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The UN Holds a Minute of Silence for Its 101 Killed in the Gaza War So Far


UN flag is lowered to half-mast to pay tribute to fallen colleagues in Gaza. Traffic Circle, outside Secretariat, including Riyad Mansour, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations and Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud, Ambassador of Jordan to the UN
The United Nations flag was lowered to half-staff worldwide to pay tribute to the organization’s dead colleagues in Gaza since war broke out in early October. The officials who participated in the courtyard ceremony in front of the UN headquarters included Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, left, and his counterpart from Jordan, Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud, Nov. 13, 2023. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Thirty-seven days into one of the deadliest wars in the Mideast in recent history, the United Nations worldwide marked the loss of 101 of its own personnel killed in the Israel-Hamas fighting that began on Oct. 7, when the Palestinian militia slaughtered an estimated 1,200 people in southern Israel. The UN’s dead so far is the highest number of personnel killed in a conflict in the organization’s history, it said.

Since that early-October Saturday massacre, 11,078 Gazans out of 2.2 million people have died as of Nov. 10, according to the UN, amid Israel’s military response to Hamas’s surprise attack, its taking of hundreds of hostages and continuing rocket attacks in Israel. Approximately 4,500 children have been killed in Gaza, based on information from its Ministry of Health, which has not updated its numbers in the last few days because of “the collapse of services and communications at hospitals in the north,” says the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha). The UN says the Gaza ministry does not appear to differentiate the number of civilians killed from the militants who have died in the fighting.

On Monday, Nov. 13 at the UN headquarters in New York City, the organization’s flag was lowered to half-staff at 7:30 A.M., coordinated with UN offices worldwide. The flag-lowering was followed two hours later by a simple minute of silence ceremony held with UN executives in the Economic and Social Council chamber.

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No speeches were made, but Secretary-General António Guterres, who led his top brass into the room, told CNN on Sunday: “We are a family and we feel very dramatically those of our family that died and you can’t imagine how difficult it is for me to tell our colleagues that they must go on in this very dangerous situation.” He noted that some UN personnel killed in the war died at home with their families. He did not say that Israel was responsible for the dead.

The ceremony commemorated the UN staff, all Palestinians, who have died as employees for the UN relief/refugees agency, Unrwa, which has about 13,000 staffers serving Gaza. It also hires thousands of local staff in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to offer health care and education programs to Palestinians. The remembrance at UN headquarters was preceded in Geneva on Nov. 7, when the UN entities there marked the death of Unrwa personnel — 89 — in the Gaza war at that date.

On Sunday, an Unrwa guesthouse in Rafah, in southern Gaza, was hit by Israeli force naval strikes, the agency said. The staff happened to be outside the building during the attack, and no casualties were reported.

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More than a month into the war, the Israel Defense Forces have now encircled Gaza City, the densest part of the Palestinian enclave, population-wise, and the base of Hamas’s operations, the Israeli government says. Despite intensifying global demands from some governments, massive public protests and nongovernmental organizations calling for an immediate ceasefire, Israel Defense Forces keep attacking the enclave to try to wipe out Hamas.

Over the weekend, numerous hospitals in Gaza City were hit by Israeli military, forcing one to shut down and leaving two, including the largest, Al Shifa, operating without power. At Shifa, two babies died when their life support stopped working, and 37 babies in incubators are at imminent risk of death, according to the Ministry of Health in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the UN said on Sunday.

On the same day, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières tweeted constantly about the severity of the situation, with more alarming messaging by the minutes. By early afternoon, one tweet said:

On Nov. 12, after four hospitals were attacked in Gaza’s north, forcing one to shut down, the nongovernmental group MSF tweeted much of the day, describing the nightmare. Hospitals are protected by the rules of war, but Israel says Hamas is using them in Gaza as shields. 

