Christmas is traditionally the time of peace and goodwill to all, but that’s the last thing we are seeing in Gaza. Israel has expanded its ground offensive in central Gaza, the death toll is at least 20,000 and a quarter of households – roughly 500,000 people – are facing “catastrophic conditions”, according to the UN’s World Food Programme. In fact, it says Gaza’s entire population is suffering acute food shortages, that “no-one in Gaza is safe from starvation.” They estimate that just 10% of the food needed is entering Gaza.
And where is the international community in the face of such desperate suffering? Although the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution urging more aid, it has failed to call for an immediate ceasefire. The obstacle at the Council is the US; days of negotiation took place to avoid it wielding a veto, but the result is deeply inadequate to meet the catastrophic situation facing the people of Gaza.
UN secretary-general António Guterres has forcefully stated that the ‘real problem’ obstructing aid deliveries is Israel’s ongoing offensive – and he maintains his strong support for a ceasefire. Indeed, at the last moment before the vote, Russia introduced an amendment to get the call for an immediate ceasefire reintroduced.
The amendment was defeated and both Russia and the US went on to abstain. The remaining 13 council members – including the UK – supported the resolution, but it falls far, far short of what is needed. It calls for creating conditions “for a sustainable cessation of hostilities”; that’s nothing short of word play when people are living and dying in the most terrible conditions.
And what are we all doing in the face of such terrible suffering? When our government refuses to listen, when it continues to support war crimes and a genocide, we have to redouble our efforts at every level.
Demonstrating is one way of showing our government where public opinion is, on this most urgent matter. Another national march has been called for Saturday 13th January, in central London. It is part of a global day of action for Gaza, and no doubt millions across the world will be participating. There will also be a day of local action across the country on Saturday 6th January.
Lobbying your MP is another option, asking them to support EDM 1 tabled by Richard Burgon MP, entitled Protecting Civilians in Gaza and Israel.
Trade union action is also crucial. We have seen a powerful response globally to the appeal from Palestinian trade unions – to stop the Israeli war machine, blocking arms transports and building related forms of solidarity action. This has resulted in significant developments: among many examples – at the ports of Barcelona, Naples and Genoa, of Oakland and Melbourne; Indian trade unions have called for a refusal to handle Israeli cargo; in Britain, trade unionists have blocked arms factories exporting to Israel. There have been significant blockades involving thousands of trade unionists, at Elbit factories, and at other sites that produce weapons, or parts of weapons, for the Israeli war machine; these include BAE systems in Glasgow, and other factories in Lancashire, Brighton and Bournemouth, which produce components for the F35 fighter jet, being used in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Many are taking motions to their union branches, seeking support for the Palestinian trade union appeal. Can you do this too?
And with a general election looking increasingly likely, we do also have some political power that we must recognise: that we will never vote for a politician who has not called for a ceasefire. That is now a powerful rallying cry of the movement calling for peace: No Ceasefire – No Vote! We must make that power count at the ballot box – and bring political change. Politicians are supposed to represent us; let’s make sure we have politicians that do.
Please do whatever you can this Christmas to bring peace a step closer, in Gaza and in the many other war-torn areas across this globe. And I look forward to seeing you on the 13th January – or another occasion in 2024 when we are working for peace and disarmament together.