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Cambridge vigil remembers those in Gaza this Christmas





As people began to enjoy their Christmas break in Cambridge, there were thoughts for those suffering in Gaza amid the ongoing conflict.

The run-in in to the big day has been challenging for many reasons domestically – rail strikes, a junior doctor’s strike, the cost of living crisis and an economy teetering on the brink. But internationally, the crises are greater still – with war in Ukraine and Gaza causing misery for millions.

Market square, Cambridge, December 23, 2023. Cambridge Palestinian Solidarity Campaign stall. Picture: Mike Scialom
Market square, Cambridge, December 23, 2023. Cambridge Palestinian Solidarity Campaign stall. Picture: Mike Scialom

Outside the Guildhall entrance in Cambridge on Saturday were members of Cambridge Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, who periodically burst into a chant of ‘Free Palestine’. The stall was selling produce from Palestine, including soap bars, dates, couscous, and olive oil.

Christmas is big on symbolism and the situation in Bethlehem - Jesus’ birthplace - was top of the agenda the previous evening (December 22) outside Addenbrooke’s during a vigil for health workers in Gaza.

The vigil was the sixth such Friday evening gathering in a row and the suffering being experienced continues to worsen.

The sixth vigil for Gaza's health workers on the Addenbrooke's Hospital roundabout, December 22, 2023. Picture: Mike Scialom
The sixth vigil for Gaza's health workers on the Addenbrooke's Hospital roundabout, December 22, 2023. Picture: Mike Scialom

The Hamas government media office reported deaths in the Strip of 19,667 by19 December, of whom more than 8,000 were children and 6,200 were women. It also said that non-combatant 310 medical personnel, 35 civil defence personnel and 97 journalists had been killed.

“Thanks for coming out in the holiday season,” organiser Sameh Ragheb said to the group on the main roundabout outside Cambridge’s main hospital, which was the location of the junior doctors’ protest last Wednesday (the protest ended on Friday and continues on January 3 for six days).

Zaytoun products on sale outside Guildhall including olive oil and dates. Picture: Mike Scialom
Zaytoun products on sale outside Guildhall including olive oil and dates. Picture: Mike Scialom

“It is the time for celebrating the birth of Jesus but this is not possible in Bethlehem this year as the church says there will be no celebrations while citizens are being killed.”

The Church of the Nativity and all churches in Bethlehem have cancelled Christmas events due to the humanitarian crisis in the Israeli-occupied West Bank (where the city is located) and the on-going assault on Gaza.

The sixth vigil for Gaza's health workers on the Addenbrooke's Hospital roundabout, December 22, 2023. Picture: Mike Scialom
The sixth vigil for Gaza's health workers on the Addenbrooke's Hospital roundabout, December 22, 2023. Picture: Mike Scialom

“We are going into the week of Christmas and maybe it is too hard to follow events in Gaza but the situation continues - we expect the deaths of 500 more children in the next week. People in the north of Gaza have no access to any medical care whatsoever. What would have sustained us is no longer possible. Even a small wound, made worse by the lack of food and water, can mean death. Treatment is not possible, even amputation is not possible. We have to show to everybody this is not acceptable.”

Dr Hani Al-Astal, a gastroenterology trainee from Gaza at Addenbrooke’s, then spoke of the loss of life among medical teams in the Palestinian enclave, along with aerial attacks by Israeli forces retaliating after the horrific October 7 attacks in southern Israel by Hamas, which left 1,200 people dead.

Palestinians inspect a house after it was hit by an Israeli bombardment on Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Picture: Fatima Shbair/AP
Palestinians inspect a house after it was hit by an Israeli bombardment on Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Picture: Fatima Shbair/AP

“Schools and churches have been damaged,” said Dr Al-Astal through a megaphone. “The population of two million people has been displaced, 64,000 homes have been completely destroyed, 200,000 have been partly destroyed. 100 per cent of people in Gaza are suffering from lack of food and clean water - 90 per cent are experiencing severe starvation.

“The attacks on medical facilities and healthcare personnel has to end.”

Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on Friday (December 22) that “everything that can be done must be done” to get aid into Gaza, including the possibility of using British ships to bring supplies by sea.

Lord Cameron said the UK was ‘pushing very hard’ to ensure aid supplies reach Gaza. Picture: Desouki Ismail/Egyptian Foreign Ministry Media Office/AP
Lord Cameron said the UK was ‘pushing very hard’ to ensure aid supplies reach Gaza. Picture: Desouki Ismail/Egyptian Foreign Ministry Media Office/AP

“Are there opportunities for aid to come from Cyprus in British ships to be delivered to Gaza? We’re working on that,” said Lord Cameron.

“Everything that can be done, must be done to get aid into Gaza to help people in the desperate situation they are in.”

One in four of Gaza’s population of about 2.3m are starving, the UN’s World Food Program said and, without an immediate surge in aid, the entire enclave would face famine within six months.

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said Britain continues to consider a two-state solution as the “right outcome” to the Israel-Hamas war.

Cambridge market is open for trading from 10am to 4pm every day except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.



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