Approximately 1.7 million Gazans have been displaced since Israel began its extensive bombardment of Gaza in October 2023.
This is also the case for several of the staff members of the Gaza-based civil society organization, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR).
»Our staff have constantly been displaced from one place to another, looking for safety and shelter«, says Basel Alsourani, PCHR’s international advocacy officer
»Due to the decision of the Israeli Defense Minister to impose a full closure on Gaza and ban the entry of fuel, food, water, and electricity into the Gaza Strip we barely had any electricity to charge our laptops and phones. Our lives were turned upside down and we felt disconnected from each other and from the outside world«.
Established in 1995 by a group of Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists, including the Center’s Director, Raji Sourani, DIGNITY’s partner PCHR works to document and investigate human rights violations, provide legal aid and counseling, and conduct international advocacy.
»We hope that this nightmare ends soon. We are not able to reach our office due to the constant and indiscriminate bombardment of civilians and civilian buildings. The building where PCHR’s office was and the surrounding area is under constant bombardment«, says Basel Alsourani.
PCHR’s team of field workers are mainly located in Rafah in Southern Gaza, where they engage directly with victims and witnesses.
»Now all PCHR’s staff in Rafah are staying in tents and sharing houses with other people, not knowing whether they will wake up alive. However, despite the pain, suffering, and loss of loved ones, we have established communications with the means available to us to continue to carry out our mission to defend and advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people in Gaza«.
Some of PCHR-staff have lost close family members due to Israeli attacks. Members of staff have been detained by Israeli forces, and one report of inhumane and degrading treatment during the detention period.
»One colleague of ours was arrested and subjected to torture and inhumane and degrading treatment. We have always been the ones speaking up for the victims, but we found ourselves being the victims of the Israeli attacks«, says Basel Alsourani.
Several reports of alleged torture have been published over the past months. In January, the Head of the U.N Human Rights office for the occupied Palestinian territory reported, that Palestinians in Gaza who had been detained for 30-55 days said that they had been »subjected to ill-treatment, and to what may amount to torture«.
Despite these conditions, PCHR field workers continue to collect evidence and document alleged war crimes and human rights violations, including ill-treatment and torture of people in detention.
»Despite everything that is going, our spirits are higher especially after the decision by South Africa to go ahead and file a case against Israel accusing it of violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention by committing Genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. For the first time we see Israel being held accountable for its actions before an international court. Israel has always been acting as if it above the law but South Africa’s decision to go ahead with this case sends a strong and clear message to Israel: no one is above the law«.