‘Death of European values’: EU institution staff march for peace in Gaza

8 May 2024 // Euronews

The prospect of an Israeli offensive in Rafah, where hundreds of thousands are sheltering, has sparked outrage around the world.

A group of staffers working in European Union institutions marched in silence in Brussels on Wednesday to mourn the lives lost in Gaza and what they described as the “death” of European values.

The civil servants, who defended their impartiality and the apolitical nature of the demonstration, say that the core values of human dignity, peace and the rule of law that they were hired to uphold are being violated in Gaza and that the EU needs to act.

The demonstrators also said that as a peace project, the EU has a responsibility to contribute more towards international efforts to bring peace back to war-torn Gaza.

In a symbolic “funeral”, body bags were laid down to represent the burial of international law, the EU Treaties, and the Genocide Convention. A cross carrying the words “RIP to never again” was placed next to the body bags, as demonstrators said the Genocide Convention was being undermined.

There were no flags or signs of political affiliation to be seen as staffers held a minute of silence to mourn the Palestinian lives lost in the conflict in Gaza. The death toll now amounts to some 35,000, according to the Hamas-run authorities.

It is the second such demonstration in Brussels’ EU quarter since the conflict erupted following Hamas’ October 7th attack on Israel. 

“This peaceful assembly has been brought together by hundreds of civil servants and of staff working within the EU institutions and around the EU institutions,” said Manus Carlisle, a European Commission staffer and one of the march’s organisers.

More than 100 staffers were believed to be present at the march, with organisers yet to confirm the official numbers.

“We’re here to stand up for those those values and those principles that we all hold so very dear and that we feel are not being held up when at the moment when the onslaught continues in Rafah, in Gaza, in the West Bank,” he added.

The march in Brussels came as ceasefire talks brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the US failed to yield results. Israel rejected the most recent proposal after Hamas accepted it.

‘Unacceptable’ offensive still on the cards

Despite international outcry, Israel now appears to be launching its long-anticipated ground offensive in the southern Gazan town of Rafah, where some 1.4 million Palestinians are estimated to be sheltering. Many were told by Israel to evacuate there for their own safety.

Israel claims Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza, and that it has intelligence to suggest that the Rafah crossing, the main route for the entry of aid, was being used for “terrorist” purposes.

Israel re-opened the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza on Wednesday after having shut off all aid access on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell warned that a ground offensive in Rafah would mean many more civilian deaths, “whatever they say,” in an apparent jab at the Israeli government.

Von der Leyen, meanwhile, has vowed to take action if the Netanyahu government proceeds with a large-scale assault on Rafah, a prospect she described as “unacceptable”.

The European Union’s 27 leaders have been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza since late March, but many European citizens feel the bloc’s deeply divided stance on the conflict has undermined its diplomatic impact.

‘Do more’

Protests against Israel’s ongoing offensive in Gaza and the resulting humanitarian crisis have over the past days taken root in universities across the bloc, many of which call for the suspension of EU partnerships with Israeli universities.

A EU spokesperson reiterated on Wednesday that the bloc’s partnerships with Israeli universities under the Horizon Europe programme must comply with “ethical principles”, and that entities in Israeli-occupied territories were not eligible.

Sara, one of the EU officials participating in the protest, told Euronews that EU leaders needed to “go further”.

“I am here as someone who works every day to make the EU a better place, and the EU cannot be a better place if the world is not a better place,” she said.

“We as the European Union have a huge responsibility towards Gaza, towards Palestine,” she added. “We cannot tolerate the hatred, we cannot tolerate the violence, we cannot tolerate this genocide.”