Launch of Palestinian civilian monitor group angers settlers in Hebron

Volunteers walking children to school shoved and slapped by settlers; Jewish community spokesperson says initiative launched after international observer left city is a provocation

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Israeli local Ofer Ohana argues with members of a new Palestinian observer group in the West Bank city of Hebron on February 10, 2019.(Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israeli local Ofer Ohana argues with members of a new Palestinian observer group in the West Bank city of Hebron on February 10, 2019.(Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Members of a new civilian monitor group launched by Palestinians in Hebron faced verbal and physical harassment from settlers Sunday as they walked a group of children to school in the flashpoint West Bank city.

Footage from the skirmish showed an Israeli woman slapping Issa Amro, a local activist who is among the leaders of the group inaugurated less than two weeks after a pair of international monitor groups left Hebron. Another Israeli resident was seen shoving one of the Palestinian volunteers near the Beit Hadassah apartment complex.

Amro told The Times of Israel that the goal of his organization is to walk Palestinian children to school in the city. He said that in addition to being harassed by Israelis, the young students are afraid to go through IDF checkpoints. The escort “will provide a feeling of security for the children,” Amro said, adding that the volunteers “will be armed with cameras in order to document human rights abuses.”

This had been among the jobs of escorts from both the Temporary International Presence in Hebron and the World Council of Churches. The former had its mandate terminated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month after a number of incidents in which its members scrapped with settlers. The latter decided to pack up the next day, citing “security reasons.”

TIPH was an international civilian observer group that, according to its mandate, was 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.” It also reported alleged human rights abuses and violations of accords in the city between Israel and Palestinians. Observers for the group came from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey.

The group began operating in 1994, ensuring compliance with the Hebron Agreement of 1997 for the last 22 years.

The new civilian volunteer force escorted children wearing blue hats and vests emblazoned with the word “observer” in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Amro said that he was “sickened” by the incident Sunday in which he was attacked. “I’m not some cheap human that can be slapped in front of soldiers and have none of them react on my behalf.”

While he called the incident “a minor skirmish,” a spokesman for the Jewish community said violence employed against the Palestinian group was not justified. At the same, he asserted that the new monitor force was a “provocation.”

“Nobody is harassing the Arab children,” said Yishai Fleisher, denying Amro’s claim. He called it “comical that the guy who leads an organization that calls for the ethnic cleansing of Jews is going to be monitoring the peace in Hebron.” Amro is the head of Youth Against Settlements, a Palestinian NGO that opposes Jewish presence in Hebron.

Fleisher claimed that Amro was trying to “sway public opinion” just days after a Palestinian resident of Hebron, Arafat Irfaiya, brutally murdered Israeli 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher.

On Monday, the civilian observer group walked the Palestinian students to school without incident.

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