‘A matter of life and death’: Michael D Higgins condemns obstruction of aid entering Gaza

President says ‘propaganda campaign’ against United Nations and its relief agency in enclave a ‘scandalous travesty’

President Michael D Higgins has strongly condemned the obstruction of aid entering the Gaza Strip by “state actions and illegal blockages”, calling on those responsible for preventing the deliverance of vital supplies to “take responsibility for the deaths that are ensuing”.

In a strongly-worded statement published on Monday evening, Mr Higgins called for the blockading of food and aid to be stopped immediately: “It is a matter of life and death.”

In recent weeks, reports have emerged of widespread starvation in the enclave, particularly in northern Gaza. A World Health Organisation (WHO) study warned last month that one in six children in the north are acutely malnourished.

Since the outbreak of war in Gaza last year, Israel has been accused of blocking aid from entering the Gaza Strip.


In late February, Human Rights Watch said that the Israeli government was obstructing aid entering the enclave in violation of an order from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Israel has denied restricting the entry of aid into Gaza.

In his statement, Mr Higgins said that the blocking of aid by “state actions and illegal blockages breaches every humanitarian principle”.

“Some of the worst scenes of starvation are being seen in those parts of northern and central Gaza where Israel has declared its military campaign complete,” he said.

Mr Higgins also condemned a “propaganda campaign” against the United Nations (UN) and the work of Unrwa, a UN relief agency operating in Gaza. Mr Higgins referenced comments made by Philippe Lazzarini, head of Unrwa, who last week condemned a campaign of misinformation aimed at tarnishing the reputation of the agency.

“The releasing of a propaganda campaign against the United Nations is a scandalous travesty against the little less than heroic efforts of all those involved on the frontline in Gaza – medical staff, those working to supply nutrition and aid in the most trying of circumstances, and those other dedicated professionals in Unrwa who have lost more than 160 of their colleagues,” he said.

In recent months, several nations – including the United States – halted their funding on Unrwa, after Israel accused at least 12 of the agency’s employees of participating in the October 7th attacks, when roughly 1,200 Israeli were killed in Hamas-led assaults across southern Israel.

“Those countries, and they include some of the strongest economies in the world, who have removed over $450m from the Unrwa budget must take account of what is now being shown on the television screens of the world for all to see – infant children dying from lack of oxygen, many more dying from malnutrition and all of this set to escalate,” Mr Higgins said.

In recent days, Canada and Sweden have resumed aid to Unrwa. In the wake of the Unrwa allegations and subsequent pulling of funding by some countries, Tánaiste Micheál Martin pledged that Ireland would contribute €20 million to the agency.

Mr Higgins said that it was “past time” that EU counterparts and other countries joined Ireland in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. He also called for Israeli hostages held by Hamas to be released.

“As the world watches Gaza descend yet deeper towards famine and ever greater loss of life, it is vital that every country in the world now does all in its power to ensure that a humanitarian disaster in its most extreme sense is avoided,” Mr Higgins said.

“Once a ceasefire has been achieved, there is no time to be lost in addressing such basic issues as will be needed in order to bring a long-term peace which can provide both for the rights of Palestinians and for the appropriate security of Israel.

“It is time for the world to put an end to this loss of life, to remember our shared humanity, listen to the peacemakers and commit all of its efforts to bringing this crisis to an end and ensuring an appropriate long term settlement is reached,” he concluded.

Since the beginning of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza last year, over 31,000 Palestinians – mostly women and children – have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, a number of Irish artists have pulled out of the SXSW festival in solidarity with the people of Gaza, citing the US army’s sponsorship of the Austin, Texas event.

Irish language rap group Kneecap, as well as bands Soda Blonde and Sprints, also cited the presence of a subsidiary company of weapons manufacturer RTX Corporation at SXSW as a reason for cancelling appearances at the film, media, music and culture festival. Singer songwriter Gavin James also announced that he would pull out of the festival.

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher

Fiachra Gallagher is an Irish Times journalist