This week's MP's column comes from Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West 
As families in Bradford and around the world are adorning their homes with festive decorations and preparing to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones, a starkly different scenario unfolds in the Gaza Strip.

For children and their families in Gaza, this festive season is not a time for celebration but a struggle for survival. This Christmas, Palestinian children are not asking for presents but are asking to be able to live alongside their loved ones.
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza has led to the death of almost 20,000 civilians, 70 per cent of whom are women and children.

Over 52,000 people have been injured, many thousands with life-threatening injuries. Over 2 million people in Gaza are now displaced, devoid of both homes and shelters and grappling with severe shortages of essential provisions such as food and water.
The footage coming out of Gaza is unbearable to watch. Dead children piled ready for burial, whole regions obliterated, and hospitals either shut or struggling to cope with the catastrophic scale of casualties.

The reality is, as President Biden highlighted earlier last week, there is 'indiscriminate bombing' taking place, and from the evidence coming out of the region, it is hard to deny that what the people in Gaza are facing is collective punishment.
Out of Gaza’s 2.2 million population, around 1,000 of those are Christian, and now many of them are seeking safety in the local churches there.
On October 20, 2023, an Israeli air strike killed and injured Palestinians seeking refuge in a church compound in Gaza. Out of the displaced civilians sheltering from the air strikes, at least 16 were Christian Palestinians.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: A view of the rubble of buildings hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Jabalia, Gaza strip (Hatem Moussa/AP, File)A view of the rubble of buildings hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Jabalia, Gaza strip (Hatem Moussa/AP, File)
Further intensifying the sorrow, on December 17, 2023, two Christian women, an elderly mother and her daughter, were fatally shot by an Israeli soldier in a Catholic Church in Gaza City, an act condemned by the Pope as terrorism.

Similar condemnations have also been expressed by Church leaders here in the UK, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Archbishop Vincent Nichols.
The Palestinian territories hold a significant historical connection with Jesus and his birth; however, this year, churches have been forced to cancel Christmas celebrations.
Yet today, in Bethlehem (Palestine), the birthplace of Christ and the heart of Christmas, Churches are forced to cancel their celebrations. This poignant time, meant to commemorate Jesus' birth, is overshadowed by the death and suffering of Palestinian children due to the ongoing conflict.
It's difficult to enjoy the festive period whilst knowing the reality of what is happening in the Middle East.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:
There is an urgent need to stop the bloodshed, ensure the release of all hostages, and ensure vital humanitarian aid reaches those suffering in Gaza, which is only possible with a complete Ceasefire from all sides. This must be followed by international efforts to bring about lasting peace in the region with a pathway to a political solution for the region.
On Thursday, December 14, 2023, Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, told Sky News that there was ‘absolutely no’ chance for a two-state solution to be agreed upon.

These comments were echoed later by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who outlined the opposition to the two-state solution as a policy position under this current right-wing Israeli government.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves 10 Downing StreetIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves 10 Downing Street (Image: PA)

A two-state solution remains the only pathway to peace, with the consensus and support of world leaders, including long-held policy positions by both the US and UK governments.
However, if Netanyahu's government rejects this solution, it raises serious concerns about the future prospects for Palestinians under Israeli plans.
If Israel is refusing to accept a two-state solution whilst expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank, which, according to the UN, has seen 343 settler attacks against Palestinians since October 7, we must ensure international law is upheld.
There is also growing concern over UK-licensed arms being used in Gaza at a time when indiscriminate bombings on civilian populations take place.

Since 2015, the UK has licensed at least £474 million worth of military exports to Israel, including components for combat aircraft, missiles, tanks, technology, small arms and ammunition.

The UK provides approximately 15 per cent of the components in the F-35 stealth bomber aircraft currently used in Gaza. Many, including Human Rights Watch, have raised concerns about UK arms being used in Gaza and Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Our arms export regime should be strengthened so it is transparent and fully committed to upholding international law, with a more substantial role for Parliament. These rules should apply equally and consistently to all countries.
Finally, as we reflect on the true spirit of Christmas, let us remember the children of Gaza who are denied the happiness and peace that this season is intended to provide.

Their plight is a strong reminder to the international community of the urgent need for a ceasefire.

The silent evenings in Gaza are a solemn testimony to the ongoing violence, but nonetheless, there is hope for a future in which every child, regardless of where they are born, can celebrate this festive season, which is impossible whilst death and destruction surround your every moment.

  •  It has been reported that the IDF’s initial review into the church incident found that Hamas terrorists launched a rocket-propelled grenade at IDF troops from the vicinity of the church, with troops identifying three people in the vicinity who were operating as “spotters” for Hamas and “guiding their attacks,” then firing at the spotters, hitting them. The IDF claimed the reports received of the two women killed “do not match the conclusion of our initial review, which found that the IDF troops were targeting spotters in enemy lookouts.”