The UN's Central Role in the Gaza Crisis

and how MCC is engaging

“The cost in human lives right now is just astronomic. It brings unfathomable misery to Gaza, but beyond Gaza as well, to all Palestinians and Israelis in this mindset of revenge and militaristic power.... This is what brought us to October 7. And to all the violence that we experienced. So, we must choose a different path.”   

Rachel Beitarie, Director of Zochrot, an Israeli MCC partner

For months now, the Israeli government and Hamas have chosen the path that Beitarie speaks of. But MCC and numerous countries and nonprofit-world colleagues are working tirelessly together in New York at the United Nations to pursue a different path - one of peace and justice for all.    


MCC brings special expertise to this challenge as a faith-based organization with credentials to participate in UN meetings, a 75-year presence in Palestine and Israel with partners from both groups, and an active program in Gaza. And through MCC’s role as a founding member of the Israel-Palestine Working Group (IPWG), we are working closely on advocacy with colleagues from nonprofit and religious groups to pursue three key items – an end to violence on both sides through a ceasefire, protection of and support for humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza, and a long-term diplomatic solution.    


New York may be far from Gaza, but the centrality of the UN to resolve this crisis cannot be overstated. Three areas of UN engagement continue to be central to the solution – political, humanitarian, and judicial – and MCC and the IPWG are actively engaging all three.    


Engaging the political challenge   


Last October, the IPWG wrote to the President of the UN General Assembly (where all UN countries are voting members), the President of the Security Council, and UN Secretary General António Guterres, urging the General Assembly to hold an Emergency Special Session on Gaza – a session which resulted in an overwhelming global vote in favor of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.    


Photo of the General Assembly voting on a ceasefire resolution


While that result is meaningful, it cannot force action. But the UN Security Council, as the most powerful UN body, can enact costly sanctions and binding resolutions. Since October the Council has held countless meetings, hotly debating Gaza-related resolutions. As an active member of the NGO Working Group on the Security Council, MCC has joined small off-the-record meetings with Council member ambassadors and high UN officials to listen and to provide our expertise and advice.    


So far Security Council efforts to pass a ceasefire resolution have failed, due to the US (opposing even usual allies France and the UK) being the lone Council member using its veto three times (see here to learn how the Council’s power works). On the positive side, the Council did pass a resolution on the protection of women and children in Gaza, and on expanding the provision of humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip. Despite the Council’s failure to call for an end to the violence, its debate on the UN’s global stage is increasing pressure on the US, Israel, and Hamas to agree on a ceasefire, and Palestinian representatives have been given a voice due to their UN observer status.   


Engaging the humanitarian challenge   


The Israeli government’s blockage of life-saving help to the people in Gaza – food, medicine, and temporary housing support to starving and displaced people – has created a moral emergency (see interview with MCC’s Jerusalem Reps). Israel’s deliberate deprivation of aid and defamation of humanitarian actors is well-documented by MCC and other agencies working in Gaza.   


In late February MCC and other humanitarian groups working in Gaza met with Sigrid Kaag, the UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator. We told Ms. Kaag of warehouses being bombed, supply trucks blocked by Israeli protestors, the intentional slowing of inspections at aid checkpoints, and Israel rejecting items such as tent poles and insulin needles, arguing they could be used as weapons.   


Another enormous challenge is threats to undermine the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and its 75 years of irreplaceable support for millions of Palestinian refugees. Some countries are leading efforts to defund UNRWA due to accusations that seven employees participated in the Hamas attacks (UNRWA has 30,000 employees). MCC, the IPWG, and other humanitarian actors have been of one mind, emphasizing to UN diplomats that full transparency and accountability can happen at the same time that UNRWA’s indispensable work with millions of displaced Palestinian people continues (this is echoed by MCC staff and partners in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon).   


Engaging the judicial challenge   


Whether the widespread devastation the Israeli military has brought upon Gaza passes the lines into a war crime and even more has been hotly debated. Center stage in that debate is the International Court of Justice (ICJ), due to the case South Africa brought against Israel, accusing it of violating the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide. The Court issued a provisional ruling in favor of South Africa, outlining a list of provisional measures the Israeli government must take in their attacks on Gaza to prevent violating the Convention.    


The ICJ platform provides the critical gift of public, evidence-based, legal debate about the Gaza war, not only by giving the cases of South Africa and Israel a hearing but – as a UN court – by being the only judicial body in the world where Palestinian legal representatives can make their case for justice. For these reasons, the IPWG and MCC have sought to bring respect to the court and support for due process.    


Palestinians remain a stateless people, deprived of representation in many official realms of power. And Israel and the US have blocked Palestine’s full admission to the UN. But in 2012, the UN officially accepted Palestine as an observer state. As the only authoritative political body on earth where Palestinian representatives can speak and advocate in their own voice, the UN continues to play a critical role in bringing all the warring factions face to face. Without such places, there is no hope for lasting peace. And MCC is seeking to bring light and hope in the thick of it.   


How you can be involved   


While groups like MCC and the IPWG advocate face to face at the UN in New York, you can join with us in two ways.    


First, it is the policymakers in every country who bring their voice to the UN. If you are a citizen of a country with access to those policymakers, consider contacting them and encouraging them to support an end to the violence through a ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, and the global campaign to end arms transfers to both Hamas and Israel (more information here.)   


Second, the MCC UN Office and many of our IPWG colleagues are grounded in our faith and the biblical call to protect the innocent, challenge systems of harm, and seek peace through nonviolent means. This work is not easy in these painful days. We ask you to pray for us and for our efforts, but most of all for the people of Palestine and Israel, that the way of our just and peace-loving God would prevail.   


As MCC’s Israeli partner said, we must choose a different path. May our actions and our prayers be an example of the love and work of Jesus in this time.    


Victoria Alexander is the Advocacy Associate with the MCC United Office in New York City. A native of North Carolina, Victoria is a member of the Presbyterian Church USA and a board member of Presbyterian Women.