"The ICRC is an extremely diverse, open and welcoming workplace, based on fundamental humanitarian values; we have what I like to describe as an open doors and hearts policy."

Imad Abu-Hasira joined the ICRC in 2001 as Protection field officer, after a career with various NGOs in the field of rehabilitation for children with special needs.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am 55 years old and am married with four children. I studied special education for children with special needs. Before joining the ICRC in 2001, I worked for NGOs caring for children with special needs, including children and young people with mental disabilities, cerebral palsy and hearing impairments.

I consider myself to be a sensitive person with a lot of compassion, empathy and solidarity towards others, especially vulnerable people. I enjoy travelling, watching movies, listening to music and going on fishing trips. I like to interact with people and to help those in need. 

What is your role at the ICRC?

When I first joined the ICRC as a Protection field officer, my work often involved interacting with other departments. Now, I focus solely on Protection-related matters, although still interacting with other departments.

We monitor the impact of violence on the civilian population and infrastructure and we document alleged violations. Our work is used to plan and implement ICRC activities, as needed. We also coordinate the safe access of the Palestine Red Crescent Society and civil defence staff to conflict areas or locations where tensions are high, including border areas. We also give presentations on protection activities and respect for international humanitarian law.

We enjoy good access, we network extensively with the authorities, armed groups and local communities, our presence is well accepted in the areas in which we operate, and we plan and implement, in coordination with other ICRC departments, multidisciplinary activities to help people in need.  

The ICRC truly embodies humanitarian values; in times of conflict, it is the main organization to address the needs and concerns of people and authorities. For example, it helps to provide access to shelter and medical evacuation, repair the infrastructure and find missing people.  

What does a typical work day look like for you?

We regularly monitor the general situation and any potential impact on the civilian population.

We use our networking skills to verify the information we receive; if there are any concerns or a case to follow up, we establish contact with the affected person to document the case. Where relevant, we report major concerns to other colleagues and departments.

From time to time, we check in with our partners (the Palestine Red Crescent Society and civil defence staff) to verify information and to find out whether they have encountered any challenges. We have a special coordination mechanism to keep the lines open with our partners, who may feel safer staying on the phone with us during a medical evacuation in a conflict area or a place where tensions are high. Although this work can be extremely stressful, there is always a moment of elation when a mission has been accomplished safely and the victim is on their way to hospital.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

It is the best feeling in the world when we successfully coordinate safe access for our partners (the Palestine Red Crescent Society and civil defence staff) to evacuate civilians in need, and when those civilians are then transported to receive medical care.

I also find it rewarding to meet victims or their families. When we show compassion and solidarity towards lonely and vulnerable people, they realize how much the ICRC cares for those in need and how hard we work to alleviate their pain and suffering. When we meet patients the ICRC helped to evacuate, it really makes my day to see them in good health and hear them express their appreciation.   

What is the most challenging part of your job?

In conflict situations with a high number of civilian casualties and acute humanitarian needs, I feel frustrated and helpless, especially when women and children are affected. Likewise, it is very hard when we see civilians suffer because the ICRC’s or one of our partner's access has been delayed by ongoing conflict, including through blocked roads.

It is also challenging to see that International Humanitarian Law which was created to protect civilians and preserve our humanity is often not respected.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed additional set of challenges to engage with affected people and interlocutors. Documenting cases is a sensitive task that is extremely difficult to do over the phone, as our work is based on trust and the information we collect is sensitive. However, we have managed to document cases using that approach. 

As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have limited our face to face dissemination and workshop activities aimed at the parties involved and local communities to online or over the phone interaction.  I have been working from home for some time and miss interacting with my colleagues and being physically close to the people we help and their families.

In periods of conflict, even during shelling raids and strikes, I work very long hours and when I visit dangerous areas to help to save lives, I do worry about the safety of my own family. It is a serious challenge.    

Can you describe a memorable experience you had while working for the ICRC?

During the hostilities in 2008, we struggled to gain access to victims in areas that the Palestine Red Crescent Society was not authorized to enter. Once both organizations had been granted access, we witnessed first-hand the horrific aftermath of conflict: dead civilians and children who had somehow survived for days, without food or water, surrounded by the bodies of their relatives. For me, this experience left indelible psychological scars.

I am regularly on call, which means that I have to carry the duty bag and telephones with me at all times, in case we need to coordinate safe access for our partners or respond to other protection concerns.

Do you have any advice for others who would like to follow in your footsteps and join the ICRC?

Working for the ICRC is a great opportunity to see humanitarian action up close and to offer direct, practical support to affected civilians. You will be able to look back with pride on your career at the ICRC with the feeling that you have really made a difference to people in need.

The ICRC provides career support, including many opportunities for professional development and capacity-building. It is an extremely diverse, open and welcoming workplace, based on fundamental humanitarian values; we have what I like to describe as an open doors and hearts policy.

It is best to focus on the difference you can make, and not the scale of the problem: we are not able to help everyone in need or solve political problems.

In our work, solidarity and empathy are vitally important, as nothing can compensate for the loss of a loved one.