- News & Media
27-30 October 2014
The Right Livelihood Award Foundation is deeply concerned about the restrictions that our 2013 Laureate Raji Sourani and his colleagues at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in the Gaza Strip face, in exercising their fundamental freedoms and human rights.
We have sent a delegation to the Gaza Strip to reaffirm our fullest support for and solidarity with Raji Sourani and his colleagues at the PCHR, inquire into threats Raji Sourani faces to his personal security, examine restrictions Raji Sourani faces with regards to exercising his rights and fundamental freedoms, and observe restrictions the PCHR faces that prevent them from fulfilling their institutional goals.
After saying goodbye to Raji Sourani and his colleagues, the delegation left Gaza for Israel via the Erez Checkpoint. Immediately afterwards, delegates traveled to the Israeli border town of Sderot to have a discussion with Roni Keidar. She is an activist with The Other Voice, a remarkable group of Israeli citizens living by the border working for a civilian solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Other Voice calls for an end to the siege of Gaza, and tries to facilitate dialogue between Israeli border communities and Palestinians. In the meeting, Keidar shared with the delegation how she and her family had for many years lived in continuous fear of being bombed by Hamas rockets. At the same time, she expressed her empathy with Palestinian victims of Israeli bombardments of Gaza, and after listening to the delegation's experiences in Gaza, said that "people in Gaza and in Israel have the right to a free and peaceful life". She agreed with the delegation that "mobility is a human right" for Raji Sourani and his colleagues. The meeting ended with Keidar showing the delegation where her house had been hit by rockets that had been fired from Gaza. The delegation committed to linking Keidar and her colleagues with Raji Sourani and PCHR to foster greater dialogue and cooperation between the two groups.
The delegation concluded the mission by having a wide ranging dialogue with over a dozen representatives of Israeli human rights organizations including members of Amnesty International-Israel, Adam Keller (Spokesperson of Gush Shalom, RLA 2001) and Ran Cohen (Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, RLA 2010). Jakob von Uexkull shared his experiences in Gaza, and participants at the meeting deliberated on what actions they could take to strengthen PCHR and other Gaza-based human rights groups. Helen Mack Chang discussed the importance of addressing the issue of mental health of war victims in Gaza, noting that: "There is no peace without mental healing. Often, violence is a self-mechanism resulting from the traumatizing experience of war."
At the end of the solidarity mission, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation issued a press release that, apart from addressing a range of issues related to Gaza and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called for an immediate lifting of restrictions placed on the freedom of movement of Raji Sourani and his colleagues.
The day began with delegate Archbishop Emeritus, Church of Sweden, Anders Wejryd interacting with representatives of the Middle East Council of Churches and the Christian community in Gaza.
The other delegates met with representatives of eight different women's organizations. These organizations focused on a wide range of activities including lobbying the Palestinian government and advocating for women's rights, supporting women and children who are victims of domestic violence, and supporting women who are running small businesses. Agneta Johansson reports: "When the recent Israeli military operations started, the focus shifted for all of these women. They were all involved in trying to support families with the absolute basic needs - clothes, hygiene articles. Women living in temporary shelters tried to lobby, beg or force the UN to arrange separate places where the women could wash themselves, visit the toilets and give birth! There were no private places for anything, which is very important to keep some kind of dignity. Several women stressed how many people, especially children, were severely traumatized after the attacks. In many cases, the whole family is in bad need of psychological support. Leaders of women's organizations told us that they are working to provide this for as many as possible, but as one woman expressed it, 'the whole population in Gaza needs some kind of counseling this summer because there was literally no place in the whole of Gaza Strip where you felt safe.'"
The delegation then discussed with representatives of a broad spectrum of Palestinian political parties the challenges that Raji Sourani, PCHR and other human rights defenders face in carrying out their work in the extremely volatile environment of Gaza. Delegates found that all political parties expressed respect and support for the work of Raji Sourani and PCHR. The delegation also noted that all political parties are now united behind the "consensus" government that was installed in June this year, which has a mandate of reuniting the administrations of the West Bank and Gaza, to rebuild Gaza and to prepare for new elections.
