Christmas in Gaza


On Christmas Eve, I received the following bulletin about Gaza from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jerusalem (

The Gaza crossings have been closed completely for eight consecutive days including for humanitarian supplies. This is the second longest period the crossings have remained closed since the Hamas takeover in June 2007.


The ongoing closures have significantly reduced the capacity of UN humanitarian agencies to provide assistance in the event of an escalation in violence. UN humanitarian assistance programs have run out of stock for several essential supplies and are facing severe difficulties in implementing their regular programmes. UNRWA has no flour or cash-notes to distribute, affecting thousands of dependant beneficiaries. WFP has been unable to preposition stocks; in case of an emergency, it has no food available within the Gaza Strip. There are shortages of over 100 essential pharmaceuticals and critical emergency surgical kits. Over one hundred containers of humanitarian assistance at Ashdod port cleared for entry into Gaza.

Due to the lack of fuel and spare parts, the power plant in Gaza remains shut down since 19 December. This is affecting all aspects of daily life including sanitation, water and power supply to households, schools, and civilian institutions. In particular, 60% of the Gaza population is receiving running water once every five to seven days. The wastewater treatment plant, unable to operate regularly, has since Saturday doubled the amount of raw sewage it is dumping into the sea to 40 million litres per day.

On 24 December Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets and mortars today at Israeli cities and towns resulting in extensive property damage but no reported casualties.

If anything underlines the fact that the siege of Gaza cannot be allowed to continue, this does. A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding there and the international community has a responsibility to bring it to an end.

This is not simply a matter of human rights for Palestinians. For Israel, collectively punishing the people of Gaza by turning the place into a giant overcrowded prison simply has not brought them any kind of security. The end of the ceasefire, the rockets fired into Southern Israel this week and the continuing Israeli military strikes demonstrate this.

The international community has also got things spectacularly wrong in relation to Gaza over the last two years too. By refusing to respect the result of an election that the international community had itself supervised in 2006, we deepened the damaging rift between Fatah and Hamas making a durable peace between Israel and Palestine more difficult to achieve. Nothing excuses Hamas’ bloody military takeover of Gaza in the summer of last year but the fact remains that the behaviour of the USA and others had created some of the conditions which led up to it.

An Obama Presidency provides the opportunity to break decisively with the mistakes of the past. But it has to be seized now, not left until the safety of the second term. Time is running out.

So what should he do? Pick up on the resurgence of interest in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative which offers Israel what it rightly demands – full recognition and security – in return for full withdrawal from occupied lands. Be braver in underlining that Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank is a barrier to peace and that it has to stop – in practice not just in theory. David Miliband deserves credit for the lead he has already shown on that issue. Not only is Miliband right on the issue itself, but by taking as firm a line on Israeli settlements as he does in condemning Palestinian violence, he has won respect rather than the charge of double standards to which UK policy has so often been vulnerable.

Obama would do well to follow Miliband’s lead on the West Bank. But both need to go further on Gaza. It doesn’t mean undermining Palestinian President Abbas but it does mean actively pushing for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah throughout the Palestinian Territories. It means finding ways of getting Hamas into the peace process and into ending violence, not reasons for keeping them outside. And it means ending the siege of Gaza. Common humanity demands that.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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