49th anniversary of the Cambodian Genocide: The Khmer Rouge and Israel

The frightening similarities between the Cambodian and Palestinian genocide

The frightening similarities between the Cambodian and Palestinian genocide

“It’s a holiday in Cambodia; it’s tough, kid, but it’s life”, these are the lyrics from a song called “Holiday in Cambodia” (by the “Dead Kennedys”). Before this song, I had never even heard of Cambodia, let alone known where it was on a map.

Shameful? Yes.

April 17th of this year marks the 49th anniversary of the Cambodian genocide by the Khmer Rouge.

If you’re wondering what the Cambodian genocide was, I don’t blame you.

Unfortunately, it’s not a topic that is spoken about a lot. I guess more than 2 million dead Cambodians are not enough.

The Cambodian genocide took place between 1975 and 1979, where more than 2 million Cambodians were brutally killed by the Khmer Rouge, the then communist party of Cambodia, with Pol Pot as its architect (though they referred to themselves as “Angkar,” meaning “organization” in Khmer).

“Why?” you may ask.

It was to have Cambodia be a model for all. You know, the land where everyone is equal and the rich don’t exploit the poor anymore.

April 17th, 1975, was the beginning of “Year Zero,” a concept that all of society must be eradicated so that a new society can be born based on the culture of the Khmer Rouge. Educators were killed for being “smart,” and being smart meant you would have ideas to topple the pure Khmer government as outlined by the Khmer Rouge. Everything was destroyed. The entire city of Phnom Penh was emptied in just a matter of hours, and everyone was moved to rural Cambodia. It was time for the new Cambodia to be formed. And so began the beginning of the Cambodian Genocide.

“Genocide”—isn’t it a popular word these days? One would think that we have learned from the past, but instead, we are using the past as a blueprint for the future. Rwanda happened, Sabra and Shatila happened, ethnic cleansing of Hazaras is still happening, and, God knows, how many I do not even know. As I study more about the Khmer Rouge and its atrocities, my mind cannot help but go to one of the genocides currently taking place: the Palestinian Genocide.

“What does the Cambodian Genocide have anything to do with the Palestinian Genocide?” you might ask. You see, as I study the Khmer Rouge, I see more and more of the Khmer Rouge in Israel. The Khmer Rouge and Israel may belong to two different times in history with different political affiliations, but how similar they are might surprise you, and this is what this paper will do.

1. “Year Zero” and the “Nakba: Let us start with “Year Zero” in Cambodia. The old Cambodia had to be destroyed for the new Cambodia to be born. No part of the old society was to be welcomed into the new society, as the new society was to be pure and free from any thought that was not beneficial to the Angkar. Now let us see how this relates to Israel.

The “Nakba” (the catastrophe) was the forced displacement of Palestinians out of their lands and homes to make way for the new state of Israel. No Palestinian or Palestinian identity was to be a part of the new society promised by God to His people. These are two events that are so different from each other yet so similar.

2. Removal of that which is different: Alongside teachers and professors, the Khmer Rouge killed doctors, businessmen, and anyone who was not a peasant. Fair-skinned people were also killed because they did not look Khmer, and since you did not look like a Khmer, you were a spy sent to destroy pure Cambodia. Factories, hospitals, schools, and universities were destroyed because Pol Pot did not want anything from the past to corrupt his vision of a great Cambodia. Even people who wore glasses were not spared, as wearing glasses meant that you were smart, and since you were smart, you would be a threat to the Angkar. Ideas that did not align with the ideas of the Angkar were seen as threats to the Angkar. And anyone carrying such ideas was the enemy of Angkar. Anything that was seen as a threat to the Angkar meant removal.

Removal of any symbol or anyone that is seen as a threat. One can say it sounds very similar to what Israel has been doing, no? Speaking Arabic is seen as a threat; journalists reporting on Israeli atrocities are seen as a threat; Palestinians farming their lands are seen as a threat; wearing a keffiyeh is seen as a threat; and anything that has to do with affirming the Palestinian identity is seen as a threat. Demolition of Palestinian homes, burning of Palestinian farmlands, and leveling of Palestinian villages are necessary because every land and every structure that says Palestine is destroyed. Your very existence as a Palestinian is a threat because you do not align with Israel.

3. Documenting their atrocities: More than 2 million Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. Newborn babies had their heads smashed against the “killing tree” as the mothers helplessly watched. People were randomly picked to be killed because the Angkar could pinpoint anyone as an enemy. The Khmer Rouge would document all of their victims—a “power move,” if you will. Photos are still hung in Phnom Penh’s S-21 prison. Every victim had a number, and it was Angkar who decided who had to be gotten rid of.

The atrocities that we have seen unfolding in Palestine are no different than what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia. Palestinian children, especially babies, are being mercilessly butchered as their mothers helplessly watch both in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. Palestinians are getting killed daily, with Israel documenting every kill. Not a lot has changed, huh?

4. Only live to serve the cause: In Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Angkar was everything. Angkar decided how and where you lived. Angkar was your father, mother, brother, sister, friend, uncle, aunt, and everything. Everyone else was a “comrade.” Your sole purpose in life was to serve and protect Angkar. Angkar decided who would marry whom. Individuality was a threat to Angkar, and no one dared question Angkar’s choices. Why? Because Angkar knew what you didn’t, and Angkar was wise.

Fast forward to what is happening now in Palestine. Israel decides where Palestinians should live and how. Israel decides if a Palestinian will have a family or not. Israel decides who a Palestinian should marry. If the occupation did not exist, a Palestinian could marry another Palestinian, regardless of where they lived. But unfortunately, that is not the case now. A Palestinian from Gaza can marry a Palestinian from the West Bank on paper but cannot live in a marriage with them, as neither a Gazan nor vice versa is allowed to go to the West Bank.

I would dare add that even the Israelis are victims of this. Since childhood, they have been taught that their sole purpose in life is to serve in the IDF to protect Israel. The Khmer Rouge used machetes to force the Cambodians to swear to serve and protect Angkar, and Israel is using lies and fabrications to force Israelis to serve and protect Israel. It looks like Meir Kahane’s vision is coming true more and more.

5. Using starvation to control: In Pol Pot’s Cambodia, a grain of rice was a luxury that many could not afford. Yes, you read that right. Anyone caught eating something as small as a berry, without the permission of the Khmer Rouge, was seen as an enemy of Angkar because everything belonged to Angkar. Angkar decided who would eat and how much. To this day, no one knows how many Cambodians were starved to death.

In Gaza, famine has begun because of Israel’s use of starvation as a tactic to exert control over the Gazans. Children are dying of malnutrition as the Israeli government refuses to let food aid into Gaza. Families have resorted to cooking grass to put food in their bellies. I honestly wonder if the Israeli government studied the Khmer Rouge in detail to outline their own moves.

49 years have passed, and it’s as if nothing has changed.

To the victims of the Cambodian Genocide, if I could reverse the sands of time and speak to you, I’d say that I am so sorry that we learned nothing from the atrocities that you went through. 49 years later, and here we are now—different people, same atrocities. Except this time, there is more than one Pol Pot, and they’re all occupying the Israeli Knesset.

Advertise on TMV