“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” -Romans 12:18
Peace is the very message of Jesus Christ and Christmas. Jesus Christ is known as the Prince of Peace, because that is the antidote he advocated for a world torn apart by conflict.
But more than 2,000 years later, wars and conflicts still ravage the world, in spite of the pleas for peace made by all the great masters of religions. In fact, the very birthplace of Jesus Christ – Bethlehem – has been engulfed by the fires of conflict for over two months, as a result of Israel’s war on Gaza following a Hamas terrorist attack on October 7.
The body count in this war already exceeds 21,000 with over 20,000 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis having perished. It is indeed harrowing that the original cradle of peace and a region from which three great religions originated is now embroiled in a war which possibly has no ultimate winners.
There have been repeated calls for a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, which Israel has rejected or ignored even as civilian casualties in Gaza mount day after day. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Friday adopted a Resolution on the ongoing crisis in Gaza, with 13 votes in favour, and the US and Russia abstaining. The Resolution demands immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance directly to the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza.
In the Resolution, the UNSC reaffirmed the obligations of the parties to the conflict under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), especially regarding the protection of civilians and civilian objects, safety of UN, ICRC and other humanitarian personnel, and the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.
Christmas is an ideal opportunity for Israel to heed the call of the international community and declare a pause in the fighting, which hopefully will be reciprocated by Hamas. In the long term, Israel and the Palestine Authority (PA) in the Occupied West Bank and other Palestinian groups must come to the negotiating table to evolve a final solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict, possibly along the lines of the two-State model which the US seems to be favouring along with many other countries. After all, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has suffered long enough as a result of war, with examples such as Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq and Kuwait.
Around 3,000 Km away, there is another theatre of war that has been overshadowed by the events in Gaza. Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 670 days ago and thousands have perished on both sides. Again, the international community has urged the warring parties to come to the negotiating table and resolve the issues.
But these are not the only wars and conflicts that blight our world. There are many “forgotten” conflicts in the world that do not get the attention they deserve as the news outlets focus heavily on Gaza and Ukraine. Yet, these hidden wars and conflicts have brought misery to millions.
The proxy war in Yemen waged by regional powers has killed over 330,000 people, with thousands more suffering from starvation and disease. Worse, a spate of attacks by the Houthis based in Yemen on ships transiting through the Red Sea — which the Yemeni group argues are aimed at pressuring Israel to end the war on Gaza – could ultimately lead to the involvement of Israel in this long-running conflict. This is a daunting prospect, given the volatility in the war-torn region.
But that is not the only trouble brewing in the Red Sea, with military analysts fearing an imminent war between Ethiopia and Eritrea over port access in the area. This will add to the wounds of the conflict in the Tigray region, where a fragile ceasefire is still holding amidst a deadly famine.
Over in Sudan, the Army and a paramilitary force have been battling each other in Khartoum, Darfur and other cities in Africa’s third largest country by area, displacing 2.5 million people, causing a massive humanitarian crisis and threatening to destabilise the region. This is yet another war that the world has largely forgotten, with civilian victims left to suffer in silence.
One cannot also forget the deadly terror attacks particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. Apart from the general air of instability, the Taliban rulers in Kabul have made life miserable for Afghan women, denying them access to education and travel. Indeed, women and girls are the biggest victims of conflicts and wars everywhere.
Here in Sri Lanka, we are yet to achieve peace and reconciliation, even though the war has been won. The recent move to establish an independent Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation (CTUR) through an Act of Parliament is, therefore, a step in the right direction. The joint declaration for peace by the Maha Sangha and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) is equally significant. If Sri Lanka can achieve everlasting peace through these timely initiatives, that will be the greatest Christmas gift.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.” – 2 Corinthians 13:11