Being John Ging


John Ging looks and sounds like someone you know well already, his was the voice of outrage over the extremities of the gaza incursion in January 2009. John Ging, Director Operations in Gaza for the UN Refugee and Works agency ex Irish Army and with CV stretching from the genocide in Rwanda, Congo and Bosnia, is very impressive.  It was his compound ( well the UNs) which was shelled with white phosphorous and he was one of the first in after the blockade  of gaza was lifted. The Trocaire and Human Rights Centre at Queens event was therefore a musthear/ see, and indeed the lecture theatre in the Elmwood teaching centre was full to bursting point. As the chair Seamus McKee stated about a spoof profile of Ging ( I think it was in the guardian) it stated best quality: honesty….worst quality: honesty

Telling the truth could have been the byeline  to John Ging’s talk.  As he quoted “the first casualty of war is the truth.” And in relation to the question what can we do?: We have to search ou the truth and establish the facts.  He stripped away the rhetoric and the spin which we have all been party to  and, told it as he saw it and as an eye witness he is very credible.

First of all the war on gaza:  to destroy the infratstructure of terror and stop the rockets, makes it sound like you have two equally robust armies locked in battle. Fact: This is asymmetric warfare at its most extreme. There are horrendous human rights abuses being committed by Hamas and other palestinian splinter groups, by the rockets they fire into Southern Israel.  However, they had almost completely stopped  during the fragile 5 month ceasefire and there had been no rockets in the 5 days before the war, so in relation to cause and effect, the use of force is on shaky ground as a justification for Israel to defend itself.

The onslaught was perpetrated against not the infra-structure of terror, but against civilain infra-structure. The American International school a beacon of tolerance, destroyed. Businesses of the friends of Israel  ( often oppressed as collaborators) destroyed; President’s Palace ( the president's  in Fatah) destroyed, Ministry and Financeand Ministry of Foreign Affairs destroyed, tens of thousands of peoples homes destroyed; and  by the end the tunnels for smuggling were still entact and there have been rockets shot into Israel every day since the conflict was ended.

Ging also challenged the rhetoric of that the only reasons that Palestinain children are killed is that that they are being used as human shields, he points out that this is simply accepted with little proof given, yet the only evidence we have is that it is the Israelis are guilty of using human shields. I don’t think that his point was that only Israel is doing this but that  impunity has come so far that we never unpick the human shields argument, but it is swallowed wholesale to justify the mass murder of civilians, because muder is what it is.  Crocodile tears about “collateral damage”  does not white- wash over the fact  that the  arbitary killing of civililains in times of conflict, according to humanitarian law is murder, and is thus a criminal offence. The mass killings of a population to punish a renegade government is collective punishment,  again against International law.

He believes that you cannot move the situation forward if the premise is false, that those who seek to expose the lies and spin will be attacked and discredited, but it is still our responsibility to uncover the truth. Therefore it is not helpful to accuse anyone of war crimes until there is evidence to do so,  beacuse it then moves away from the argument and starts to move straight to judgement. Innocent until proven guilty has to prevail in this as in anything else, but at the same time we must work hard to make sure the facts are uncovered.

He finished by pointing out that we are all culpable for not upholding the principles of the UDHR.

John Ging was followed  by a number of speakers all with interesting stories to tell but I was most struck by a comment by Jean allain, senior reader in International law at Queens who stated that the moral compass of humanitarian Law is off, because it was created to facilitate war not to stop it. He gave as his example that white phosporous is not allowed as a weapon but is as a smoke screen, ( a very approprate phrase I think) therefore the law is almost creating an opportunity to use this horrendous  materials which burns children to the bone.  He implored countries not only to respect the rule of law but also to challenge the limits of that law.

In the few minutes which i had to talk to John Ging before the lecture,  he thanked Amnesty for all the work it was doing to challenge Impunity. Within  the last week a report from Human Rights Watch  has also stated that they  believe that war crimes were committed, as has the Guardian, and Haaretz Newspaper has reported the testimonies of soldiers challenging the rules of engagement under which they fought. It is now up to our government to press for an effective inquiry into alleged war crimes. Impunity helps noone, not the Palestinians, not even the Israelis but most especially it makes the law an ass.

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