After Israel boots the only internationally mandated human rights observer group in Hebron, Palestinian volunteers step up to monitor settler attacks amid a sense of heightened hostility.
By Steven Davidson
About a dozen Palestinian volunteers in blue vests identifying themselves as “human rights observers” made their way toward the Israeli army’s Checkpoint 56 on Shuhada Street in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron early last week. They were escorting children on their way to the Qurtuba school 100 meters away, enduring harassment and kicking by settlers as they let the schoolchildren pass.
Up until late last month, this was a task for international observers, but on January 28, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he will not renew the mandate for the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), accusing the mission of “acting against Israel” in a tweet.
“When they kicked TIPH out, it was like they kicked us in the face,” said Palestinian activist Izzat Karaki.
The Oslo II Accord of 1995 called for an international presence in Hebron following the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, in which a Jewish settler killed 29 Palestinian worshipers in the city. TIPH mission was tasked with monitoring the human rights situation in the city, which Oslo divided into two areas: H1, home to most of the city’s Palestinian residents, is governed by the Palestinian Authority; and H2, where hundreds of Israeli settlers live among tens of thousands of Palestinians, and which is under the control of the Israeli army.
TIPH was the only observer group in Hebron with an official international mandate renewed every few months by Israel and the PA. Its staff included observers from Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Italy. The organization, which was also the best-funded and well-staffed in the city, produced over 40,000 monitoring reports in 22 years, among other humanitarian duties. Right-wing pressure against TIPH increased in Israel after two incidents by observers in which one slashed a settler’s tires and another slapped a child’s face. Both were removed by TIPH.
With TIPH’s exit, other volunteer international observation groups are now concerned about their safety in Hebron. According to Peter Prove, director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs at the World Council of Churches (WCC), “the same day as the announcement, there was a noticeable spike in harassment and threats from members of the settler community” against observers from the WCC Ecumenical...Read More