Christian group scraps Hebron observer program due to ‘security concerns’
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Christian group scraps Hebron observer program due to ‘security concerns’

World Council of Churches announcement comes a day after Israel says it will boot TIPH international monitor group out of flashpoint West Bank city

Volunteers for the World Council of Churches‘ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) collect testimony in the West Bank. (YouTube Screenshot)
Volunteers for the World Council of Churches‘ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) collect testimony in the West Bank. (YouTube Screenshot)

The World Council of Churches, an organization which represents over 500 million Christians, has decided to remove its “accompaniers” from the West Bank city of Hebron, the group announced on Wednesday.

The move comes a day after Israel announced it would not be extending the mandate of the Hebron observer group TIPH, following a number of incidents over the past year in which its members scrapped with settlers in the flashpoint West Bank city.

The council’s program in the West Bank has brought 1,800 activists to the area since 2002. It was established following an appeal from local church leaders, according to the organization’s website. Its members monitor human rights violations, provide a protective presence and work with local nonprofits, the group said.

“Wearing our distinctive vests, you will accompany locals and report human rights abuses, help protect communities and keep international agencies up to date with the situation on the ground,” the program’s website says.

Illustrative. An Israeli soldier attempting to block the view of a photographer as troops search Palestinian men in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 22, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Twenty-five to 30 accompaniers were on the ground at a given time for three months each.

The World Council of Churches is an umbrella organization representing 350 churches in 110 countries, including most of the world’s Orthodox churches. The Catholic Church is not a member.

A statement released by the organization on Wednesday said it was pulling out of Hebron due to security concerns.

“The WCC accompaniers are currently prevented from fulfilling their role as a peaceful protective presence for residents in Hebron,” WCC general-secretary Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit said in a statement.

The World Council of Churches has in the past expressed support for a boycott of Israeli settlements. In 2016, immigration control refused entry to a member of the organization due to her activism in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, the first time such a refusal took place.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that Israel would not be extending the mandate of international observer group TIPH in Hebron, following a number of incidents over the past year in which its members scrapped with settlers in the West Bank city.

TIPH is an international civilian observer group that, according to its mandate, is tasked with “monitoring and reporting efforts to maintain normal life in the city of Hebron, thus creating a sense of security among the Palestinians in Hebron.”

“We will not allow the continuation of an international force that acts against us,” Netanyahu said in a statement announcing the decision to oust the Temporary International Presence in Hebron.

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