Today is the first anniversary of the large-scale Israeli military assault against Gaza which lasted for 51 days and wrought massive civilian suffering. This was the third devastating military offensive by Israel against Gaza in six years – each one causing unspeakable damage, destruction and loss of life.
The young female Palestinian photo-journalist, Eman Mohammed, has borne witness to these horrific military attacks. As a Gazan herself, Eman’s stunning photos offer a profound insight into the experience of ordinary Palestinians under circumstances of extraordinary hardship. Earlier this year LPHR re-launched its website and was granted the privilege by Eman of including some of her images. I would like to share with you here one of the stories behind the images.
The image on our home page features a young girl called Sabah. It was taken during the aftermath of Israel’s codenamed military operation ‘Cast Lead’ in December 2008 to January 2009. Sabah was about six years old then. Her home was destroyed during the war so the family had to move into a tent, which is where she is standing in the photograph. Sabah, her mother, brother and sister were all squeezed into the tent – a small space in which they had to all eat, sleep, cook, wash and live. They had no electricity and all cooking was done over the fire. This image is a stark reminder that war breeds extreme poverty, depriving children like Sabah of the opportunities and security that every child should have.
Eman was able to visit the family again some months after the photograph was taken. The family had not been able to rebuild their home – they had secured their tent with a few breeze blocks, but that was it. The family were doing their best, but it was by no means a healthy or acceptable standard of living.
Following last summer’s military offensive on Gaza, codenamed by Israel ‘Protective Edge’, yet more Palestinian families were made homeless. Today, over 100,000 Palestinians remain displaced, with not a single destroyed home having been rebuilt. Homelessness, like that experienced by Sabah just a few years before, is a direct and ongoing consequence of Israel’s destructive military attacks on, and crippling closure of, Gaza.
These consequences have a significant human rights and legal component. The right to housing and an adequate standard of living is a fundamental human right provided by Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Moreover, targeting family homes during armed conflict is an apparent serious violation of international humanitarian law – in short, it is indicative of a war crime.
The Israeli government responsible for the actions of its armed forces should be held accountable for the impact it has had on Sabah’s family and so many others. LPHR has been working with other human rights defenders to push for this accountability which in the past Israel has avoided.
On 22 June 2015, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict published a significant report – referencing information submitted by LPHR with Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza) – which found credible allegations of war crimes, including those relating to the over 1,000 Palestinians killed in their own homes as part of the pervasive and deliberate practice of apparently unlawful attacks on residential properties. Following this, on Friday 3 July 2015, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to prosecute such alleged war crimes and to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) preliminary investigation.
These are very positive steps towards accountability and as co-chair of LPHR, I am proud we have contributed to them. Determined work to ensure that internationally recognised human rights standards are realised and the actions of all states, including Israel, are held to account is the only way to permanently positively transform the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, and there is much more work to do.
Notwithstanding the sometimes esoteric nature of the law, just as each and every one of Eman’s photos has a human story behind it, so does our legal work at LPHR. We are driven by stories such as Sabah’s to use legal tools and legal skills to defend the rights of Palestinian people who find themselves in circumstances where they are unable to effectively defend themselves. LPHR therefore stands in solidarity with the people of Gaza and Palestinian human rights defenders on this grim anniversary to assist them in demanding justice to ensure that such devastating military attacks never happen again.
Speaking personally, I refuse to accept that Sabah’s story is acceptable ‘collateral damage’. International humanitarian and human rights law exists to challenge and prevent it. If you feel the same, then I urge you to support the work of LPHR. It is not just an organisation for lawyers – it is for all people who feel they have a stake in defending the human rights of the Palestinian people.
We are honoured by the support of our donors and members, and to work with professionals such as Eman and all the Palestinian and Israeli NGOs we partner with. Eman said to LPHR Director, Tareq Shrourou, when we approached her about using her photographs on the website ‘I respect your work more than you imagine: you help people to stop while they can and not to repeat history’. With your help, we will do all we can to live up to Eman’s words.
Charlotte Stevens – LPHR Co-Chair