In a picture circulated on social media reflecting the extent of damage the Israeli military has inflicted on neighbourhoods of the Gaza Strip, part of the Gaza City street where the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor office is located appears.
Tanks encircle the office building, and the area surrounding it appears devastated by the repeated aerial, artillery, and naval strikes. Around 12 kilometres away from the office (as I have been displaced in the central Gaza Strip), I stared at the picture for hours.
I kept unconsciously opening the photo gallery on my mobile, checking the picture, zooming in, zooming out, then locking the phone and putting it aside before grabbing and unlocking it again a few moments later, then staring at the picture one more time.
Later on, eyewitnesses told Euro-Med Monitor’s field researchers in Gaza City that Israeli snipers had climbed the rooftop of the building to shoot at Palestinians who did not comply with the Israeli orders of forced evacuation. As I listened to the updates from my colleagues, I recalled the basic history of human rights that I had learned at school.
In the years that followed World War II and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dozens of human rights organisations were established to ensure both the protection of human rights and the avoidance of the perpetration of new atrocities.
Human rights organisations and workers were given special protection during the times of war.
Around 70 years later, I thought, How iconic and ironic this picture is!
An office of a human rights organisation severely damaged; its building used to shoot civilians dead; all its staff members and volunteers displaced and at imminent risk of targeting; all of them having lost relatives, friends, or colleagues; some of its previous staff members killed; and the perpetrators still being given a green light to act above the law, using internationally-prohibited weapons and committing increasing numbers of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
For decades, Israel has been clear in its strategy towards human rights organisations and activists who report on or condemn its violations. Activists are typically met with direct attacks, detention, smearing campaigns, their organisation being labelled a “terrorist organisation”, or movement and travel restrictions.
Israel listed six human rights organisations in Palestine as “terrorist organisations” on 19 October 2021, eventually imposing restrictions on their work and activities inside and outside of Palestine, and inciting international bodies and donors to cut ties with them. Around eight years prior, Euro-Med Monitor began facing a similar smearing and incitement campaign and restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on its work and teams around the world.
The campaign took particular effect in 2014, following Euro-Med Monitor's release of three in-depth reports documenting war crimes committed by the Israeli military during its 50-day military attack on the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014.
After Israel denied permits to UN inquiry committee members and the now-former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Makarim Wibisono—who sought to visit the Strip to investigate possible war crimes committed by both Israel and Palestinian armed factions—Euro-Med Monitor worked closely with them. As an alternative to their visit, Euro-Med Monitor’s team in Gaza provided evidence and testimony on Israeli human rights violations amounting to war crimes, connecting the UN parties with victims of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing and people used as human shields by Israeli forces during the attack.
Since then, Euro-Med Monitor has facedincreasing restrictions on its work. Its staff members abroad have been banned from entering the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the Gaza Strip, and large smearing and hacking campaigns have been launched against its teams and supporters around the world.
Being a human rights worker in Gaza is a summary of all of the above. If you choose to advocate for the rights of others, you need to be aware that your own rights will be violated as a result.
Since the start of the ongoing attack, we have lost a former colleague, Mahmoud al-Naouq, who was killed in an indiscriminate Israeli air strike on his home in the central Gaza Strip—an allegedly “safe” area where Israel’s military had asked residents to take refuge.
The media assistant of Euro-Med Monitor’s project We Are Not Numbers, Mahmoud Mushtaha, informed us yesterday that his uncle’s home was destroyed by Israel air strikes, killing his entire family. Mahmoud is now displaced, not knowing where to go.
Another former colleague has lost her husband, a medical doctor who had just finished his master's studies in the United Kingdom and returned to Gaza.
According to UNRWA, at least 108 of their employees in Gaza have been killed in the ongoing Israeli attacks.
As for us human rights workers who are still alive, we continue our work from our homes of refuge, side by side with the very victims we interview.
In fact, as Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and witnessing the indiscriminate Israeli attacks, we are both the human rights workers and the victims we are reporting on.