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Filipina mom, who fled Gaza with 7 children, reunites with Palestinian husband in UAE

She asks help from Good Samaritans who may have extra laptops to spare for her daughters’ school requirements

by Angel Tesorero / Khaleej Times

The Filipina mother and her seven children who escaped war-torn Gaza recently are now back in the UAE.

They took a circuitous route – evacuating first in Manila with help from the Philippine government back in November last year – before arriving in Dubai last week. The family has settled in a temporary one-bedroom apartment in Ajman, the present accommodation of the 44-year-old Palestinian father who works in Dubai.

Three girls – aged 13, 11 and 9 years old – have been enrolled at an Arabic-curriculum school in Ajman. But since the family is practically starting from scratch – after everything they had were turned into rubble in Gaza – the mother, Marlene, 45, has reached out to ask help from Good Samaritans who may have extra laptops to spare for her daughters who are now in Grades 8, 6 and 4.

“Sorry for asking,” the mother apologetically wrote in a WhatsApp message sent on Wednesday. “The kids are doing fine and they are back in school. But they need a laptop for their school requirements. I hope there is someone who has an extra laptop or smart tablet to spare for my daughters,” she added.

Bright kids

Marlene’s children are very studious. In fact, her eldest daughter, who is 15, won full scholarship from Aiglon College, an international boarding school in Switzerland, before the war escalated in Gaza in October last year.

“She is now waiting for her student visa and she will finish senior high school in Switzerland,” Marlene proudly said.

Two of his younger sons – aged 7 and 6, who are supposed to be in Grades 2 and 1 – however, have yet to find a school. “All nearby schools are already full,” Marlene said.

“The kids now have a routine. My daughters are picked up by the school bus at 6am and they are home by 3pm,” Marlene shared, adding: “Even my youngest, who is 3, has started reading alphabets and counting numbers.”

Finding peace

Marlene continued: “Yes, my children are now all safe but the horrors of war still haunt them. They are still struggling to find peace.”

“Because we live near the Sharjah Airport, there were many times my seven-year old would anxiously run to me after hearing the sound of airplanes. ‘Are we being followed by Israeli fighter planes?’ – my son would ask me,” added Marlene, who earlier said: “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young son to tears as it sounded like attack drones.”

Marlene and her seven children left their home in Deir Al Balah in Gaza that was bombed twice, with nothing but a single emergency bag containing all their passports. Miraculously, no one died in the attacks and no one was seriously injured, except for a shrapnel that hit Marlene near her abdomen.

Marlene’s in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because they couldn’t endure the 20-km journey to the Rafah border in Egypt. “They have surrendered their fate to God. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor and prayed,” she said.

Although a big challenge, Marlene has maintained communication with her in-laws and relatives in Gaza. “But the situation in Deir Al Balah is getting worse by the day. My sisters-in-law are trying to move to Rafah to find a way to cross the border. They heard Deir Al Balah will be next after the intensive military operations in Khan Younis and Nuseirat,” she added.

Still grateful

On the bright side, Marlene is thankful that she has reunited with her husband. She also thanked the individuals and institutions that helped her family, including the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA) which took care of them when they were in Manila.

Marlene is now looking for work – her last job was as a secretary at a printing company in Sharjah before her family moved to Gaza in 2020. She said: “All my kids, except the eldest, were born in the UAE. That’s why they are not strangers here.”

Home is always Gaza

For Marlene’s children, however, home is always Gaza. She had earlier said: “Moving to Gaza turned out really good for my children. It was there that they truly found a home. They always felt they belonged. They were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy… until the war happened.”

“My children maintained contact with their cousins,” Marlene continued, adding: “Just two days ago, they had a video chat and children will always be children. Despite the raging war, you can feel the innocence and simple joy in them.

“I heard their conversation and they were all laughing. My children’s cousins also had a simple request: ‘Please send some chocolates and chips, even small candies or any sweets.” #

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This report is original to The Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.

Filipina mom flees Gaza with 7 children, hopes to reunite with Palestinian husband

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Timesby Angel Tesorero

Marlene and her seven children successfully evacuated war-torn Gaza last November and are back in her home country. Like other evacuees, they were given $1,400 in cash aid by the Philippine government and were housed in a hotel for a couple of days upon arrival in her home country.

While safe from the rockets and bullets of the zionists, Marlene finds its hard to take care of her children aged  15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5 and 3 years old alone. Her Palestinian husband Amjad is in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as an expat who wishes to bring the entire family to join him soonest.

