In this blog, the Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson reflects on how 2024 sadly begins with a focus on the Israel Gaza war and calls for an immediate ceasefire.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the orphan; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)
New Year greetings to you all!
We have now left 2023 – a year that saw the world emerging hopeful and reflective after the unprecedented period of isolation brought on by the pandemic. We rallied around each other and our communities as we looked to rebuild our lives and strengthen our faith. As such, I would say that this past Christmas would have held more significance for our humanity for many of us that we are each other’s keepers, and collectively, our prayers have been for peace, comfort, love, and security.
However, 2024 begins with an appalling tragedy from which we cannot – must not – look away. Our humanity is again being touched by its gravity, and we must speak up and speak out. The time is past for debate and rhetoric on what is happening in Gaza. It is incumbent on us to speak out loudly with those demanding a ceasefire now.
Global reaction to the 7 October Hamas attack was rightly one of condemnation. We all understand the inviolability of our countries and homes, where we expect to live safely and in security. One cannot imagine the grief of having loved ones taken in such a way, nor the desperation of not knowing when those who were taken as hostages will be brought home. We hope our prayers for the safe return of all the hostages will soon be answered.
Peace and security in one’s land and home are the right of every person on this planet.
Historically, however, we have seen this as an elusive right for many countries and people worldwide as those with power claim authority over it. The idea of an entity, internal or external, claiming sovereignty over one’s fundamental human rights in our “modern” world is a stain on our humanity. These are harsh words, I know, but the realities are even harsher because the denial of human rights diminishes the development and progress of a people and, above all, destroys the hope of the younger generation – innocent children. I am thinking especially of Palestine while being mindful of events unfolding in Yemen, Sudan, Congo, Ukraine, and Tigray.
The people of Palestine have suffered under the most prolonged occupation the world has known and, as a nation, have never experienced what it is like to live in peace and security. Palestinian children have grown up exposed and open to pain and heartbreak. The siege on Palestine is an ongoing story since the 1948 Nakba and countless contraventions of international law, international humanitarian law, and UN resolutions. Israel’s retaliation for 7 October deserves strong condemnation for its brutality of collective punishment, which is being likened to genocide. Observers have pointed out evidence of this intentionality of the more than 20,000 bombs that have been dropped on the densely populated area of Gaza and the indiscriminate shooting of men, women, and children at hospitals, schools, places of worship, and in the street.
Neither can we ignore that more than 70 journalists and media workers have also been killed and their families targeted. The United Nations has itself lost 136 staff members because of Israel’s bombing. No one is safe.
The recent announcement by Benjamin Netanyahu that “it is not finished” should horrify us all as casualties mount to more than 20,000 killed, among which are more than 9,000 babies and children. Nearly half of the territory’s population is under 18, and Israel’s incursion into the West Bank and the refugee camps also spell even more devastation for Palestine’s next generation.
The resilience of the people of Palestine and its children cannot be overstated, and we, as the international community, are called upon to stand with them now more than ever. Many of us had, over the years, lost sight of what had been happening in the occupied territories, and quite a few of us were not altogether aware of the everyday realities or chose to turn unseeing eyes.
The unassailable fact is that what we are witnessing is a human tragedy. Our reaction does not negate the 7 October attack and the right of Israel to defend itself, nor is it antisemitic to demand that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and atrocities of the IDF stop.
We have every reason to cry out for justice and again join the call for an immediate ceasefire.
Our voice is critically important to the call for Netanyahu to be held accountable for the horrific execution of Israel’s retaliation, which exceeds any form of legitimate defense. The rhetoric we have heard from him, and members of his government strongly suggests the decimation of the Palestinian people, which is tantamount to ethnic cleansing, which constitutes a crime against humanity and could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.
Additionally, it is unconscionable that some states have gone so far as to abstain from voting – on the UN stage and in full view of the rest of the world – for a humanitarian pause and the delivery of aid to the war-torn Gaza Strip. Keir Starmer, leader of the UK’s Labour Party, himself a human rights lawyer, has appallingly expressed approval of Israel withholding food, water, medicine, and fuel to the besieged Palestinian population.
As far as I am aware, the weaponising of food and necessities in conflict situations is immoral and unjust. It is considered a war crime under international law. As Human Rights Watch stressed: “It’s critical to understand this is not simply a byproduct of the conflict, an unfortunate result of a terrible situation. It is Israeli government policy”.
We must neither ignore nor seem not to be hearing calls from around the world for an immediate ceasefire and for Israel’s accountability for genocidal acts against the Palestinian people, war crimes of collective punishment, and per Article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Rome Statute of the ICC, of “intentionally starving civilians by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies.”
We also join with voices for the return of hostages from both sides, as taking hostages is a war crime.
Our humanity is in peril if we cannot stop this. This is a test of the faith of every one of us. May we find strength in knowing that people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs are standing together to demand an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people – all of this is taking place in the Holy Land.
Images by Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons