The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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The only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears

Owen Bonnici Friday, 24 November 2023, 09:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

As the world prepares to embrace the festive season, the haunting lyrics of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" take on a profound resonance, echoing the heartbreaking reality unfolding in Gaza. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez, in a recent press briefing, declared that Gaza has tragically become a "graveyard for thousands of children," emphasizing the urgent need for a humanitarian ceasefire and access to essential aid.

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“It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade

And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

But say a prayer, Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard, but when you're having fun

There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear

Where the only water flowing

Is the bitter sting of tears

And the Christmas bells that ring
There are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you”

 

In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, Malta, a nation synonymous with its commitment to actively pursue peace, has played a pivotal role in the United Nations Security Council. A resolution, drafted by Malta, calling for humanitarian action was approved, marking a significant stride in addressing the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

It was significant since it was the first resolution about the ongoing war which was passed by the UN’s most important organ, following four failed attempts to reach on agreement on a consensual resolution.

The resolution calls for the release of all hostages, especially children, being held by Hamas but also for an urgent days-long ceasefire to allow the much-needed humanitarian aid enter into Gaza.  It also appeals for the evacuation of the people who are sick or injured and for all sides to stop from prohibiting access to the people in Gaza to basic services.

The resolution emphasizes especially children, the release of hostages,  and urges an urgent ceasefire to facilitate the much-needed humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.

Both Malta’s Foreign Minister Ian Borg and the Ambassador to the UN, Vanessa Frazier, described the resolution as "an important first step" and highlighted the unity among Security Council members in their collective desire to save lives and provide respite to civilians. The resolution also focuses on creating humanitarian corridors to allow aid, repairs, and the evacuation of the sick and young.

Despite the challenges, Malta's diplomatic efforts received praise from various UN members, showcasing the nation's commitment to humanitarian causes. It represents a diplomatic effort to address the immediate needs of those affected by the conflict.

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Amidst this very difficult international backdrop, Malta has launched the "Christmas in the Capital" program for this year’s festive season.

Truth be told, I could not but see the bitter and cruel irony of it all stare at my face. Not only in Malta families will be celebrating another positive Christmas (as it should be), while people in Gaza and Ukraine and elsewhere are fighting for their lives. But we will be celebrating the most beautiful story of love that ever took place in the history of mankind in Bethlehem with the birth of baby Jesus, when in a city very close to Bethlehem in practically that very same area, children are being killed or are passing through immense suffering.

The distance between Bethlehem and Gaza is no more than 74 km. But the distance between what is happening on the ground, and how the world should look like for those children is light years, galaxies away.

Christmas in the capital

We will certainly be setting up, in the upcoming events in the capital for Christmas, spaces and opportunities to raise awareness and stimulate reflections about the need of finding peace in the Middle East and the importance of never giving up on the hope that someday those two countries – Palestine and Israel – will be able to live side by side according to mutually agreed borders.

Of course, the events have to take place, and the cultural program has to go on.  And indeed, Valletta Cultural Agency Chairperson Jason Micallef and myself unveiled a lovely line-up of events set to take place in Valletta from November 25 to December 31. This programme serves as an opportunity for Maltese and Gozitan families, and the tourists who come to visit us, to experience the Christmas spirit in the heart of the capital.

I would like to laud the efforts of Ms Jessica Muscat, who was in charge with the program itself, who managed to strike a beautiful balance between the need of promoting contemporary means of cultural expression while also giving due importance to Christmas-based traditions. 

For instance, the traditional Baby Jesus procession, a cherished and meaningful tradition for many Maltese people, symbolizes hope and unity during challenging times and it will be organised again in the streets of Valletta after a long absence of years. At the same time, the programme features an impressive line-up of 29 events, including performances by renowned artists like The Travellers, Michela, Ira Losco, Gianluca Bezzina, Centrestage Children's Choir, Sean & Veronique, RIONA, Opening Doors, EnKor, Malta School of Music, Kor Malta, Choral and Orchestral Society Maria Bambina, among others.

We also announced that the National New Year's Eve Celebrations would once again take place in the heart of the capital at St George's Square, with free entry for all.

Is there a possibility of truce

As Malta joyfully celebrates Christmas, it does so with an acute awareness of the suffering in Gaza.

At the time of the writing of this opinion peace, reports appeared of ongoing communications between Hamas and Israel for a potential truce agreement. International media has quoted Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, saying that they are close to reaching a deal, emphasizing a truce lasting a "number of days." The potential agreement includes arrangements for the entry of aid into Gaza and a swap of hostages, signalling a step towards peace. International reports read that a temporary cease-fire was expected to start Friday.

In conclusion, Malta's diplomatic endeavours, cultural celebrations, and acute awareness of global crises encapsulate the spirit of the kind of Christmas that we will have in 2023. Yet, despite all that is going on outside our shores, Christmas always remains a time for unity, compassion, and hope.

As we look towards entering the season, let us reflect on the poignant lyrics of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and strive for a world where peace prevails, even in the face of adversity.

 

 

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