Wednesday 19 December 2018

An Irish voice bringing horror of attack to the world

Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

HE has become the voice relaying the horrific reality on the ground in the Gaza Strip to an international audience, a voice that is increasingly being heard.

Yet John Ging was out of the region on annual leave when the Israeli rocket attacks began two weeks ago, and he went back in. This week the Laois man at the forefront of the United Nations operation in Gaza became the first civilian allowed to enter Gaza since Israel began its attack.

In the few days since, he has became known to a worldwide audience, his measured tone heard from Jerusalem to America and beyond, as he tries to go about his work, helping over one million refugees.

"He is an incredibly dedicated man, passionate about his work, and certainly his expertise would have been missed," a colleague, who didn't wish to be named, said yesterday.

On Thursday, Mr Ging, who heads up the UN's Refugee and Works Agency, announced that it would be suspending its work in Gaza after one of its drivers was killed by an Israeli shell despite earlier guarantees about the convoy's safety.

The decision to halt aid came on the 13th day of Israel's offensive, with the Palestinian death toll at 758. Mr Ging, who is in his 40s, described the situation in Gaza as "horrendous". Yet he has seen worse.

A former captain in the Irish Army, Mr Ging was seconded by the Irish Government as a regional director with aid agency Goal in 1994 following the Rwandan genocide. It was only the second time that the Government allowed soldiers to work for Goal, and Ging was put in charge.

"I picked the guy to be in charge rather than have the 15 soldiers nominate the highest-ranking guy," John O'Shea said yesterday. "Ging was not the highest ranking guy but he struck me as a guy with common sense."


The programme Mr Ging oversaw included burying 40,000 people who had died from cholera in the Congo refugee camp of Kibumba.

"It was Ging's men who had that dirty job of going around and picking up kids as though you were a scrum half and flinging them onto the back of lorries," Mr O'Shea said.

"It needed military-style command chain and operational ability to do that, and John Ging proved extraordinarily capable. So I wasn't at all surprised that when he left the army that he was going to end up in a senior position within the United Nations."

Mr Ging, who is qualified as a lawyer, and has also completed studies in sociology and political science, worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina after leaving the Army before working as chief of staff for eight years in the UN mission in Kosovo.

Even before the latest Israeli attacks, his role as head of the UNRWA in the conflict-torn Gaza region was seen as his most difficult post. Since 2006, he has been in charge of more than 10,000 staff tasked with delivering education, health care and social services to over a million refugees. His budget is in the region of €300m.

His life was targeted just over a year into the role when masked gunmen fired on his armoured car before he managed to drive off. A number of his staff and students have been killed in the Israeli attacks over the past two weeks.

Mr Ging,one of four brothers who grew up near Portlaoise, is a private individual. A family member contacted by the Irish Independent yesterday said all questions would have to go through him. "I'm not a fan of the United Nations but if there was anybody in there to try to change it around, John Ging would be one of the fellas I'd look to," Mr O'Shea said.

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