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Documenting Abuses – and Recovery – in Gaza

July 2009

The human rights framework is vital to moving forward in Gaza six months after the end of the 22-day military assault. Grassroots International’s partner the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) has been at the forefront of documentation and human rights defense during extreme times in Gaza. Their attention to detail has earned them newfound respect in the international human rights community.

PCHR was totally dedicated to documenting the war – especially as international journalists and human rights workers were not allowed into Gaza during the offensive. They recorded the names of the dead and injured, making sure that they correctly logged exactly what happened to each individual. They have the most complete lists of fatalities, injuries and damages, and the UN and other international human rights organizations are now using these lists.

A strong focus of their work is vulnerable groups such as women and children. Many women witnessed the killing of their children. And many children witnessed the death of their mothers. PCHR is committed to following up in both cases.

PCHR also has the most detailed accounts of White Phosphorus and DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives) use by the Israeli military during operation “Cast Lead.” In addition to monitoring the use of illegal weapons, PCHR supports victims and their families through continued follow-up.

Deputy Director Jaber Wiseh explained that their communication was extremely difficult as land and cable lines were hit by drones and cell phone networks also collapsed. He also made it clear that their staff had energy and dedication despite these and other complications and challenges. One staffer took the initiative to run from hospital to hospital at night to make sure that everyone was counted for. She was pregnant.

After recounting these memories, Wiseh said, “It is important to document in Arabic, but it is much more important to document in English.”   On an on-going basis, Grassroots International supports PCHR’s legal work through their project “Protection of Palestinian Land and Property Rights.’ The legal department takes on human rights cases related to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In 2008 they had a total of 2,935 legal clients and 1,420 consultations.

From working with the Palestinian military court to oppose the death penalty to pushing Israel to allow freedom of movement, PCHR’s legal department works responsively. The organization’s other departments include fieldwork, democracy and development, an international unit, worker’s and children’s rights, and economic and social rights.

PCHR hopes to reach a wider audience – especially in the U.S. Their weekly updates are an excellent source of information as to what is happening on the ground in not only Gaza, but also the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This week, for example they reported new incursions, arrests, home demolitions, and the mass removal of hundreds of Muslim graves in East Jerusalem to make space for a “Museum of Tolerance”.

This kind of dedication to accountability of all parties involved in the conflict is exactly the kind of work that allows not only Palestinians, but also the international community a way to move forward. There is a long way to go – especially in Gaza six months on. Despite this, groups like PCHR show that by staying grounded in the most fundamental principles of human rights, there is a way to move forward.

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