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He has been jailed and tortured, lived through wars and spent over 30 years documenting human rights abuses, so when Raji Sourani describes the current situation in his native Gaza as “a nightmare” his words suggest just how bad the situation has become.
Having spent over three decades as a human rights lawyer in Gaza, you could be forgiven for expecting that he would have become almost immune to the suffering and misery of the people living there. However, Raji’s voice still quivers with emotion as he tries to put into words the extent to which the Gazan people’s lives have become defined by poverty, hopelessness and conflict.
With severe restrictions in place on what is allowed into Gaza and who is allowed leave, as well as cyclical military conflicts that have reduced entire neighbourhoods to rubble, Raji paints a picture of a people trapped in a cycle of ever-worsening misery and hopelessness.
“It is a nightmare that sometimes I don’t believe we’re going through,” he said during his short visit to Ireland last week as guest of Trócaire and Christian Aid. “You can imagine: I’m sick and I need medical care and I cannot leave. I want to go and study outside, I cannot leave. I’m a businessman, I cannot do any sort of business to import or export. I’m a worker and I’m unemployed and this affects my wife and my family.
“It is endless negative impacts on the lives of people, and if it’s that only that’s fine but you have death coming from the sky. Three major wars in five years. There is reasons for people to be depressed, for people to be angry. There are people who believe in the law of the jungle. There are reasons not to believe in tomorrow. You are taking tomorrow from the hearts and minds of the people.”
As Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Raji’s work for human rights in the region has received much international recognition. PCHR has been awarded several distinctions, including the French Republic Human Rights Award, the Bruno Krejsky Prize for Outstanding Achievements in the Area of Human Rights and the International Service Human Rights Award.
Raji himself was awarded the Right Livelihood Award – often referred to as the ‘Alternative Noble Prize’ – in 2013 for his “unwavering dedication to the rule of law and human rights under exceptionally difficult circumstances”.
Raji Sourani (left) was in Ireland as guest of Trócaire and Christian Aid. Many areas of Gaza remain devastated from last summer’s war.
While in Ireland last week Raji gave three public talks – one in Belfast and two in Dublin – and met with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade to discuss the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis in Gaza.
He stressed that the poverty, hopelessness and desperation felt in Gaza is entirely a man-made crisis, caused by the severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods, as well as the cyclical military destruction of Gaza.
“We have one of the highest percentages in the world of university graduates,” he says. “[We have] no illiteracy, a very skilled working class and a strong business community [but] we are not able to do anything – to import, to export, even to treat our water or sewage. The international community dumps food and medicine. You live like an animal on a farm. That is not us…What we need in my part of the world is the rule of law, not the rule of the jungle.”
LISTEN: Raji Sourani, Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), speaks to Trócaire about the difficulties facing ordinary people in Gaza as a result of the blockade and the ongoing conflict.
Trócaire has worked in Palestine and Israel since 2002, supporting local organisations working for peace and justice in the region. Find out more about Trócaire’s work in Israel and Palestine.