The world said ‘never again’… unless you’re Israel.

Friday 01 August 2014, 12am

DURING a trip to Cambodia a few years back, I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. One exhibit was a memorial to victims of the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror between 1975 and 1979.
 
It comprised of hundreds of human skulls, stacked on shelves and categorised by age and gender – a stark reminder of humanity’s potential for cruelty and heartlessness. 
 
 
 
A frightening, eye-opening experience, this mental picture remains with me to this day. I recall thinking how could the world allow something like this to happen?
 
Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime slaughtered one in four of Cambodia’s population – about 2 million people – while the rest of the world turned a blind eye. 
 
 
 
I remember thinking to myself that each skull was more than a calcium deposit on a shelf. Each had an individual story, a personal history, a lifetime of memories – a first kiss, a family get-together, a local festival. Each also represented a memory of how that life ended – of being bludgeoned to death, shot or tortured – when the museum, a former school, was being used by the Khmer Rouge as a death camp in those terrible years between 1974 and 1979. 
 
I wondered what went through the minds of these people as they were led away to a field to dig their own graves. Did they wonder why the rest of the world did nothing to end the slaughter?
 
 
 
The Khmer Rouge didn’t discriminate by age either – one of the most sickening sights I saw in what has become known as the Killing Fields was the “killing tree”. This is where infants and toddlers were smashed against the trunk before being thrown into an open grave beside their families.
 
After four years of inaction by the rest of the world, Communist Vietnam intervened to bring the Khmer Rouge’s horrific rule to an end. The rest of the world hung its head in shame and once again said… never again.
 
I don’t want to make a political comparison between the paranoid, vicious Khmer Rouge and the current Israeli administration. Nevertheless, try telling that to the four innocent children aged between nine and 11 from the one extended family who were murdered by the Israeli army as they played on a beach in Gaza.  Try telling little Zacaria, Aahed Bakr Jr, Mohammed and Ismail that the actions of Israel are more wholesome than that of the Khmer Rouge. Online videos show their lifeless, little bodies, limbs torn from torsos by the blast of a mortar shell. 
 
Try telling that to the unarmed young Palestinian man who, during a ceasefire, went looking for his family and was shot by an Israeli sniper. He was shot first through the hip before being finished off as he lay helpless on the ground. 
 
(The incidents detailed above are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. We only know about them because they were caught on smart phone cameras.)
 
Try to convince the more than 1,200 innocent Palestinians killed so far in the Gaza conflict that the Israeli administration is somehow more civilised than the Khmer Rouge. Tell that to the one child killed every hour as Israel commits these war crimes – bombing hospitals, schools, refugee camps and other public buildings and amenities, electricity generators and water supplies. 
 
And Israel does this in the largest open-air prison in the world, where half the population is aged under 18 with nowhere to run.
 
All of these deaths are totally unnecessary, unjustified and entirely preventable. 
 
To believe the lie that Israel is defending itself and to shift the blame on to Hamas for its alleged use of ‘human shields’ completely misses the point. 
 
If a bank robber takes hostages during a raid – you don’t simply blow up the bank killing all inside. That is, unless you’re a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and all those inside the building are Palestinian. Do you think they’d blow the bank up if the hostages inside were Israeli, American or British? Not a chance! There’s something fundamentally racist in what is unfolding in Gaza.
 
The world, it would seem, continues to accept that an innocent Palestinian life is somewhat less valuable than that of an innocent Israeli. Why else would the international community, once again, turn a blind eye to a massacre of innocent people – this time in Palestine? 
 
The Israeli military –one of the best-funded military outfits in the world thanks  to US backing – has the capacity to shoot missiles out of the sky with its Iron Dome protective shield. Yet they expect us to believe they don’t have the ability to distinguish Hamas members firing rockets from young children playing on a beach in Gaza?
 
The IDF feel justified as they cold-heartedly slaughter children, with the nauseatingly plea that “they started it”, as sections of the Israeli public openly celebrate these murders.
 
As the Israeli military wipes out the futures these young victims might have had, political establishments across the world refuse to take the side of the innocent victims and coldly turn their backs on the Palestinian people.
 
They side with an occupying power that has flagrantly broken international law for decades, continuing to evict more and more Palestinians from their homes, with no international repercussions. 
 
That’s the real cause of this conflict – Israel can, and has, acted with impunity in the knowledge that they have the full backing of the US and the support of the EU. 
 
If Israel is never held accountable and never faces sanctions for its war crimes and breaches of international law, the IDF will continue murdering innocent men, women and children. 
 
How are Palestinians supposed to put their faith and trust in the rest of the world when our governments have allowed this behavior to go on for decades? 
 
We can make a difference. 
 
We can make this conflict an electoral issue. We can call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Ireland. We can call on all Irish retailers to stop selling Israeli goods. We can call for the Irish government to ban the sale of Israeli goods in Ireland and across the EU. 
 
If they refuse, we must take action ourselves and refuse to give economic support to the oppressing power in Palestine by not buying Israeli products. It’s the least we can do as this bloodthirsty regime continues to bombard Palestinians with weapon systems banned under international law for use in civilian areas.
 
When I left Cambodia in 2010, I never thought I’d ever see anything as horrific again as those reminders of the Killing Fields – but the images and videos from Gaza over the last month have awakened those memories for me again. 
 
After my experiences in Cambodia I promised myself that I’d always play my part, no matter how small, in ensuring that episodes of genocide, State terror and murders were challenged by me. 
 
In truth, I didn’t think I’d ever have to act – but Israel’s actions have proven me wrong. Those innocent men, women and children of Cambodia had a right to life back in the 1970s, when the rest of the world turned their backs on them, just as the innocent Palestinians do now. 
 
In the future, I want to be able to say the blood of innocent Palestinians is not on my hands – in spite of the actions (or the inaction) of our government. So as citizens, let’s tell Israel that when we said, “never again”, we meant it!
 
Come to tomorrow’s rally, Sat, 2 August 2014, 14:00 Assemble at the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin 1.

By David Gibney
Mandate communciations officer 

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