By Joseph Cornelius Donnelly, Head of Caritas Internationalis Delegation at UN Headquarters in New York
Morning news started with: “Despite the raw winter cold, the sun rises, the light of a new day is on us.” Indeed, a blazing sun rises up over the UN as it sits nestled on the edge of the East River in Midtown Manhattan.
This near poetic brightness shines over the historic and architecturally unique headquarters of the world community’s organization – where with several thousand international staff the Security Council sits, the General Assembly meets, UN agencies work and the presiding Secretary General, Korean diplomat, Ban Ki-moon, exercises leadership on peace, security and development.
Likewise this same global light rose up this morning over Gaza, nestled on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, considered the most densely populated place on the face of the earth, adjacent to Southern Israel, two hours from Jerusalem.
In fact, even in winter when the sun rises on the Gaza Strip, you can feel its potential to transform suffering darkness, if only for a moment. Everything in Gaza is constantly confronted with old history and devastating bitter reality checks, not to mention borders and blockades. Many ask where is it? What is it? How did it get to be this way? These are both simple and complex questions which have and need honest answers if the Gaza quagmire is ever to be resolved peacefully.
Gaza has been part of the land called Palestine since biblical times when the Holy Family journeyed on their flight into Egypt. For centuries it’s been resplendent with orange groves, tomatoes growing on the rushing shores of a well-fished sea supporting local economies. It is part of the survival in the land called holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims for centuries until today. This land has hosted all kinds of conquerors through the ages and geo-political machinations, knitting too little life and too much death.
These are facts, however frightful the details which all too often are not known, not accepted, or simply not understood.
In modern times, before 1923, Palestine was still the name of the Land, with Gaza part of the north Egyptian community. From 1923-1947 under British control, it became known as Mandate Palestine with Lebanon and Syria to the north, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the East and Egypt to the south, cities and towns leaping from pages of biblical histories. In 1947 the UN allocated 56% of Palestine to a Jewish immigrant minority who were 1/3 of the population, owning 6% of the land.
War unfolded so by 1949 Israel took by force another 22% of the land and in 1967 occupied the remaining 22% as well as Syria’s Golan Heights. This matter, these changing maps, generating exceptional population shifts, displacement and refugees have held life hostage for decades.
These realities are the quintessential context for understanding the past history as it lives deeply in the current Gaza crisis.
In the midst of 61 years of wars, treaties, accords, negotiations, peace building mechanisms, the historic impasse is deeper than ever. While we condemn all forms of violence on all sides, we advocate for a just solution based on equal rights and dignity for all.
Last UN Secretary General described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the most intractable problem on the UN agenda. The current Secretary General has repeatedly advocated to Security Council and all parties for a comprehensive ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Today he travels in the troubled land and region to demand an immediate facing-the-facts moves forward fast to save lives now.
Humanitarian crises have unfolded time after time, are again requiring millions of dollars in urgent international aid as first steps. With near 1000 people dead and thousands more injured, many critically, ending the war in Gaza must be a world priority.
Our UN Liaison Office looks across the street into the UN Secretariat where 192 flags fly daily around the entrance gates. While a Palestinian national flag exists, one does not fly here with the rest of the world, though you might purchase a small one nearby. To create an independent Palestinian state, existing side-by-side with Israel, has been the determined hope and struggle of many. This long pilgrimage to mutual recognition, peaceful co-existence and a complete end to occupation is necessary for a durable peace.
Without global commitments, political will beyond rhetoric, every rising sun dances still in the darkness created long ago in the land.