Money running out

When the Philippine government’s temporary shelter to Gaza evacuees ended, Marlene was assisted by the Philippine-Palestine Friendship Association (PPFA) to look for accommodations elsewhere. They are renting a room in Cavite Province and the aid money they received is already running out.

“Worse, the children are still traumatized by the war,” added Marlene, noting, “Even the sound of the metallic electric fan brought my young sons to tears at night because it sounded like drones. My second child also wakes up in the middle of the night and cries. They are afraid of fireworks and the sound of airplanes.”

The children and their mom were living with Marlene’s in-laws in Deir Al Balah (a city in central Gaza Strip) when Israel escalated its attacks. Escaping heavy bombardment, they hurriedly left the house with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, mismatched slippers, and a bag containing their passports.

Emergency kit

“The bag was our emergency kit – I had prepared it a long time ago because, in the past two years, I have experienced four intermittent conflicts and airstrikes, and I was told by neighbors to put all our passports in one bag and run whenever we hear a warning siren,” she added.

No one died in the shelling, but Marlene was hit by a shrapnel near her abdomen. Marlene and the kids sought refuge in Rafah, southern Gaza, on October 15. The in-laws, aged 75 and 73, decided to stay behind.

The situation in Rafah was no different and after two weeks, they moved back to Deir Al Balah, only to experience another airstrike. Marlene and the kids were again lucky and escaped alive. They then moved back to Rafah until the border with Egypt was opened and the first batch of refugees were evacuated.

Marlene and her seven children arrived in the Philippines on November 10 last year. Her in-laws decided to remain in Deir Al Balah because even the 20-km journey to Rafah was too much for them.

Marlene shared: “My in-laws said they were ready to face any fate that befell them. When our house was bombed for the third time, my 73-year-old mother-in-law just lay down on the floor in fear. She could not run, her body was trembling. She laid down and prayed. Thankfully, my father-in-law arrived and dragged her safely out of the house. The five-floor building was leveled to the ground with only one room remaining, where the two of them are now staying.”

Schooling disrupted

The schooling of the six younger children was entirely disrupted by the punitive war, that has so far claimed more than 22,000 lives and displaced 90 per cent of the Palestinian population.

Marlene and Amjad’s children, except the eldest, were born in the UAE, and have studied in Ajman’s Al Hikmah School (except for the 5-year-old and 3-year-old, who have yet to enter school). The family lived in Sharjah until 2020, when they visited Gaza and got stranded there because of the pandemic. Their UAE residence visas lapsed and only Amjad was able to return after finding work in the country in 2021. Since the kids can only speak Arabic and English, they cannot attend a Philippine school.

However, it was not all bad news for Marlene. Her eldest daughter, who is a very bright student, bagged a scholarship at a university in Switzerland, where she will continue her senior high school education until college.

Return to homeland

“But living in Gaza turned out good for my family, because it was there that my children truly found a home,” Marlene said poignantly, adding: “They felt they belonged, they were happy living with their cousins, they went to school and made new friends. They were happy. Until the war happened.”

Amjad is now working on bringing his entire family to the UAE. He said he sought assistance from charity organizations and school authorities to help send his children to school.

He is also praying that one day the family will be able to return to their homeland. #

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This report was original to the Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.

South Africa charges Israel before World Court for genocide of Palestinians

The Republic of South Africa (RSA) instituted proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the latter’s genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Citing violations by Israel of its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention), South Africa filed the petition last Friday, December 29, at the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.

According to the Application, “acts and omissions by Israel…are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent…to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”

RSA’s petition added that “the conduct of Israel — through its State organs, State agents, and other persons and entities acting on its instructions or under its direction, control or influence — in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, is in violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention.”

South Africa said that Israel, since 7 October 2023 in particular, has failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide,” adding further that “Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa also announced his government’s petition on his office’s official X (formerly Twitter) account.

The ICJ, popularly called the World Court, is a civil tribunal that hears disputes between countries. It is distinct from the International Criminal Court which is a criminal tribunal that prosecute individuals. Both are based in The Hague, The Netherlands.

The ongoing hostilities in Gaza started last October 27 when Hamas fighters attacked Israelis in a massive operation that killed hundreds, including 4 Filipinos working and residing in the region.

Israel’s ongoing retaliation to the attack has resulted in more than 20,000 Palestinians casualties, including 8,000 children and 6,200 women as of December 20.

Popular global opinion however blames the zionist movement for its illegal occupation of Palestine, a claimed backed by several UN resolutions since 1948.

In its application against Israel, South Africa requested the Court to indicate provisional measures in order to “protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention.”

Israel must comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention not to engage in genocide, and to prevent and to punish genocide, it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

UAE: Some residents to mute New Year’s Eve celebrations as Gaza burns

The call for ceasefire and scaling up of humanitarian aid has resonated louder among the residents

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (UAE)–Celebratory fireworks will be muted across Sharjah this New Year’s Eve. This is among the latest decisions to scale back festivities in the UAE in solidarity with the Palestinians and as calls for an end to the hostilities in Gaza are amplified.

From cancelling Diwali celebrations in some schools early last month, to foregoing elaborate Christmas celebrations this week, the call for ceasefire and scaling up of humanitarian aid has resonated louder among UAE residents.

“The situation in Gaza is tragic, and I cannot remain indifferent,” Evgheni Pogonii, from Moldova, said as some Christians decided to forego the usual Christmas festivities.

Evgheni Pogonii.

Evgheni Pogonii.

“When you think of it, it is hard to celebrate New Year with fireworks when you know deadly missiles are raining on the Palestinian population,” Filipino expat Michelle Oribello reacted, adding: “Imagine the deafening sound of Israeli missiles and you can already predict the many lives that will be lost.”

Almost 21,000 people – seventy per cent of them women and children – have been killed in the Gaza Strip and there is no end in sight for the dire conditions of the civilians as the death toll is expected to rise further as Israel recently said there would be “no peace” until Hamas is destroyed.

Michelle Oribello.

Michelle Oribello

Nowhere to go

Amjad, 44, a Palestinian expat living in Ajman whose family has been evacuated to safety in the Philippines, said: “There is now no safe place in Gaza.”

“We, Palestinians, usually welcome New Year with a greeting, ‘Kul am wa antum bi khair’. But Gaza has been razed to the ground. Our own house has been hit by missiles three times – twice when family was there and once after they left for Rafah before crossing Egypt and seeking refuge in the Philippines.”

Away from his family, Amjad said he has no “appetite to welcome 2024”, adding: “The situation in Gaza is worse than anyone can imagine. We are besieged from all sides and the occupation has destroyed almost everything.”

Amjad is working on bringing his family to the UAE soon. Five of his children were born here before they moved to Gaza in 2020. “My kids have actually seen and really enjoyed the fantastic fireworks in the UAE. But now, suppose they were here, I don’t think they will enjoy any of the fireworks. They will only remember the rockets fired day and night that destroyed our house and killed our relatives, friends and neighbours,” he emphatically said.

“But I have also seen how the world has stood for us. I highly appreciate the move by Sharjah. This strong solidarity will definitely help our cause and we pray that soon we can say: ‘May you be well with every passing year’ (Kul am wa antum bi khair),” Amjad added.

Solidarity and unity

Egor Sharay, Dubai-based Russian journalist and cultural analyst, added: “The solidarity and unity will definitely play a crucial role in ending the hostilities and fostering a progressive society. The tragic events in Gaza underscore the need for peaceful efforts to address such challenges. The famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s perspective on non-resistance to evil resonates with the importance of this solidarity.”

Egor Sharay.

Egor Sharay

Salute and respect

For now, the ban on fireworks only applies to New Year’s Eve activities in Sharjah, including the annual spectacular show at Al Majaz Waterfront that has been confirmed cancelled this year.

Netizens have expressed their admiration for the emirate’s “sincere expression of solidarity”. “Salute and huge respect for them for this huge decision. We can see humanity here,” were common remarks on social media posts.

Olga Gafurova, a Dubai resident for 17 years and executive editor of Aviamost Russian Magazine, said: “I totally support Sharjah’s decision to ban New Year fireworks in solidarity with people in Gaza. We can’t simply say it doesn’t concern us and live with eyes wide shut. Love and compassion are necessities – without them humanity cannot survive.

Olga Gafurova.

Olga Gafurova

“Instead of fireworks, let’s spark hope in each other’s hearts and think of what we can do to help those who are in need. Of course, we cannot help everyone, but everyone can help someone. For instance, some Muslims in Russia welcomed Palestinian refugees and also banned the fireworks to avoid the loud noise that can cause additional trauma to Palestinian people. Let’s create a better world for generations to come.”

Pause and think about Palestine

Other religious and secular celebrations have earlier been limited in solidarity with those suffering under the deadly military campaign in Gaza.

As reported early last month, on-campus celebrations for Diwali festivities were muted. Students were encouraged to celebrate Diwali by donating towards the Emirates Red Crescent campaign.