Late last week, a “corridor” was opened by Israel to allow civilians to flee the heavily besieged north to the south of the enclave as the United States, Israel’s closest ally, has called for “humanitarian pauses” in the military “campaign,” as Secretary of State Antony Blinken has referred to the war. On Nov. 10, Blinken said publicly for the first time that “far too many Palestinians have been killed” in the conflict. The US is the top government donor to Unrwa for the 2022-23 budget, at $343 million.

Behind the numbers being tallied in Gaza are people whose lives have been snuffed out for being Palestinian. A blog posted on Unrwa’s website narrates some of the deprivations children have experienced. On Nov. 11, one post, produced by the agency’s Khan Younis Training Center in the south, described children “witnessing the unimaginable, like chickens pecking at lifeless bodies left strewn across the streets.”

The UN also described a scene late last week of a mass exodus of Gazans from the north, which is now controlled by the Israeli military, saying: “About 50,000 people fled to the south of Gaza through a ‘corridor’ opened by the Israel Defense Forces for seven hours.” This path enabled civilians to escape the intensifying Israeli attacks up north, “mostly on foot, facing thirst and exhaustion along the way,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson, said, adding that there were “reports of corpses being seen on the road.” The UN says that 230,000 people are estimated to have moved to the south in the last seven days.

Despite the rising death toll of Gazans and UN personnel since the war’s start, the UN Security Council has been unable to produce a single statement or resolution addressing the desperate humanitarian needs of civilians stuck in the enclave. Not that the Council hasn’t tried: in the last month, it has voted on four separate draft resolutions, including ones led by Brazil, Russia and the US, to no avail. The US vetoed the Brazilian-led draft on Oct. 18, citing its lack of reference to Israel’s right to self-defense for the US decision.

On Nov. 13, UN entities around the world marked the deaths of 101 personnel in the Israel-Hamas war so far. Here, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo lowered the UN flag to half-staff. KEVIN JORDAN/MONUSCO

The 10 elected members announced more than a week ago that they would submit their own draft text for negotiations, relying somewhat on the Brazilian text that was nixed by the US, yet the same obstacles remain: the US refuses to accept wording on a “ceasefire” or “cessation of hostilities” and demands an explicit reference to Hamas as a terrorist organization. The US and the European Union have designated the group as such, but the Security Council has not.

Out of major frustration over the Council’s inability to agree on a resolution while Gazan civilians are dying each day, a new draft text is circulating. The proposal, led by Malta with other elected members and China, concentrates on helping children, a diplomat told PassBlue. It focuses on getting more food, water and other lifesaving goods into the enclave through “humanitarian pauses and corridors” and enabling “urgent” recovery of children still trapped in the rubble of bombed-out buildings — dead or alive. It also calls for releasing all hostages, particularly youngsters.

Secretary General António Guterres, after the moment of silence.
A minute of silence was observed at the UN in remembrance of colleagues in Gaza who have been killed in the war so far. António Guterres, the secretary-general, led the ceremony on Nov. 13, with his deputy, Amina Mohammed, and Dennis Francis, the president of the General Assembly. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Yet the US is saying that the “timing” may not be right for such a text, a diplomat told PassBlue. In her explanation of the US veto on Oct. 18, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: “Though we could not support this resolution, going forward we will continue to work closely with all Council members on this pressing issue. Just as we will continue to reiterate the need to protect civilians including members of the media, humanitarian workers, and UN officials.”

Guterres seems to back the US. As he said on CNN on Nov. 12: “I have to pay tribute . . . in relation to putting pressure on Israel for humanitarian aid to be delivered into Gaza, the US has been consistently in support of that.”

Approximately 980 truckloads of essential goods have entered Gaza from the Rafah border crossing since Oct. 21, through a deal brokered by Egypt, the US, the UN and Israel. That is only a fraction of what is needed, the UN repeatedly states. No trucks are getting into the north, and there will be no fuel to operate a forklift to unload the trucks as of Nov. 14 at Rafah, Andrea De Domenico, the head of Unocha’s Palestinian office, told reporters from his base in East Jerusalem.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the UN staff who have died in the war so far?

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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The UN Holds a Minute of Silence for Its 101 Killed in the Gaza War So Far
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