May 19th, 2021
By Munizae Jahangir
Wednesday May 189, marks the tenth consecutive day of the ruthless bombing in Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
According to the Palestinian health authorities whcih released the last official death toll on Monday, claimed that in Gaza Strip at least 212 Palestinians had been killed by the bombing campaign, including 61 children, 35 women, and 16 elderly people. Moreover, almost 1,500 people have been injured in the coastal strip with a healthcare system already on the brink of collapse. On the other side, almost 10 Israeli citizens were killed including two children. Even though several countries across the world have been calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities, in Israel these demands have fallen on deaf ears.
Voicepk.net Editor-in-Chief, Munizae Jahangir, sat down with Raji Sourani a veteran human rights lawyer based in Gaza, to discuss the situation on ground.
The current conflict began in early May when the Israeli lower courts ordered the eviction of four families from the historically Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Al-Jarrah, in Eastern Jerusalem. Following the verdict, the Israeli police spurred into action and quickly moved to evict six Palestinians from their homes. But instead of going quietly the residents of Sheikh Al-Jarrah stood their ground and resisted these evictions.
Tension boiled over when the Israeli army moved to seal the Damascus gate of the Al-Aqsa mosque. Protests ensued and Israel responded with brutal repression firing rubber bullets, stun grenades, and smoke bombs inside the Al-Aqsa compound.
In May the conflict became militarized when Hamas retaliated against the siege at Al-Aqsa by firing rockets at Israeli cities. Israel responded by carrying out a ruthless bombing campaign on Gaza, which continues to this day.
Who is Raji Souran?
Sourani has been an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience in 1985 and 1988, a member of the International Commission of Jurists EXCO and IDAL EXCO, and Vice President of the International Federation of Human Rights. He also received the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He is the founder and director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights back in 1955.
Currently, he is the lead counsel for the Palestinian victims in cases filed by international and Palestinian lawyers in the International Criminal Court against alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the previous conflict which occurred in 2014 and the killing of civilian protestors during the 2018 Palestinian March of return.
‘Unbearable living conditions’
In his talk with Ms Jahangir, Mr. Sourani has reiterated the current living conditions in the Gaza coastal strip which has been called “unlivable” by the United Nations itself.
“Some 20 million people are forced to live in an area of about 360 square kilometers,” says Sourani. “When a ruthless bombing campaign is carried out in such a densely populated area, civilian causalities become inevitable.” According to Sourani, more bombs have fallen on Gaza in the last nine days than in the entire 2014 conflict indicating the intensity of the current campaign.
Such a massive bombing campaign has brought the already embattled healthcare system in Gaza to the brink of collapse and that too during a global pandemic. In addition to this, the Israeli air force carried out a bombing of the only Covid-19 testing facility in Gaza, crippling the region’s Covid-19 response. According to Sourani as an occupying power, at least Israel has the responsibility to provide health care to the people in the occupied territories, a responsibility they have always shied away from.
Instead of providing healthcare though, Israel is doing the exact opposite by carrying out systematic bombing of medical facilities and hospitals since 2014.
Mr. Sourani denied claims by the Israelis that the buildings were bombed because they housed Hamas militants.
“If there were Hamas militants in these buildings, what were their names?” he asks. He alleges that the Israeli state deliberately tries to misconstrue the narrative to spread false information. “Such claims are silly,” he laughs bitterly.
Mr. Sourani also lambasts the Israeli justice system which according to him has failed the Palestinians at every turn. “In Rome, all laws existed for the masters, not the slaves. We are slaves to the Israelis. There can be no justice under occupation,” he asserts.
Even though the Israeli courts have continuously failed to deliver justice to the Palestinians other avenues for justice seem to be more effective. While pointing towards the recent acceptance by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of cases pertaining to war crimes committed by Israeli forces he states that, “I am proud of the ICC prosecutors and I think this is a historic and unprecedented step”. Even though the court has merely accepted the case and not reserved any judgments the prosecutors and judges of the body have withstood immense pressure particularly from the previous regime in the United States to stay the course.
While talking about the issues of settlements, Mr. Sourani points out that the issue of settlements has already been resolved by the international court of justice (ICJ) when they declared that population transfer and consequently settlements are illegal under international law.
According to Mr. Sourani, the Palestinians do not have an issue with either the two or the one-state solution. Instead, it is the state of Israel that does not seem willing to find a sustainable solution to the current crisis. “We the Palestinians accept the two-state solution. It is Israel that is trying to sabotage it. Similarly, when we try to push for a single state solution where all residents of Palestine enjoy equal representation according to the principles of democracy the Israelis say that we want to wipe them out. In reality, Israelis do not want to accept our right to exist. But we do exist and we will not give up.” he concludes.