- Raji Souraniaward-winning human rights lawyer. He is the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza. He is on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1991. He was also twice named an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.
As new violence breaks out in Gaza following the collapse of a 72-hour ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll has now reached at least 1,460, mostly civilians, surpassing the number of Palestinians killed during Operation Cast Lead nearly six years ago. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed, in addition to three civilians inside Israel. We are joined from Gaza City by Raji Sourani, one of the top advocates for Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Territories. The director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Sourani serves on the executive board of the International Federation for Human Rights. He is a past winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back right now to Raji Sourani. Raji, the significance of the ceasefire being over? You just heard Mohammed Omer talking about the warning to the hospital that it’s about to be attacked in Rafah, the Abu Youssef Hospital. You’re a human rights lawyer.
RAJI SOURANI: Israel, all the time, in the last 24 days, they targeted hospitals and UNRWA facilities, where refugees are there. And hospitals, precisely, they bombed it. I mean Shuhada al-Aqsa. They bombed al-Wafa Hospital, as well. As a result of these bombings, there was killings, injuries. Even operation theaters has been hit direct, I mean, these hospitals. So that’s not, I mean, unique or special. They are, in a very deliberate, intentional way, targeting even the hospitals. And they kill people inside it, around it.
No safe haven in Gaza. No holy thing in Gaza. Everything is obscene. Israel is practicing, in very simple words, rule of jungle against civilians, against hospitals, against schools of UNRWA, against electricity station—what are, in the eye of the storm in Gaza, civilians and civilian targets, obviously. It’s very clear. Whenever the resistance hit the army and they have losses, they revenge deliberately by bombarding, killing civilians. This is, I mean, very basic, fundamental conclusion. Any who is living in Gaza can feel it, can see it and watch it, every hour, every day.
And in Rafah, all this bombing for people of Rafah happened immediately after the resistance engaged and they kidnapped one of the Israeli officers there. They can target and they have the right to target the resistance group. We are not in defense of resistance group. They are for that, and they can defend themselves. Why we are here as a human rights organizations, to defend civilians at the time of war, not peace. And civilians, once and again, are the target of the most strongest fifth army on Earth, with all high tech they are using. This is a shame, shame for army and the state do such policy and such a practice. It’s shame for states who license and give them the license to kill, by giving them political approvement, endorsement for doing what they are doing in this part of the world. All what we are asking, seeking protection for civilians at a time of war. That’s why international law, international humanitarian law, is there, to protect civilians at a time of war. There is no holy blood and unholy blood, no holy suffering, unholy suffering. Every human blood is suffering, including the Palestinian blood and suffering. This is a great shame. These war crimes happening, and it’s broadcasted at the real time to the whole world. This should stop.
AARON MATÉ: Raji, how does this assault compare to previous Israeli attacks on Gaza?
RAJI SOURANI: I’m 60. I lived all my entire life in this part of the world, and I’m working in this field for the last 40 years. I attended the last wars in 2008, 2009 and 2012. I can assure you one thing: Yes, war crime happened, and entire families has been erased—Samouni, Daya and others. Houses were destroyed. Civilian targets were targeted. And we documented that. But the scale never, ever was on this level. It’s obvious from day one that they are deliberately targeting civilians and civilian targets. It’s different. We never, ever have entire areas, like Shejaiya, like Khuza’a, like Zanaa, like Beit Hanoun, like Beit Lahia, razed. Doesn’t exist anymore. Hundreds of bombs, weighing one ton, dropped on the head of the people while they are there. Israel recognized 40,000 tank shells thus far has been bombarded—you know, gunboats, aeroplanes, Apache, F-16s, artillery tanks bombing all over the place. No safe haven in Gaza, no safe place wherever you go. And that’s why this is very special and this is very unique.
What we are doing, as human rights activists and organizations, we are counting corpses, bodies, injuries—not all of them, because we even cannot reach entire areas where there is hundreds of bodies are under rubbles or, you know, closed area for the Israeli army, we cannot access to it. And the ICRC totally almost paralyzed. They have no access there. They cannot protect any civilians. And that’s due to the restrictions of the Israeli army. So, I’m really worried, and I’m warning. Israel began with tens of people being killed; now we are talking about hundreds of people are killed. Now we are talking, in two hours, 90 people have been killed. We didn’t count everybody there, and many others, I mean, still in the Rafah area. We didn’t manage to bring everybody to the hospital through ICRC or Red Crescent or ambulances. And we have hundreds of injuries.
The bombing, many think it is in the Rafah area, Rafah one of the areas where the bombing is happening right now. But eastern Gaza, just in front of me, I mean, the bombing right now in this minute happen, and didn’t stop for the last four, five hours. East northern area, the same thing happen at middle area and Khan Younis area; very severe firing, Amy, happening there. And now this is getting much more and more deeper to the populated area. That’s the dilemma. That’s the problem.
AMY GOODMAN: What should—Raji, what should—
RAJI SOURANI: They are targeting the civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: What should Americans understand about the conflict? You’ve traveled the world. Most recently, the U.S. Senate unanimously supported Israel in its conflict with Hamas, and the U.S. is resupplying ammunition to Israel as it runs low in this attack.
RAJI SOURANI: Simply, we are human beings. All what we are seeking, simple: freedom, end of occupation, rule of law—as simple as that. We think we deserve to be protected. We deserve to be treated as a human being. We deserve to have an end for this Israeli criminal siege imposed on us for the last eight years. We think an end for this Israeli criminal, illegal occupation should have an end. We have the right to engage with life positively, to be created. Too much blood, too much suffering. If people feel they have only the rule of jungle—Israel doing that—and the West supporting these war crimes and crimes against humanity, in deliberate way, as the high commissioner of UNRWA stated yesterday in a clear-cut way, then I think if people hate the West—U.S., U.K., France, Germany—who support this inhuman, barbaric offensive against the civilians, then I think it’s a shame for any state who support that. This should have an end. I call—
AMY GOODMAN: And Raji Sourani, for Israel—for Israel—
RAJI SOURANI: —them to come, see, witness what’s going on. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: For Israel saying it’s Hamas that broke the ceasefire, and it’s Hamas that is firing rockets and threatening their civilians in Israel?
RAJI SOURANI: We are not occupying Israel. We are not killing the Israelis. All what we want, simple: end the occupation. Leave Palestinians, I mean, be free. After 20 years of Oslo Accords, what we have: de facto apartheid system in the West Bank, cleansing—the ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and Judaization, and in Gaza a state of socioeconomic suffocation and war crimes taking place every day for the last 25 years. Israel should have an end for its criminal, belligerent, illegal occupation and practice against Palestinian civilians. ’Til then, we are entitled to protection as Palestinian civilians in the time of war.
AMY GOODMAN: Raji Sourani, I want to thank you for being with us, award-winning human rights lawyer, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, won the Right Livelihood Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, as well.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll continue on the issue of the Gaza conflict in a moment.