Abhilasha Singh, principal of Shining Star International in Abu Dhabi, noted: “The scale of the catastrophic devastation in Gaza is beyond imagination. (I told my students) they must pause and think of the children in Palestine.. We are collectively praying for peace. The humanitarian crisis should end soon.”

‘We are here for them’

Following the UAE’s ‘Tarahum – for Gaza’ (Compassion for Gaza) campaign, residents immediately responded to call to provide urgent humanitarian relief to the Palestinians caught in the war.

People bought baskets of groceries like canned goods, baby diapers, feminine hygiene products, rice, pulses, biscuits and other essential items that were sent to Gaza. “We are here for them,” said Dubai resident named Sana, who served as a volunteer in the packing of goods.

March for Peace

At the recent COP28 hosted in Dubai, the world saw about 2,000 climate activists who marched not only demanding for climate justice but also the protection of human rights.

Carrying a huge black banner emblazoned with “Ceasefire Now” in bold letters written in English and Arabic, the protesters shouted their call while marching around the UN-controlled Blue Zone during the climate summit.

Silent protest

UAE residents have also joined the call to boycott international brands that are deemed supportive of the ‘genocide’.

Haya Issa, an American expat with Palestinian-Jordanian roots, said” “We are boycotting brands that are openly supportive of the genocide in Gaza,” she said. “And many of our favourite fast-food, sodas and coffee brands are on this list. So we have changed our routine and habits quite a lot. I don’t think you need to be Palestinian to see the need to stay away from brands that actively support or condone the level of violence in Gaza.”

Diplomatic arena

The UAE has been leading the international call to end hostilities in Gaza. Last week, the UN Security Council approved the UAE-drafted resolution to boost aid to the besieged enclave. The adopted text calls for “urgent steps to immediately allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and also for creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

Hundreds of injured and cancer patients have also been evacuated from the Gaza Strip to receive urgent medical treatment at various hospitals in the UAE, as part of the country’s humanitarian initiative ordered by President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Several tonnes of food, medical and relief aid have also been delivered to Gaza. #

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This report is original to the Khaleej Times where the author is senior deputy editor.

Dubai: Why some Christians are cancelling Christmas celebrations this year

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times

United Arab Emirates–There are no halls decked with boughs of holly; Christmas trees with lights, garland, and tinsel ornaments; or Yuletide stockings and other decors on the wall in some houses of UAE residents this Christmas. Some Christians are not keen on celebrating Christmas or will have a muted celebration because of what’s happening in Gaza.

But churches will be full and homes filled with prayers. There will still be gatherings with friends and family as they ponder on the “meaning and celebration of Christmas.”

Khaleej Times spoke to some Christians living in Dubai and they said: “There’s no denying that this year has been harder than usual on many people – especially the Palestinians in Gaza.”

“In lieu of the usual festive celebrations, we decided to mainly focus on contemplation and prayers to convey our message of solidarity with the victims of this atrocious war,” they added.

Lebanese expat Suzan Kazzi said: “Christians’ true celebration of Christmas is very spiritual and modest. At church, we will be praying for Gaza and all people in war zones.”

Suzan Kazzi. Photo: Supplied

Suzan Kazzi. Photo: Supplied

Evgheni Pogonii, from Moldova, added: “This year, Christmas for me is not just a time for joy and celebration, but also for contemplation and compassion. The situation in Gaza is tragic, and I cannot remain indifferent.”

Evgheni Pogonii. Photo: Supplied

Evgheni Pogonii. Photo: Supplied

“My prayers encompass a wish for peace and well-being for all those suffering from conflicts and disasters worldwide, especially the residents of Gaza. During this special time of Christmas celebration, I focus on hope for peace and assistance for those in need,” he added.

The pain is very evident among Palestinians, bordering on despair. A Palestinian mother who asked not to be named said: “Christmas is my kid’s favourite holiday, and our family – that is considered a bit on the religious side – would go to mass and have a typical Christmas day. But this year we aren’t excited or even merry.

“Christmas doesn’t feel like a holiday but it’s forced. It’s kind of like no one deserves to celebrate because of the martyrs in Gaza. Bethlehem cancelled Christmas celebrations and Ramallah will most likely too.

“So, we decided not put up a Christmas tree to at least show respect and love to Gazans. To be honest we’re still thinking whether or not we want to get the kids gifts or not this year. Obviously we don’t want to upset them but we need to teach them to respect their families in Gaza. Some families also decided not to put their Christmas trees but instead focus on praying for the martyrs and suffering Palestinians,” she added.

