Have the people of Gaza lost hope completely?
Sourani: They are traumatised. People are pushed
very hard, with their backs to the wall. You are talking about
well-educated people, who watch TV and know about the world. They forced
20,000 people to flee from their homes, and they dropped flyers. People
just left with the clothes on their back and whatever they could carry
in their hands, and now they are taking shelter in schools and have
become refugees in their own homeland. Pamphlets are dropped around
midnight which say that you have to move immediately. So for those who
have fled it’s a problem, because they left everything behind them: they
left their houses, their lands, their farms. And at the same time, for
those who decided to stay behind, it’s very dangerous.
Do you see any way of out of this conflict in the future?
Sourani: Yes, simple – end the occupation. This is
all that is needed. They speak about it as just, fair, or a right
occupation. How can you talk about justice under occupation? Why did
they sign accords and after twenty years of signing the accord we are
having wars, we have killings, we have the destruction, the misery. We
are not normal; we have no dignity. They are just killing us,
intimidating us and besieging us. We cannot move within Gaza to see our
friends and relatives; it is a very dangerous situation. All of Gaza is
under curfew, nothing is moving in it.
What do you think needs to be done immediately?
Sourani: The civilians are in the eye of the storm:
they are the targets. Imminently, you would think of protecting
civilians, meaning: activating the legal commitment of the international
community of the Geneva Convention, Article 1. This talks about
ensuring respect for civilians. We are supposedly ‘the protected
civilians’ of this occupation, and there is no protection. And so
basically I would suggest that the Swiss government call upon high
contracting parties to have a conference to provide protection for
Palestinian people. That’s what we need, badly.
Secondly, Gaza was already in a very disastrous situation before
this. For eight years we have been under criminal, inhuman, illegal
siege, which is a form of collective punishment for two million people.
There is no movement for goods or individuals. This has suffocated Gaza
entirely, and made Gaza a really miserable place and a very big prison.
We have 65% unemployment; 90% of our people are below the poverty line,
while 85% are receiving rations. We have a lack of everything: water;
sewage dumped in the street, which cannot be treated.
"This is the decline of the Gaza Strip, and
not because we are lazy or crazy or bad people. We have one of the
highest percentages of university graduates on earth," says Raji
Sourani. "I don’t want a Palestinian state. I want to be normal. I just
don’t want this occupation"
This is the decline of the Gaza Strip, and not because we are lazy or
crazy or bad people. We have one of the highest percentages of
university graduates on earth. We have one of the most skilled working
classes in the Middle East. We have a good business community and enough
money. We don’t expect anything but freedom of movement – the end of
the siege and freedom of movement of goods and individuals to and from
Gaza. The Human Rights Council should send an investigation mission, to
the occupied territories, to Gaza, in order to investigate these war
crimes perpetrated by Israel. We need a committee which has the ability
to hold any suspected war criminals accountable. We simply need the rule
of law in this part of the world.
And all we want is an end to this criminal, belligerent occupation,
but nobody is talking about that. I don’t want self-determination, I
don’t want independence, I don’t want a Palestinian state – I want to be
normal. I just don’t want this occupation. We want the rule of law: is
that too much to ask? I am 60 years old, and I don’t recall one day that
me or my family or the people we know lived a normal day in our lives. I
celebrated the twentieth birthday of my twins on 12 July, when the
bombing was hell. What is left to remember but that?
There are some Israeli friends who call, and they just cry and say:
we feel paralysed, we can do nothing, all we can do is pray for you.
What keeps you going at such a difficult time?
Sourani: I have no right to give up. We cannot be
submissive victims; we will keep fighting for our freedom, and this is
our right and obligation. My team wakes up every morning and finds a way
to come to work. We have to continue documenting what is going on here,
and we have to tell the story of what is going on here, and we are here
to protect civilians in this time of war.
Raji Sourani was honoured with the Right Livelihood Award in 2013 for his unwavering dedication to the cause of human rights.
The interview was conducted by Roma Rajpal Weiss.
© Qantara.de 2014
Editor: Charlotte Collins/Qantara.de