British MP says Epiphany shows need for Middle East humanitarian action

By staff writers
January 7, 2009

An MP who took part in a parliamentary delegation to Israel-Palestine last year has said that the season of Epiphany vividly illustrates the need for a ceasefire and humanitarian measures in Gaza.

Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East, said refugees should be given access to humanitarian support, just as the family of Jesus were over 2000 years ago.

Epiphany includes the account of Jesus' family fleeing violence in first century Palestine, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

Civil, human rights and religious groups have pointed out that refugee families in Gaza today are trapped in violence and poverty, with few routes for humanitarian aid to come in, and no routes out.

Independent Catholic News ( reports Ms Teather as saying: "When I visited the Holy Land at Easter last year I was left devastated by the conditions in which so many people are forced to live, particularly in Gaza. I saw real human suffering and experienced first hand the sense of hopelessness felt by so many on both sides of the border."

She continued: "Rocket attacks on Israeli towns like Ashkelon and Sderot are unacceptable and have to stop, and Israel has a right to self defence. But the scale of these attacks is completely disproportionate and I can only imagine the trauma and human misery that this current violence will leave in its wake."

"The Epiphany story highlights the human cost of violence, and Christians retelling this story in Churches this week should be reminded of the significance of the places in the story to real families today. The journey the Holy family made at Epiphany would not be possible this week because the boarders at Erez and Rafah are closed."

Ms Teather declared: "I hope that Christians will give active support, as well as prayer, to those families today who are desperate for humanitarian aid, and desperate to escape from misery and violence in the Holy Land."

In April 2008 the MP visited the region with a delegation of colleagues to see first hand the humanitarian impact of the situation on civilians.

She visited the Israeli town of Sderot, which has been targeted by Hamas militants, and Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, including Ramallah and Bethlehem.

The delegation was attempting to leave Gaza with the UN when the Erez terminal crossing came under fire from kassam rockets around 4pm on Monday 14 April.

The first rocket lay unexploded on the road leaving them stranded a mile from the checkpoint for a couple of hours and the second went overhead as they got to the terminal building, exploding yards away from the MPs.

Ms Teather said at the time: "It was a hairy moment and reminded me how many people in the region experience awful violence and fear every day of their lives.

"What I experienced at the Erez checkpoint was a small glimpse into the suffering and terror that people in the Israeli town of Sderot feel every day as they are bombarded by kassam rockets by extremists.

"But the firing of these rockets and the misery of Sderot is being used to justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, both in Gaza and the West Bank."

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