Delegates had frank and robust discussions with cabinet ministers of the unity government, namely Minister of Labour H.E. Maumoon Abdul Hadi Hassan Abu Shahla and Minister of Public Works H.E. Muhammad Salim al-Hasania, and also with former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
After a meeting with PNGO, a consortium of Palestinian NGOs working on issues of human rights, health and disability issues, the delegates addressed a press conference in Roots Hotel, where Raji Sourani, Helen Mack, Anders Wejryd and Jakob von Uexkull made brief statements. As part of his statement, Jakob von Uexkull said: "I realize that words of support and sympathy will mean very little to you after all of the horrors you have experienced. I apologize that we have not been able to do more against the unforgivable crimes committed here. Many in Europe are angry and frustrated, our governments are afraid to speak the truth and act to end the impunity for Israel’s barbaric actions, which break every law and every ethics of our global community. (…) In the 1990’s, when Serbia terrorized the people of Bosnia and Kosovo, no-fly zones were enforced and the USA and Europe forced Serbia to withdraw. Why is there no internationally enforced no-fly zone over Gaza?"
Over 100 persons including victims, UNRWA staff and a broad range of Palestinian civil society attended the reception that followed the press conference. There, Jakob von Uexkull encouraged Palestinians to engage in active nonviolent resistance and consider incorporating the tactics developed by American theorist Gene Sharp (RLA 2012) as part of their strategy to end the occupation of Palestine.
The RLA delegation crossed into Gaza via the Erez checkpoint in the morning, and immediately traveled first to the neighbourhood of Beit Hanoun and later to the area of al-Shuja'ya where extensive Israeli bombardment took place during the recent war. Agneta Johansson, one of the delegates, observed: "The destruction was absolutely massive and in some areas the sight reminded of the pictures I have seen from Berlin after the Second World War." The delegates met and talked to several people who lived in the area before and who now live in temporary shelters or with relatives in other areas of Gaza.
Following a brief lunch, the delegation met with the families of victims of "Operation Protective Edge". All the families are clients of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) - PCHR is helping them to seek compensation from Israel due to their losses. Agneta Johansson reports: "From the stories we heard and the answers we received, these attacks seems to be clear examples of attacks directed towards civilians and civilian property. It is not collateral damage as a result of an attack against a military target."
Women whose husbands and sons are in Israeli prisons told the delegation about the hard conditions in these prisons, and also how difficult it is for family members to try and visit.
The day concluded with the delegation hearing from PCHR staff the challenges of seeking justice for victims human rights violations in the Gaza context. The delegation also had meetings with several officials including Dr Faisal Abu Shala, Member of PLC (Palestinian Legislative Council) and Mr. Kamal al-Shrafi, Presidential Advisor for Human Rights.
On the first evening, en route to the Gaza Strip, the RLA Delegation had consultations with Israeli Laureates Uri Avnery & Gush Shalom (RLA 2001), and Dr. Ruchama Marton, Founder of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (RLA 2010), in Tel Aviv. They discussed the challenges the Israeli Laureates face in working for peace and human rights in their country, the current state of the Israel-Palestinian peace process and the prospects of ending the occupation.
The Right Livelihood Award delegation to Gaza will include the following individuals:
Jakob von Uexkull, Founder and Co-Chair, Right Livelihood Award Foundation
Archbishop Emeritus, Church of Sweden, Anders Wejryd, European President, World Council of Churches
Agneta Johansson, Deputy Director of the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) and Member, Board of Trustees, Right Livelihood Award Foundation
Helen Mack Chang, Right Livelihood Laureate 1992, Guatemala
RLA Laureates' declaration on Gaza
In July 2014, 56 of our Laureates from 35 countries signed a statement condemning the killing of hundreds of children and innocent civilians in Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces, the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas against Israeli civilians, and mourning the continued suffering of Gaza’s inhabitants. You can read the declaration here (in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German).
Laureates voice their opinions in the media
In the following articles written during the peak of the recent Gaza conflict, Raji Sourani outlines his stance on the occupation of Palestine, the duty of the international community to protect civilians in Gaza, and Israel's targeting of densely packed civilian areas and its closure to the Gaza Strip.
"It is a war crime to target densely packed Gaza homes" Irish Times - 23 July 2014
"Palestinian human rights leader: 'Cast Lead was a joke compared to this'" - 972Mag - 20 July 2014
"We are just soft targets: we are very cheap" - Qantara - 16 July 2014
In his weekly column, 2001 Laureate Uri Avnery from Israel recently expressed his opinion on the significance of the British parliament's vote calling upon the British government to recognize Palestine as a state, Sweden's decision to recognize Palestinian statehood, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's recent visit to Gaza.
Read his column on Gush Shalom's website (18 October 2014).