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We cannot be bystanders to genocide

By Prof Gabrielle Colleran - 12th May 2024

Gaza genocide

Talk is cheap. It is time for serious action to save innocent lives in Gaza

It is now more than 75 years since over 200,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes and settled in the Gaza Strip. Since then, over 15 different wars have been waged against Gaza and its occupants.

As I write this column, my phone is awash with grim images of bloodshed in Palestine. Since the escalation in conflict following the harrowing events of 7 October 2023, we have watched as a genocide has been livestreamed in front of us, via the news, our computers, and our phones.

At each escalation, at each point when a new line of barbarism has been crossed, I say to myself that this must surely be enough. The US will demand a permanent ceasefire, a stop to the blocking of humanitarian aid, and an end to the slaughter of innocent children.

Each time, I feel the same hope and expectation that the countries and institutions I hold in my mind and heart as being democratic, just, and egalitarian, will do something. Each time, when nothing impactful happens I find myself slowly accepting that the behaviour of powerful Western countries is totally at odds with their professed values of justice, fairness, and equality.

The politics of the foundation of Israel and the occupation of Palestinian lands is complex with many powerful vested interests. Some things are simple though. There are international laws that protect civilians and healthcare workers – and with the death toll in children so far topping 15,000, it is clear that these rights are being trampled on.

I shared with some close friends the gist of this column in advance and all of them had the same reaction: Are you sure you want to get involved? You might offend academic collaborators and colleagues by ‘picking’ a side? The truth is I might. That is something that makes me uncomfortable as some of my best teachers and mentors are, and have been, from Israel. But my personal or professional discomfort is no excuse for not speaking up when defenceless people are being brutally slaughtered, and children are starving and dying at unprecedented rates.

We cannot stand by and watch this genocide unfold. Why are so many powerful countries and institutions afraid to call out the truth? Is it fear of the response from a wealthy and powerful military state? Potential loss of earnings and influence? Many people have been silenced by a fear that they will be called antisemitic for denouncing the abhorrent violence and the rapid starvation of a population due to lack of access to humanitarian aid.

Yet, we know that those who conflate Zionism and Judaism do it so that they can silence these legitimate criticisms. The vast majority of people condemning these acts of barbarism would do the exact same if it was the Israeli people being starved and slaughtered. I find myself asking, how can Israel act with such impunity? If these acts had been committed by Russia or Libya or (insert any rogue state of your choice), how different would the global international response be?

Many people were shocked and stunned at the deaths of the seven World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza on 1 April, raising the death toll for humanitarian aid workers in the region to 203, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. So far, more than 33,000 people have died in Gaza since the conflict began last October.

Each one of those 33,000 is a person worthy of dignity, love, and the same protections as all of us. It was disconcerting to see some people who had stayed silent on the loss of life in Gaza become vocal only after white European lives were lost. If we believe that brown lives are equal to white lives then we will be just as abhorred by the thousands of Palestinian deaths as we are by those of European aid workers.

So what can we do? I am involved in two passionate groups of healthcare workers: Irish Healthcare Workers for Palestine and the Gaza Paediatric Care Initiative. Both groups take part in marches, raise funds for the charity Medical Aid for Palestine, write letters to Ministers and TDs, keep the focus on a permanent ceasefire, and place political pressure on our Government to do more to stop the genocide.

What does more look like? It means enacting the Occupied Territories Bill and recognising the State of Palestine in Ireland. It means divesting Irish funds from Israeli companies so we are not complicit in funding the ongoing genocide in Gaza. It means ensuring that humanitarian aid can be delivered where it is needed. It means calling for the release of all hostages. These are all things that we can do and must do.

Our children will learn about this conflict in their history books and they will judge all bystanders harshly. Talk is cheap – it is time for serious action to save innocent lives there, including all the people who are being left to starve to death. Once a permanent ceasefire is achieved the long path to lasting peace and justice can begin. Free Palestine.

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