Lebanon face employment restrictions and are barred from owning property.

In the Gaza Strip, refugees face blockades by the Israeli and Egyptian militaries. In Syria, they had higher rates of infant mortality and lower rates of school enrollment than Syrian citizens even before the civil war there began in 2011.

In the West Bank, many Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation. Wrapping all that up into a play would be a huge challenge for Boit.

“I would love to write a play about it,” she said. “But I still don’t know enough about the situation.”

Instead, she found a simpler way to help: knitting sweaters.

“I just love to knit,” she said. “This is the way I spend my television time. I’ve made sweaters for my children and grandchildren, so it was kind of natural.”

Boit put her knitting skills to good use, churning out several brightly-colored sweaters for 2- to 4-year-old Palestinian children every year since 2013. This year, Boit and her friend Carley Ferden made a record 16 sweaters in an array of styles and patterns including cardigan, pullover, English-rib, roll-neck, roll-raglan and Channel Island guernsey. The sweaters are a big help in the wintertime, when temperatures range between 27 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Many people don’t have adequate heating, so it matters enormously that they find ways to keep their children warm,” said Maurine Tobin, who delivers the sweaters to Palestinian refugees along with her husband, Robert, a retired Episcopal minister.

“The sweaters are beautiful and the children have very few things of their own and it’s nice something that’s beautiful and practical keeps them warm.”

The Tobins have taken American and international tourists through Palestinian refugee camps since 1994.

“We want them to see the reality of the situation,” Tobin said.

With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at a standstill, it doesn’t look like the plight of Palestinian refugees will be resolved soon. But, hopefully, the sweaters can at least keep the kids warm.

“By bringing these sweaters we’re lighting up the lives of children because they have so little,” Boit said.

David Roza

David Roza

Former reporter, David Roza grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and covered news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.

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