by Xinhua writer Wang Jiangang
A hush fell over the gathered dignitaries and staff at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday.
It was a moment that transcended the usual bustle of diplomacy and debate — a commemoration steeped in reverence, dedicated to honoring the lives and legacies of those UN employees who perished amidst the turmoil in Gaza.
Since the Israel-Hamas conflicts escalated in Gaza on Oct. 7, more than 100 UN employees have been killed, marking the most significant loss of life in such a short period the organization has faced in its 78 years.
These individuals, ranging from school principals and teachers to health workers and engineers, served the 2.2 million residents of Gaza through the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees amidst the bombardment and siege over the past month.
The month-long conflicts also have claimed more than 11,180 lives on the Palestinian side and around 1,200 on the Israeli side. Countries around the world have called for an immediate ceasefire and the entry of humanitarian aid in the war-torn region.
The ceremony featured a minute of silence, led by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, observed by UN resident coordinators from across the globe, who are meeting this week. Alongside Guterres were Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Dennis Francis, president of the UN General Assembly.
Following the mourning, UN staff gathered in the headquarters’ Secretariat lobby, where the names of the fallen colleagues echoed as they were read out.
Amidst a gathering of staff holding signs with messages like “responsibility to protect” and “protect civilians,” First Vice President of the Staff Union, Francisco Brito, said, “May they rest in eternal power and peace.”
At the crack of dawn around 7:30 a.m. (1230 GMT), a poignant scene unfolded as the UN flag was hoisted to half-mast, standing alone in the sky without the usual company of the 193 member states and two observer states’ flags. Normally, all these flags are raised each weekday morning, then lowered in the afternoon.
During the commemoration, Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of the State of Palestine, stressed the urgent need for a ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of essential aid and to halt what he termed a “crime against humanity” — the mass displacement forcing Palestinians from Gaza, their homeland.
“We don’t want to live a second Nakba. We want to stay in our homeland and rebuild the Gaza Strip,” he said, expressing hope for a resolution to end the conflicts and enable Palestinians to live in an independent state.