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Christmas this year is cancelled in Palestine, but there is no time to mourn
24، Dec 2023

Photograph by Lama Abu Hilal


A Christmas message, from Al-Haq, Al-Mezan and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights


In Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, there is a nativity scene, as there is every Christmas. But this year, the baby Jesus is not swaddled warm in a blanket and rocked in a manger. He is perched atop a pile of rubble—no tree adorned with decorations on Manger Square, and no Christmas carols or festivities. Instead, there is a message from Palestinians to the world this Christmas. The infant represents over 8,000 Palestinian children slaughtered by Israeli Occupation Forces in Gaza since October 7th, 2023. The rubble represents over 60% of homes in Gaza, damaged or destroyed, many of which came crashing down on top of terrified families sheltering together, on top of parents cradling and comforting their children as they told them everything will be ok, that the sounds of the relentless bombing were just fireworks, that it was all just a game. Simultaneously, these parents wonder if they will soon be sifting through the rubble looking for the body parts of their children, on whose bodies they scrawled names on each tiny limb so that if they are killed they can at least be buried in a marked grave.


Christmas is cancelled in Palestine this year, but we Palestinians are not in mourning. To say we are in mourning would imply that the horror we have watched unfold in Gaza, greenlighted by many Western world leaders, is over. It would suggest that there is time to grieve or process. Yet Israel’s genocidal acts in Gaza are ongoing and relentless -  there is no time to mourn or process the scale of the loss. Our people in Gaza have not even been able to bury their loved ones as thousands of bodies remain trapped under the rubble. Israel has created a catastrophic humanitarian situation on the ground, labelled unprecedented by most humanitarian and aid organizations worldwide, a situation which is likely to get much worse as disease and famine ravage Gaza’s population.


“Unprecedented” - this is a word we have seen more and more, as Israel deranged with impunity, escalated its genocidal campaign in Gaza- unprecedented in the deadliest and most blood-curdling ways. An unprecedented number of children killed, civilians killed, attacks on healthcare, journalists killed, aid workers killed, unprecedented levels of destruction, of catastrophic hunger - all levelled against 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of whom are children.


Yet with all of these deadly records broken by Israel in Gaza, amounting to ethnic cleansing and mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, most world leaders could not muster enough political will to put an end to the immense suffering in Gaza, to bring about a ceasefire, or to stop Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people. Not only have much of the international community failed in upholding their Responsibility to Protect, and failed to hold Israel accountable for its crimes, but the US and many European countries are actively aiding and abetting these crimes, supplying arms and resources for the destruction of the Palestinian people.


Given the gravity of the crime of genocide, the most heinous crime in the international legal order, this Christmas, our organisations reiterate our call on Third States and the international community to immediately engage its responsibility to protect the Palestinian people, including by taking concrete measures, legal actions and mechanisms under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to hold Israel to account, to prevent genocide and put an immediate end to the ongoing atrocities. States are under an international responsibility to ensure the “prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means”.


This Christmas we also echo what Munther Isaac, the pastor of the Lutheran church in Bethlehem said: “If Jesus were to be born today, he would be born under the rubble.” Or perhaps he would be born into a flimsy tent as his only shelter, displaced, drenched and freezing. Or maybe his tiny legs would have been amputated before he had the chance to learn to crawl. 


As the world slows down to celebrate with their loved ones, we thank those who took to the streets in their tens of thousands around the world to stand with the Palestinian people and to demand an end to the ongoing genocidal acts in Gaza. We thank the few states that decided to uphold their responsibilities and acted to hold Israel accountable. We urge you to remember our people in Gaza over the holiday period, continue to demand justice and accountability, continue to stand for the universal values that unite us as humans, and continue to work for global justice, as we, despite everything will continue to hope, that the Palestinian People will too be able to celebrate with the rest of the world, in justice, dignity and freedom. Our organisations will continue their mission to expose the crimes committed by Israel and hold it accountable under international law.