"U.N. relief official tells of suffering in Gaza Strip"
Posted by Robert L. Smith/Plain Dealer Reporter March 31, 2009 03:00AM
John Ging, the closest thing to a referee in the seething and suffering Gaza Strip, told a Cleveland audience he knows a way to end the humanitarian crisis that created his job.
But peace will require Israelis and Palestinians to see the humanity in the other side, the United Nations' relief worker said at the City Club of Cleveland on Monday. The crowd's response indicated his solution faces skepticism even a world away from the troubles.
Still, the Irishman would not be dissuaded by either affirming applause or murmurs of dissent from a largely Arab-American crowd.
"No civilians should be at the receiving end of a rocket," Ging declared in a soft brogue laden with emotion. "Until we get there and rehumanize everyone in this conflict, then we are not going to move forward."
Ging, a veteran of world catastrophes, is the director of operations for the United Nations Relief & Works Agency. The agency was created in 1949 to respond to the Palestinian refugee crisis.
Sixty years later, it's the largest U.N. agency on the planet, with 10,000 employees trying to provide jobs, health care and education to 750,000 refugees in Gaza, a crowded Mediterranean enclave of 1.4 million Palestinians.
Ging stopped in Cleveland on a brief visit to the United States at the invitation of the local Arab-American community.
He has been harshly critical of Israel in the aftermath of its December attack on the Islamic Hamas movement, which rules Gaza. On Monday, he accused the Israeli Defense Forces of pointlessly destroying Gaza homes and schools and dehumanizing innocent civilians.
Ging said Israel is now thwarting Gaza's recovery by restricting the flow of goods and supplies into the territory.
"Lifting the siege in Gaza is an urgent, urgent first step" to restoring human dignity, Ging said to applause.
But he also spread the blame around, at times to the consternation of his audience.
An Israeli mother who does not know if her child will be picked off by a rocket fired aimlessly from Gaza is a victim of terrorism, Ging said. She is the victim of a crime that destroys chances for peace.
During the question-and-answer period, a woman in the audience suggested Israelis are not victims if they are living on Palestinian lands. She likened settlers to scared bank robbers running from their crime.
"You can't shoot someone in the back because they are running away," Ging responded. "Force is not the answer. It's just not the answer. The path to peace lies in the rule of law."
Ging, a lawyer by trade, has directed humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts in Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia and Lebanon. He said international law and accountability need to be reintroduced into the Gaza conflict. He stressed that peace requires another human quality -- empathy.
Ging urged supporters of Palestinians in Gaza to visit Israeli communities in range of Hamas rockets. He urged supporters of Israel to go to see the ruins of Gaza.
"Then go back to your friends and be good friends, really," he said. "Tell them you understand what it is like on the other side."