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Interview with Raji Sourani in Gaza “We are just soft targets: we are very cheap”

Sourani is a human rights lawyer and founder of the Palestinian Centre
for Human Rights, which documents and investigates human rights
violations in the Occupied Territories. Jailed on six occasions for his
work, Sourani is staying put in Gaza at the moment, and continuing to
work under siege. He tells Roma Rajpal Weiss that people there have lost
all hope

How is the situation in Gaza at the moment?

Raji Sourani: We don’t sleep at night or during the
day. It’s almost non-stop bombing, all over the place. There are no
shelters; there is no safe place anywhere in Gaza, there is bombing
everywhere. Right now, we are in the middle of a war: anything will hit
the people, anything will hit a building. The airplanes and the drones
never leave the sky.

Entire families have been erased, and the problem is that most of the
killings are of civilians. Our findings from our field workers show
that more than 77% of the victims that are injured are civilians.
Civilians are in the eye of the storm. You are talking about one of the
most high-tech air forces on earth. And you’re talking about F16s and
drones and an army with a chain of command. It’s not random rockets;
they send these bombs to kill. It’s not for fun.

What is the general feeling there?

Sourani: People are furious here. In 2008-2009, with
all the horrors that took place, when they used phosphorous bombs all
over Gaza, they destroyed the city. And then in 2012 we had another war,
and now we are having the third consecutive war in about five years.
It’s too much for any population. People are really sick, tired,
exhausted, and nobody really wants to be a submissive victim. They feel
there is nothing more to lose.

"People are really sick, tired, exhausted,"
says Raji Sourani. "They feel there is nothing more to lose. Either
this situation really improves or it is better to just die"

If you are in this situation, you see the world is just watching and
you are just a part of the news. The most important feeling is when you
feel your soul and the souls of the people you love are so cheap, and
your suffering and your blood so cheap, and there is only one blood and
soul that is holy, which is Israeli Jews, you just lose your mind.
According to the news, they have had eight injured during this war –
that’s all that they suffered on the Israeli side, and here you have

The most common sentence I heard when people began to talk about
ceasefire: everybody says it’s better for all of us to die and not go
back to the situation we used to have before this war. We don’t want
that again. We have no dignity, no pride; we are just soft targets, and
we are very cheap. Either this situation really improves or it is better
to just die. I am talking about intellectuals, academics, ordinary
people: everybody is saying that.

How did the latest incident, the killing of the teenagers, spark the conflict?

Sourani: I don’t think that the killing of the three
Israeli teenagers legitimises the killing of eleven people in the West
Bank by Israel. It was an individual incident: no Palestinian group,
political group, or Hamas said, "We are responsible for the killing of
the teenagers." But the Israeli Army killed people in the West Bank:
amongst them were four teenagers. In Gaza, in the West Bank, they
arrested almost 1,300 people, among them 28 Palestinian members of
parliament. Not only this, they cracked down on institutions and
universities. After they finished with the West Bank, they came to Gaza
and killed as many 192 people, 70 percent of them women and children,
and they injured hundreds of people who are now physically challenged as
they have lost their hands or feet or have become blind.

Israel launched 1,800 air raids in one of the most densely populated
areas of Gaza.  It is unbelievable that we are having this number of
killings and injuries. In the whole of Gaza there is no safe haven. It’s
a shame that Israel and the international community allows this to
happen.  These are war crimes, just as simple as that.

Raji Sourani says that 20,000 people have
been forced to flee their homes: "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

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