Forty years ago next year, Band Aid released “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to draw attention to one of the greatest climate-induced and human mismanaged catastrophes of their time. With no breakthrough in the current violence and the UN Security Council ‘diplomaticing’, it is time we sang a better song for Gaza.
One million Ethiopians had starved to death by the time Bob Geldorf co-wrote and performed the song with a super band that included Kool and the Gang, among others. The song sold three million copies and raised Sh1.5 billion in 1984. Sharply criticised by pan-Africanists and long abandoned by Geldorf for the ‘white saviour’ narratives it fuelled in Western Europe and North America, the song nevertheless galvanised a generation to look beyond their safety and privilege to the injustices happening elsewhere.
Today is Day 78 of the bombing and attack on Gaza. 20,000 human beings, 70 per cent of them non-combatant women and children, lie dead under makeshift graves or below the rubble of homes and hospitals. Bombed while bereaved and begging for the world to make it stop, 576,000 human beings, a quarter of the population, face catastrophic hunger and starvation.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have broken a global record for the highest number of households affected by acute food insecurity, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification. The horror of Gaza has eclipsed even Afghanistan and Yemen.
Despite four decades of settler colonialism, violations to the two-state solution and three months of open armed conflict, the UN Security Council again failed to unanimously demand a ceasefire and the scaling up of humanitarian aid access to Gaza this week. Powerful nations led by the United States have ignored repeated international humanitarian violations including the rights of the people to Gaza to life, non-displacement, evacuation, and humanitarian relief.
Imagine your family being without water, food or electricity as deadly bombs and gunfire is directed at you for a day. Now extend that vivid image in your mind across weeks.
Disinformation has been just as deadly to our understanding of the violence. Narratives have justified shooting surrendering enemy soldiers, shelling hospitals, water supplies and schools, hostage-taking and bombing military targets knowing that many civilians will also die.
The occupation of Gaza did not start with the Hamas attack on southern Israel as some have argued. Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians was well established by then. If the blockade of Gaza was illegal in 2007, it remains so in 2023.
The protection of civilians under international law applies to both the IDF and Hamas. Both parties must be reminded that civilians do not lose their protected status by remaining in their homes.
The shocking fact that most Israeli-Palestinian casualties have happened outside periods of active warfare is often deliberately overlooked. Before this current catastrophe, over 4,868 Palestinians and 181 Israeli civilians were killed by either the Israeli army or Palestinian armed groups, according to OCHA and the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights. Nearly a third of all casualties are Israeli or Palestinian children.
In 1984, pop stars and many of your parents sang;
“Spare a thought this yuletide for the deprived,
If the table was turned, would you survive?
Here’s to them underneath that burning sun,
You ain’t gotta feel guilt just selfless,
Give a little help to the helpless,
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”
Human rights matter, but they matter most when they are so grossly being violated. Every soldier, politician and diplomat are further indicted each day this violence, communal torture and displacement persist. Misinformed, some may argue that Christmas and the Christian faith has no relevance for Palestine now. Think again. Gaza has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world dating back to the first century. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, now one of occupied Palestinian territories and among the most riskiest places to be on the earth right now.
As we mark the birth of one of the most compassionate leaders of all time on Monday, perhaps we all need a new song rooted in social justice and global solidarity.
Happy Christmas all!
This opinion was also published in the Saturday Standard, 23 December 2023.