When faced with situations of extreme destruction, violence, and loss like those the world has witnessed in Gaza and the Middle East over recent months, we are all challenged to find hope. On January 9, this challenge was addressed during a panel presentation for students from Columbia Theological Seminary on the role of young people in working towards peace in Israel and Palestine, in which QUNO Programme Assistants shared their experience of working at the UN over the past five months.
In her opening remarks, Progamme Assistant Nyeri Otero-Flanagan emphasised the importance of taking action that is aligned with Quaker values, however small or inconsequential it might feel, especially in the face of such overwhelming violence and suffering. Programme Assistant Natalie Dewar echoed this sentiment, saying, “It is essential that, even in situations where we feel powerless, we each take small steps towards peace. We know that more violence will not bring peace. This is why uniting to call for a ceasefire is an essential first step towards a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike”.
The intensifying Israeli siege of Gaza, escalating violence in the West Bank, and spiralling regional tensions have provoked deep concern, outrage and despair among governments and citizens across the world. At the UN in New York, diplomats and UN officials continue to work frantically to try and reach an agreement that would bring relief and offer a path to de-escalation. While briefing the Security Council in December, the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres described how “the people of Gaza are looking into the abyss. The international community must do everything possible to end their ordeal. I urge the Council to spare no effort to push for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, for the protection of civilians and for the urgent delivery of life-saving aid,” before adding that “the eyes of the world - and the eyes of history - are watching. It is time to act.”
Since October 7, the UN Security Council has passed two resolutions, the first allowing for a brief humanitarian pause in November. The second was passed in December and called for the scaling up of humanitarian aid and creating “the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.” Other attempts to pass resolutions have failed, with the United States using its veto to block two resolutions and one amendment calling for a humanitarian ceasefire. In response to these failures in the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly has convened three times, passing two historic resolutions. While non-binding, the most recent of these resolutions saw 153 Member States unite to demand a ceasefire, clearly demonstrating the will of the international community.
Natalie and Nyeri, beginning their Programme Assistant positions in September, have played an essential role at QUNO New York, carefully monitoring and reporting on developments in the Security Council and General Assembly. They shared this experience as part of the January 9 panel presentation and encouraged the students to consider applying for the 2024-25 Programme Assistant positions in New York before the February 12 deadline. In closing, they reminded the students that citizens around the world have a crucial role to play in urging their elected officials to support a ceasefire and de-escalation of hostilities in the Middle East.
For more information on how to contact your member of Congress in the US, please check out these resources from AFSC and FCNL. For readers based in the UK, please visit Quakers in Britain to learn more about contacting your elected Member of Parliament.