Another Palestinian expat living in Dubai added: “There are no Christmas tree or decorations or celebrations this year. I will be with my mom, brothers and sister-in-law at home, praying for the rest of our family in Gaza who are seeking shelter in Latin and Orthodox churches.”

Born on a pile of rubble

The scene of baby Jesus not in swaddling clothes but wrapped in Palestinian keffiyeh and born not in the manger – as traditionally depicted in the Nativity scene – but on a pile of rubble, is a stark symbol of destruction in Gaza for Filipino expat Michelle Oribello. She said she had seen so many pictures on social media of young children being pulled out the rubble, lifeless.

The photo was tweeted by Rev. Munther Isaac, Evangelical Lutheran Pastor in Bethlehem, who said: “We did this to emphasise that Jesus is in solidarity with those who suffered… This is our message to the world that this is what Christmas looks like in Bethlehem. This is what Christmas looks like in Palestine, with occupation, with destruction, with the bombardment of children. While the world is celebrating, our children are under the rubble. While the world is celebrating, our families are displaced and their homes are destroyed. So this is Christmas to us in Palestine.”

“This year, Christmas celebrations are cancelled in Bethlehem, and for obvious reasons. It’s impossible to celebrate while our people in Gaza are going through a genocide, when children are being massacred in such a brutal manner. All the heads of churches in Jerusalem decided that Christmas celebrations will be mainly prayers with no festive celebrations,” he added.

Prayers and solidarity

A Nigerian expat is deeply affected by the war. Kenneth Chinonye Chukwuleta said: “There seems to be nothing to celebrate because of the crisis and bloodshed this year. I pray not only for people in Gaza but also in Nigeria.”

Kenneth Chinonye Chukwuleta. Photo: Supplied

Kenneth Chinonye Chukwuleta. Photo: Supplied

Sudanese expat Sarah A. Latif added: I prefer to have a muted Christmas celebration in solidarity with the difficult situation in Gaza. I find it hard to rejoice while people, especially kids, are being killed. I will always keep the people in Gaza in my prayers and instead of spending money on Christmas parties, I will send them for donation to the Gaza people.

Sarah A. Latif. Photo: Supplied

Sarah A. Latif. Photo: Supplied

Estheisy Peña, from Dominican Republic, is also offering her solidarity and prayers for people in Gaza. “My heart aches,” she said, adding: “I include them (Palestinians) in my prayers. My wish this Christmas is for ceasefire in Gaza and freedom of its people. Above all, I wish for peace worldwide, hoping for an end to conflicts ravaging countries globally.”

Estheisy Peña. Photo: Supplied

Estheisy Peña. Photo: Supplied

Indian couple Jennifer and Clifford Mendonsa noted: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Palestine. Christmas is the feast of peace. We will be including both Palestine and Israel in our prayers for peace to reign on their land.”

Jennifer and Clifford Mendonsa. Photo: Supplied

Jennifer and Clifford Mendonsa. Photo: Supplied

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This article is original to The Khaleej Times where the author is senior deputy editor.

‘Let us pray for love’: Filipino Christians keep Gaza in prayers as Simbang Gabi begins in Dubai

A Filipino tradition, Simbang Gabi is a devotional series of nine days of Masses leading to Christmas

Report by Angel L. Tesorero and photos by Shihab / Khaleej Times

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–The traditional Simbang Gabi, a devotional series of nine days of Masses leading to Christmas, started on Friday, and thousands of Filipino expatriates have once again started attending the Christian service at various churches across the UAE.

Aside from communal prayers and thanksgiving, the call for peace — particularly the end of hostilities in Gaza — is among the personal supplications by pious Catholics, who shared their thoughts with Khaleej Times.

Long-time Dubai resident Romer Mendoza, 41, is among the thousands of Filipino Christians who attended the first day of Simbang Gabi at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oud Metha. “I’m also praying for peace in Palestine,” he said, adding “Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago but now, in Palestine, innocent children are dying because of the incessant Israeli bombings.”

“We need to pray for peace and no less than Pope Francis is asking us to do this,” Mendoza added.

‘Yes to peace’

On Wednesday, Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s more than 1.3 billion Catholics said: “No to weapons, yes to peace”, as he renewed his appeal for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and the release of all hostages there.

“I continue to follow the conflict in Israel and Palestine with much worry and pain. I renew my call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire — there is so much suffering there. I encourage all parties involved to resume negotiations, and call on everyone to make an urgent commitment to get humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza,” the Catholic Pontiff added.

