Ireland urged to play ‘moral’ and ‘political’ role in ending Gaza conflict

Leading human rights lawyer Raji Sourani appears before Oireachtas committee

Human rights lawyer Raji Sourani says Gaza is trapped in a “criminal, illegal and inhuman siege” which is “suffocating its people socially and economically and sending Gaza back to the Middle Ages”.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Human rights lawyer Raji Sourani says Gaza is trapped in a “criminal, illegal and inhuman siege” which is “suffocating its people socially and economically and sending Gaza back to the Middle Ages”. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Ireland must play a greater role “morally, politically and legally” in calling for an end to the siege and “crimes against humanity” on the Gaza Strip, according to human rights lawyer Raji Sourani.

Sourani, who appears before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee today, says Gaza is trapped in a “criminal, illegal and inhuman siege” which is “suffocating its people socially and economically and sending Gaza back to the Middle Ages”.

He adds: “This is the harvest of 22 years since the Oslo accords – siege on Gaza, a new brand of apartheid on the West Bank and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.” He is referring to the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the early 1990s.

Sourani, who lives on the Gaza Strip, is founder and director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and was co-awarded in 2013 the Right Livelihood Award – the “alternative Nobel peace prize” – for his work in defending and promoting the human rights of Palestinian people for more than three decades.

Sourani acknowledges to The Irish Times that Ireland is one of “the few western countries keeping a very close eye” on the situation in Gaza, but adds that the death and destruction will continue if the international community fails to put real pressure on the Israeli government to cease military operations in the area.

Sourani describes the uncertainty of living in Gaza with the expectation that a bomb could fall from the sky at any moment. “They [Israelis] do whatever they want – bombing, killing, assassinating – they keep our lives at stake around the clock. That’s why you cannot plan for 24 hours in Gaza. It’s been years of uncertainty.”

Palestinians are expected to be “good victims” in the eyes of the international community, he says. “Being killed, destroyed, you must accept that and do it in silence. You don’t protest. What we’re talking about is the right to life, the right of movement for goods or individuals, the right to medicine.

“They [Palestinian children] know from the Israelis only one thing; bombs and death coming from the sky.”

Earlier this month, the UN warned that the Gaza Strip could become “uninhabitable” by 2020 if current economic trends persist and that three military operations over six years had shattered its ability to export and produce goods, leaving no time for reconstruction. According to UN estimates, 44 per cent of the 1.8 million people living in Gaza are unemployed.

“There are obvious war crimes being perpetrated,” Sourani says. “Not according to us but according to all UN bodies and international human rights organisations. They are saying Israel should be held accountable. We simply are demanding to protect civilians at the time of war and to deter Israelis from doing any wrongdoings in the future.”

Islamic State (IS) insurgents released a video in June threatening to take control of the Gaza Strip, while accusing the territory’s Hamas rulers of not enforcing strict religious values and practices.

Sourani warns that young, disenfranchised men in Gaza are at risk of joining the militant group but says Hamas is keeping Islamic State influence at bay.

“When you have three wars in five years and death is the daily menu of your life, when you see all these crimes happening against you and no accountability, when you have no hope of tomorrow, when you smell the death in each corner of your house, when you see all these injustices happening, you would go and distrust the rule of law.

“The Israelis have created the ideal environment for people to disbelieve in peace or in rule of law.”