Israel’s decision to throw out the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) mission in the south of the West Bank has raised concerns among Palestinians that another massacre will take place at Al-Ibrahimi Mosque without witnesses or monitors.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided not to renew the mission’s mandate under the pretext that it is working against Israel.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry warned against such a move, saying that ending TIPH’s mission is an attempt to cover-up crimes by Israel’s occupation and settlers, a continuation of Israel’s policy of evading signed agreements, rejecting international law and conventions, and blocking any international presence on the ground to prevent crimes and violations committed by the occupation and settlers against the Palestinian people from being exposed.
It added that as an occupation force, Israel continues to implement its plan of Judaicising Area C in the West Bank, which is under Israeli security and administrative control according to the Oslo Accords, especially targeting historic and religious sites. This is occurring in Jerusalem, Hebron and Nablus methodically and on a daily basis, ignoring international law and negating all signed agreements between Palestinians and Israelis.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry believes that expelling TIPH is a clear declaration by the occupation that it intends to Judaicise the old district in Hebron and take control of more Palestinian land surrounding it. It will carry out ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Palestinians there, and replace them with settlers.
TIPH is an unarmed international civilian body monitoring Israel’s violations in Hebron since the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre of 1994 — a bloodbath committed by settler and paediatrician Baruch Goldstein during dawn prayers on 15 Ramadan where he killed 29 worshippers at the mosque and 31 others outside, injuring 200.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry criticised TIPH several times, accusing it of presenting one-sided accounts on conditions in Hebron.
According to the mission’s Website, its primary goal is to monitor and report on conditions in Hebron in areas under its mandate, and thus create a sense of security and safety for Palestinians in Hebron. TIPH tries to maintain a visual presence in Hebron, especially in volatile areas, through daily patrols to monitor conditions in the city.
The five countries sponsoring TIPH said they regretted Israel’s unilateral decision to end the mission’s work, sending a joint letter from the foreign ministers of Norway, Italy, Turkey, Switzerland and Sweden describing Israel’s decision as contrary to the Oslo II agreement. It also contradicts UN Security Council Resolution 904 of 1994 which called for the creation of TIPH to protect Palestinian civilians.
The Palestinians asked for the renewal of TIPH’s mission, stated the sponsors, noting that according to international law, as the occupying power, Israel must protect Hebron residents, guarantee their safety and hold accountable anyone who violates applicable international law.
The five sponsors rejected Israeli claims that TIPH has violated its mandate, and asked Israel to protect the mission’s staff until they leave Hebron. In their message, the five foreign ministers said the only solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a two-state solution within recognised borders so both peoples can live in safety and peace.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the PLO’s Executive Committee, called on the UN to prevent the departure of TIPH. Erekat said the Palestinian Authority is talking to the UN and the five sponsors to prevent Israel from carrying out its decision. “These countries must decide if Israel is above international law due its actions and disrespect of existing and signed agreements,” he said.
Erekat criticised the administration of US President Donald Trump, saying this step was in coordination with the US which is putting pressure on the PA. “Although the US is a superpower, we will not change our position and no one will force us to change course.” He continued that last year the US directly and indirectly suspended $800 million in aid to the Palestinians after the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, “but we will not abandon our principles”.
Erekat addressed Arab and Islamic heads of state, saying that normalising relations with Israel is a stab in the back for the Palestinians. “Anyone who supports the US’s position that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is denying Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” he declared.
Haaretz newspaper claimed that TIPH is a foreign group that was sent to calm the area, “but its activities since then have been unclear and support for it is minimal, even among Palestinians and Leftist activists in the city”. The newspaper claims that since the start, settlers in this tense city hated TIPH, which reports violations and humanitarian problems in Hebron but in actuality has done very little. The article continued that in recent months animosity grew towards TIPH staff after surveillance video showed a TIPH member deflating the tires of a settler’s car, with another accused of slapping a settler child.
These images bolstered demands by right-wing settlers to expel TIPH.
“It’s good there are elections,” said Itmar bin Gafir, a settler, “or else Netanyahu would have continued sleeping restfully”. Bin Ghafir believes removing TIPH is a needed and appropriate step, although it only happened for electoral reasons.
The Israeli occupation controls Hebron which is divided into two-thirds for Jewish settlers and one third for Palestinians who have become — despite being the original residents — persona non grata. They are denied the simplest rights of practising their religion, while settlers have the freedom to worship. Palestinians in Hebron suffer economic, social and psychological hardships, due to the occupation and settlements that make it difficult to live normally.
Daily attacks by the occupation and radical settlers under the protection and often participation of the occupation army have increased the suffering of Palestinians in Hebron, especially in the old district that UNESCO listed as a World Heritage Site in 2017. This made the old district and Ibrahimi Mosque the fourth Palestinian cultural site on the World Heritage List after Jerusalem (the Old City and its walls), Bethlehem (the birthplace of Christ; Church of the Nativity and Pilgrims Road) and Battir (Palestine: Land of olives and vines; the cultural landscape of southern Palestine).
There are many stories in the old district that reveal the pain suffered by Palestinians in Hebron at the hands of settlers who live in six settlement enclaves, beginning with Tal Al-Rumeida where the most radical settlers live and ending by the Ibrahimi Mosque, passing through the largest settlement cluster parallel to the vegetable market which was overrun after the 1994 massacre.
Martyrs Road, which was closed after the massacre, is the heart of Hebron and the only link between the city’s northern and southern parts. Its closure seriously complicated the lives of residents travelling in either direction. A barricade was erected at the entrance called Bab Al-Zawya to prevent people from crossing except for residents of the area. Residents also suffer to return to their homes or go to work, whether in the day or in the night.
Martyrs Road was Hebron’s beacon and economic hub before it was shut down, with more than 450 shops and dozens of homes that have now become isolated from their surroundings. Today, it is a military barracks surrounded by barricades and permanent military checkpoints. In the old city, which is no more than one square kilometre, 1,500 Israeli soldiers protect 400 settlers.
During the second Intifada (the Al-Aqsa uprising) in 2000, occupation forces imposed a new form of torture and abuse by installing a three-year curfew, clamping down on Hebron residents through night raids that frighten the young and old, while settlers shoot and assault Palestinians and their property.
Tal Al-Rumeida residents of around 50 Palestinian families suffer the “policy of numbers” which occupation forces imposed on them in 2016. They are not allowed to enter their homes except through fingerprinting or PINs given to them, otherwise they are turned away. This prevents families from visiting each other, restricts their movement and prevents them from connecting, with the aim of displacing the population and Judaicising the area.
Nidal Al-Jaabari, adviser to the governor of Hebron, said that despite the heavy presence of occupation soldiers around settlements in Hebron, they often refuse to protect Palestinians being attacked by settlers. In fact, the police could refuse to investigate an attack even though there are surveillance cameras everywhere in Hebron.
Al-Jaabari added that settlers attack Palestinians nearly daily under the noses of the occupation army, in order to harass and frighten them out of their homes so they can move in. Peaceful resistance is the best enforcer of Palestinian resilience, through social and psychological activities directed at damaging the psyche of the occupation and settlers.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 February, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Palestinians fear new massacre