The call by Pope Francis comes following the overwhelming passage of the resolution by the UN General Assembly demanding urgent ceasefire in Gaza, as more than 18,000 Palestinians have been reportedly killed and 50,594 more​​​​​​​ injured in the Israeli onslaught, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

Prayers for peace

With eyes closed and palms in prayer, Bernadette Bernabe, 32, also implored for peace in Gaza. She said after the mass: “I included in my prayers that reconciliation and harmony will reign in Palestine.”

Her compatriots Evelyn Tabaque, 44, and Divina Tagle, 53, also made the same prayers. With smile on their faces and brandishing the sign of peace, Tabaque and Tagle — who are both church volunteers, said: “The message of Christmas is hope and loving one another. It is a time for compassion, giving and sharing. As Christians, we implore on our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters to let peace reign on their land.”

Filipino student Vincent John T. Apelan, 15, who is also an altar boy, added: “We all support the call for peace. Let us pray for love, understanding and tolerance.”

Christmas carols

Meanwhile, in the spirit of joyful celebration, the usual singing of Christmas carols preceded the mass and St. Mary’s Catholic Church priest Fr Leny Escalada encouraged everyone to bring small gifts to share at the subsequent Masses.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of joyful celebration, the usual singing of Christmas carols preceded the mass and St. Mary’s Catholic Church priest Fr Leny Escalada encouraged everyone to bring small gifts to share at the subsequent Masses.

Simbang Gabi is a Filipino Christmas tradition that began in the late 1600s during the Spanish colonial era. Filipino Catholics brought the tradition to the UAE in the early 2000 – but unlike in the Philippines where Simbang Gabi is held at dawn, the mass in the UAE is usually held in the evening.

According to former St Mary’s Church priest Fr Chito Bartolo, about 20,000 churchgoers attend every Simbang Gabi at St Mary’s Church in Dubai. #

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This report is original to the Khaleej Times where the author is senior deputy editor.

WATCH: Calls for Gaza ceasefire ring out in Dubai as 2,000 protesters march on COP28 grounds

From the UAE to Uganda, more than 300 cities are standing up for Palestine, the activists say

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (UAE)–About 2,000 climate activists attending the ongoing COP28 in Dubai have joined the global action on Saturday — demanding climate justice and protection of human rights.

Carrying a huge black banner emblazoned with “Ceasefire Now” in bold letters, written in English and Arabic, the protesters shouted their call while marching around the UN-controlled Blue Zone.

“We are coming together to march for climate justice to show solidarity with the people of Palestine and demand ceasefire now,” speakers at the protest said.

From the UAE to Uganda, more than 300 cities are standing up for Palestine for the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice, COP28 Coalition, an alliance of more than 350 climate civil society organisations from 75 countries, told Khaleej Times.

Here’s a video:

“It is up to the peoples of the world to call not only for a ceasefire but for the end of decades of settler colonialism and apartheid. The climate justice movement echoes the call being made by social movements everywhere,” the coalition added.

COP28 has two zones – first is the Blue Zone which is under the jurisdiction of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) while the climate summit is underway. It is open only to UN-accredited participants and it is where formal climate negotiations are taking place. The other one is Green Zone, which is open to the general public and is under the UAE.

Largest demonstration

The protest on Saturday, approved by the UNFCC, was the largest demonstration yet at the UN Climate Summit in Dubai which concludes on Tuesday. The number of demonstrators was tenfold than the previous sit-down rally held on December 3, which turned emotional as climate activists teared up when names of Palestinians who died in Israeli bombing were read out.

The organised march on Saturday that lasted for two hours was louder and more defiant. Numerous protesters wore keffiyehs, waved watermelon banners and carried placards that say ‘Land back; Stop the occupation; Right of return’ as loud chants of ‘Ceasefire now!’ ‘Hey, hey, ho, ho, the occupation has to go’ and ‘The people united will never be defeated’ reverberated around the UN-controlled Blue Zone at COP28.

Photo by Angel Tesorero

Photo by Angel Tesorero

There were also calls for immediate climate action and equitable financial support to communities highly impacted by climate change.

Speeches focused on the key demands for climate justice and outright end of violence in Gaza as Israel’s bombardment, according to Palestinian Health Ministry, has killed more than 17,000 people – with 70 per cent of them women and children, and also injured more than 46,000 individuals.

Storytelling, singing at the protest

Chants and agitations were constantly made but there were also storytelling, humming, and invocations conducted by Indigenous people who also came in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Protesters also sang a song for peace, which is also a “prayer for healing, justice and a cry for liberation.” Part of the lyrics say “May this body be a bridge for the healing of this land… teach us oh Great Mother to bring peace to this land.”

