Gaza students organize for justice

The Justice Makers hold a workshop for law students at al-Azhar University. (Bianca Zammit)

In order to find sustainable alternatives to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a new group calling itself the Justice Makers has been formed across the law departments in Palestinian universities. Two of the founders, Mohammed Eliwa and Yousef al-Nouri, are both fourth-year law students from al-Azhar University in Gaza. “The Justice Makers is about finding new ways within the international justice system to forward our case,” al-Nouri explained. “We have had enough of this conflict and we study law because it is the only way of regaining our rights,” stated Eliwa.

Both Eliwa and al-Nouri are refugees. Eliwa’s parents fled for their lives from the village of Beer al-Sabe and al-Nouri’s parents fled from al-Jura during the 1948 Nakba, or the dispossession of historic Palestine. Beer al-Sabe and al-Jura were depopulated and destroyed by Zionist militias and now form part of the cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon, respectively. Although both villages lie only few kilometers from Gaza, neither Eliwa nor al-Nouri have ever visited them as like all other Palestinians in Gaza, they are prohibited from entering Israel. Both of them dream of someday returning to their parents’ villages.

Eliwa and al-Nouri believe that the Palestinian struggle has been mostly misunderstood by Western countries. Since 1948 many events have occurred and indeed this is a complex conflict but its roots are easily traced. “If we threw stones in the past, this was because there were injustices. Why would we have thrown stones otherwise? We are a peaceful people and whoever is working for peace knows this well,” stated al-Nouri.

Eliwa and al-Nouri are not alone in this pursuit. Most law students at al-Azhar explain that they are studying law because they want to look for practical and tangible ways of seeking justice for Palestine. Working in this arena the Justice Makers are benefiting from the current momentum and have started to provide workshops in international law. “We train ourselves and then each other,” said Noha Nassar, another founding member. Nassar is in her third year and she has already started training first- and second-year students. “Students are very motivated and excited to work in this field; sometimes we have problems finding space where to give training because we have so many workshops getting started. People are determined to work for justice and to find new ways of bringing those responsible for war crimes to court.”

Recently lawyers based in the UK have been working on the concept of universal jurisdiction, which allows a country to prosecute against crimes which were committed by non-nationals in a different country. In such a situation the lawyer would obtain an arrest warrant from the court and the individuals suspected of war crimes would be taken into custody if they attempted to enter the UK. The Justice Makers believe such actions are a step in the right direction and are following events closely.

The Justice Makers are currently networking with various law departments outside of Gaza. Due to the ongoing siege, they have been forced to rely on video conferencing and telephone calls in order to contact Palestinian universities in the West Bank. They are also looking to form supportive networks with other law departments across the globe. Al-Nouri explained: “Our mandate is to work for justice. We will not settle for anything less than our full rights. We look forward to working with any lawyers who are also involved in such an effort.”

Discussing their agenda, Eliwa immediately clarified that the Justice Makers include Muslims and Christians and that Jews are welcome to join. “Zionism is our enemy. The current conflict is not about religion, but about land.” Al-Nouri added, “This problem will not stop with the passing of time. We need to work.”

Eliwa said that “Justice is blind to one’s religion, race, gender or culture. Even though Israel has been repeatedly privileged and far too many concessions have been made in its regards, we believe that the facts are on the table and in front of the justice system, the Palestinian cause will be eventually successful. We do not want any more violence and we want our rights to be respected. They have been trampled on [for] far too long. I am a Palestinian refugee from Beer al-Sabe. I believe it is my right to return to my homeland, the one I have been banished from for the past 61 years. No Palestinian will ever forget their rights no matter how many generations will pass.”

The Justice Makers can be reached on the following emails: m7amed_gentleman AT hotmail DOT com in Arabic or engle2005 AT hotmail DOT com in English.

Bianca Zammit is a human rights activist and a member of the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza.