He was still a newbie with only two years of experience under his belt. But Yamen didn’t need long to decide to risk his life for what he believed was right. Under the cover of darkness he walked from Al-Sheikh Ejleen along the beach to central Gaza Strip. He heard Israeli soldiers talking on their walkie-talkies. They were up on the cliff plateau overlooking the beach. He was afraid of getting shot. It happened routinely to people crossing from one area into the other, especially at night. After two hours, Yamen reached the village that Israeli forces were set to bulldoze the next morning. There was not much time. The young field worker gathered statements from the villagers, rushed back to the office, and with his colleagues worked on the case until two in the morning. They filed a complaint with the Israeli military attorney who ruled to stop the demolition of all fifty-one houses.
It was a great victory. Six months later, the village still got destroyed.
Yamen Al Madhoun heralds this dangerous operation in 2004 when Gaza was still under full Israeli control as one of his greatest successes. It’s telling that his accomplishment ended with the destruction of what he tried to protect. Because human rights defenders like Yamen have very little to show for their work. More often than not, they cannot give the people whose lives are shattered through violence the justice they seek. Those working for human rights in the Gaza Strip are shackled by their circumstances which observers like Noam Chomsky and others have called prison-like conditions.
Yamen previously stayed in Maastricht as part of the Shelter City programme. Shelter City is a nationwide initiative of Justice and Peace Netherlands to protect human rights defenders, in cooperation with a growing number of Dutch cities and local organisations.
In this pseudo-penitentiary, what the forty-year old head of the field work unit of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights desires most is to protect internationally recognised human rights standards and values in Palestinian society through securing the rule of law. With his team of five field workers, and the support of many volunteers, Yamen works tirelessly to document and report on any human rights violations in the Gaza Strip committed by Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinian governing authorities.
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Photo credit: Justice & Peace Netherlands
This interview is part of a series of change maker stories that I wrote for the Dutch non-profit organization Justice & Peace Netherlands.