Global actions

Meanwhile, the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD) shared with Khaleej Times pictures of protest actions simultaneously held across Asia, including cities and towns in the Philippines; Katmandu, Nepal; Manipur and several states in India; and various locations in Pakistan.

Philippines (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Philippines (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Kathmandu, Nepal (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Kathmandu, Nepal (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Kathmandu, Nepal (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Kathmandu, Nepal (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Manipur, India (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Manipur, India (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Pakistan (Photo supplied by APMDD)

Pakistan (Photo supplied by APMDD)

They said: “We are making it clear: Climate advocates stand for victims of genocide. We fight for the oppressed as we stand for the environment.”

The Global Day of Action for Climate Justice also condemned the US veto on Friday of the UAE-led UN resolution demanding immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The vote in the 15-member council was 13 in favour of the resolution while one (US) was against, while UK abstained. #

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This report is original to the Khaleej Times where the author is a senior deputy editor.

How children’s shoes at COP28 UAE are sending a strong message

Each pair of shoes, as per the climate activists, has a story to tell

By Angel L. Tesorero / Khaleej Times

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (UAE)–Several pairs of children’s shoes are being prominently displayed on the ground at the ongoing COP28 in Dubai. Civil society organizations have put them out as a form of silent protest with a clear message that says ‘No climate justice without human rights.’

One of the issues climate activists want to highlight at the UN Climate Summit is the fact that around 6,000 of the more than 15,000 people who died in Gaza, due to continuous Israeli bombings, were children.

“We wanted Palestinian children to be wearing those shoes, and yet they were killed,” Shirine Jurdi, from Lebanon’s Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, told Khaleej Times.

“The shoes displayed are not the actual ones worn by the Palestinian children”, she added, noting: “The actual ones would have been burned or mutilated, along with the bodies of the young victims.”

Photo: Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times

Photo: Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times

Each pair of shoes, in the point of view of the climate activists, has a story to tell. For Palestinian teenager Mohammed, they remind him of his cousin Hamza who died a couple of days after his parents were killed in an air strike on one of the highly-populated areas in southern Gaza.

“My cousin died of blood poisoning due to poor facilities. This happened after doctors were forced to operate on him without anaesthesia,” Mohammed said.

Salma from Kenya said she is also not only raising climate concerns at COP28. “We simply cannot talk about climate justice when people in Palestine, especially the children, are constantly in danger,” she underscored.

‘No to war’

Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo, executive director at Ibon International, a service institution working with social movements and civil society organizations, noted “militarism, wars and occupation contribute immensely to global carbon emissions.”

“That is why climate justice is linked with the struggle for just peace and upholding of human rights. Developed countries are miserly in committing to climate action, but pour billions of dollars into wars and military aggression,” she continued.

Photo: Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times

Photo: Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times

Malonzo underscored: “As we confront big polluting governments and corporations here at COP28, we also raise critical issues that are deeply connected to our struggle for climate justice – such as the sharp contrast between the billions of dollars being poured by wealthy countries to fund Israel attacks on Gaza, against the pennies earmarked for reparations to front line communities and climate-related loss and damage. It shows how human rights and lives are sacrificed for profit and plunder.”

Another message the display of shoes wants to deliver is that children are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as extreme weather, unabated pollution, and emergence of novel deadly diseases.

Protect children

According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), “the climate crisis is not just changing the planet – it is changing children – and the world is not doing nearly enough to protect them.”

“Children have been either ignored or largely disregarded in the response to climate change. Only 2.4% of climate finance from key multilateral climate funds support projects incorporating child-responsive activities,” the UN body added.

Last year, 739 million children were exposed to high or extremely high water scarcity, while 436 million children lived in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability.

More than 40 million children are having their education disrupted every year because of disasters exacerbated by climate change. Child malnutrition is also worsening due to worsening agricultural production, exacerbated by rising temperatures.

Perspective of youth

The call by UNICEF is to put children at the center of the global environmental response. This is echoed by 16-year old Mariam Hassan Al-Ghafri, who is a member of the UAE Parliament for Children and chairperson of the Standing Committee for Environment and Sustainability in Parliament, and UNICEF Ambassador for COP28 for Adolescents.

When asked about the shoes on display at COP28, she told Khaleej Times: “It is sad and depressing. But now, at the UN Climate Summit, there is a golden opportunity for our decision makers to take action and change the course of our history.”

“But they must work hard together and take it seriously that when they negotiate for climate action, they must include the perspective of the youth. And only then we will be able to stop this climate disaster,” she underscored. #

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This report is original to the Khaleej Times where the author is deputy senior editor.

[LOOK] Supreme Court staff wear keffiyeh

The staff of Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen wear keffiyeh scarves as their office leads the flag raising ceremony of the Supreme Court on December 4, 2023. The gesture is often seen as a show of support to the Palestinian people and their struggle against Israeli occupation.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court kicked off its celebration of Human Rights Week from December 4 to 12, 2023, coinciding with the International Human Rights Day which is commemorated on December 10 of every year. Justice Leonen heads the SC’s Committee on Human Rights. In his address, the magistrate said, “Human rights ensure our freedoms.”

(Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

Statements on the killing of journalists in Gaza

ALTERMIDYA: On the Gaza information crisis

The worsening conflict in Palestine’s Gaza amid Israel’s unrelenting offensives indicates a humanitarian crisis of global concern.

Since October 7, military operations between Israel and Palestinian armed group Hamas have killed over thousands of Palestinians and injured many more in the Gaza Strip. Compounding the conflict is a total Israeli blockade of food, fuel, and other necessities to millions of people in the occupied territory in what is grounds for an international war crime.

Now, an information crisis threatens to further distort the conflict’s causes and consequences. Gaza is experiencing a near information blackout with internet and phone services cut. Israel is to blame for cutting the communications, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Independent journalists like members of the Altermidya Network urge the United Nations and other human rights bodies to immediately intervene by doing everything possible to restore access to communications in Gaza.

In the same vein, we express deep concern for our fellow media workers who are covering the ongoing conflict from the front lines.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 29 journalists were killed in such operations. Most of these were Palestinians, as well as three Israelis and one Lebanese. This is on top of dozens of journalists who are injured, detained, or reported missing. Addressing the information crisis necessitates that the safety of journalists is upheld and guaranteed.

We call on all involved parties to stop killing and targeting civilians, including media workers based in Gaza. By extension, entities within the UN such as the Special Rapporteur to immediately investigate such brazen killings and attacks in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1948.

Protecting the media would serve to aid them in their job to report and explain the decades-long Palestine occupation.

Tens of thousands have been killed, while millions have been displaced in this conflict rooted in colonial acts. Unfortunately, this historically drawn out narrative will be buried along with the bodies of innocent civilians, media included, if we all silently wait as this conflict continues. The time to act is now. Those in observance of the conflict must speak out, while those in power must do all to address the very roots of this systemic violence.

For the UN and all related rights entities, the urgency to restore communications in Gaza cannot be understated. # (October 30, 2023/Quezon City, Philippines)

AMARC Asia-Pacific Condemns the killing of media workers and civilians in Gaza

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, AMARC (Asia-Pacific) strongly protests the ongoing indiscriminate killings of civilians and media workers in Gaza by US-backed Israeli forces. Records show that the period since 7th of October 2023 has been the deadliest period for media workers.

The genocide in Gaza is also one of the most terrible media crises in recent times. International sources estimate that approximately 48 journalists have lost their lives while reporting from Gaza. According to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 48 journalists and media workers have been confirmed dead including 43 Palestinian, 4 Israeli, and 1 Lebanese. According to sources, the deceased media workers include those representing media organizations as well as freelancers.

Since the 1940s, the political claims and cause of Palestinians has been subject to disinformation and distortion at the highest levels of international governance and law to justify violence in Gaza and West Bank. Since the recent Al-Aqsa Floods operation, there have been various kinds of moral obfuscations and disinformation on mainstream and social media platforms to justify genocide against the Palestinians. Free, independent, and critical-minded media organisations and journalists are one of the few factors that has helped mobilise large-scale protests against this genocide. It is no surprise that media workers are heavily under attack. Issuing this statement, Dr. Ramnath Bhat, President of AMARC Asia-Pacific has called the situation in Gaza as one of the gravest conditions for freedom of journalists and other media workers.

“Independent journalists reporting from the heart of the conflict in Gaza are the only source of any credible information that is received by the rest of the world. Targeting media workers is a clear sign of genocidal intent that does not wish to see itself exposed; creates an information blackout at the global level fostering disinformation; and finally lays the ground for further intensification of genocide”

AMARC Asia-Pacific deeply mourns the deceased media workers and condemns the mass killings going on in Gaza, specifically the blanket targeting of civilians. It calls upon all concerned, especially the Government of Israel and the US to immediately stop hostilities, affect a ceasefire and end the genocide.

Statement issued by the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, AMARC (Asia-Pacific), [email protected], November 22, 2023/Kathmandu, Nepal