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Hang your head in shame, world; normal life does not exist for Palestinians in Hebron

Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinian protesters during a protest after Israeli soldiers shot Palestinian who allegedly attempted knife attack in Hebron, West Bank on September 19, 2016.
Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinians in Hebron, West Bank on 19 September 2016 [file photo]

Israel breaks international law with sickening and often deadly regularity. This is pointed out frequently by detractors of the Zionist State, which just as frequently attracts accusations of “anti-Semitism”; the obvious aim being to stifle any and all criticism of Israel.

I’m wondering, therefore, how a new report by an international monitoring group recognised by the Israeli government will be received, given that it concludes that Israel does in fact break international law on a regular basis. The shock findings — it will come as a shock to the pro-Israel lobby, at least — is based on 20 years of investigations and monitoring by the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).

The exclusive story in Haaretz reveals that the report concludes that “normal life” is nowhere to be found in the occupied West Bank city. TIPH was set up to monitor Hebron, where disputes over land ownership by illegal settlers are notorious, and severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement and worship are in place.

The “exhaustive and damning internal report on Israel’s actions in the city” has been leaked to the newspaper, which is a first for TIPH; its findings are never revealed to the media. A forerunner to TIPH was initially formed after illegal settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslims as they prayed at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in February 1994.

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While Palestinians have always viewed TIPH as ineffectual, the leaked news is bound to find traction with them as well as the international community, because the contents appear to be indisputable. It remains to be seen if bodies like the UN or countries which offer Israel unconditional support will act upon them.

Hebron emerges as a city that is riven at the seams by both a civilian and military occupation, leaving communities more divided than ever as a direct result of the brutal, unjust actions of the Israeli government and its illegal settlers.

One of the most damning revelations within the top secret report is that Israel is in “severe and regular breach” of the right to non-discrimination as well as the obligation to protect the population living under occupation from deportation. “The Israeli settlement in Hebron,” explains Haaretz, “is a violation of international law and ‘radical Israeli settlers’ make life in the Israeli-controlled area difficult for its Palestinian residents.”

The Palestinians have long wondered what the TIPH has achieved since being launched in 1997 as part of the Oslo Accords’ Hebron Protocol, which allowed the Israeli army to occupy and control the city. The following year, the role of the military was expanded as part of the Wye River Memorandum, signed by Benjamin Netanyahu — who was serving his first term as Prime Minister at the time — and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. How Netanyahu will react to the findings published today remains to be seen, but there are those who believe that he will seek to block TIPH’s future work in the city. If he does cancel the observers’ role, the move will delight the illegal settlers who will view it as a green light not only to continue their persecution of Palestinians but also as an endorsement of their often violent and unlawful actions.

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TIPH has been the target of negative publicity after one observer was recently filmed, according to Israeli police, puncturing the tyres of a vehicle owned by an illegal settler. Another, a Swiss national, was deported after allegedly slapping a settler boy.

While ignoring decades of abuse and violence by the illegal settlers and other arms of the Israeli occupation, these allegations prompted Netanyahu to call in TIPH executives in July for talks. The organisation employs more than 60 internationals from Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, whose governments provide its funding. It is these countries, as well as the Palestinian Authority and Israel, of course, which normally see the secret TIPH reports. Since the contents are not shared publicly one can only speculate why no action has ever been taken about the outrageous behaviour of the illegal settlers, which appears to be endorsed, facilitated or ignored by the army and other authorities.

According to Haaretz, TIPH has a greater autonomy than many other external organisations operating in the area. “Human rights and non-profit groups operating in Hebron are usually slammed by Israeli officials as anti-Israel, left-wing groups. TIPH is different: Members of the group routinely meet with Israel Defence Forces representatives and officers from Israel’s Civil Administration; they enjoy free access in a city known for its restrictions on movement; and, most importantly, the group has been operating in Hebron with Israel’s permission for over 20 years.”

Israeli settlers walk towards the tomb of Atnaeil Ben Kinaz, a Jewish religious site in the divided West Bank town of Hebron on 22 July, 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Apaimages]

Israeli settlers walk towards the tomb of Atnaeil Ben Kinaz, a Jewish religious site in the divided West Bank town of Hebron on 22 July, 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Apaimages]

The report’s conclusions are based on more than 40,000 incidents compiled by the group since its inception. The contents prove that Israel is constantly in breach of Article 49 of the Geneva Convention (IV), forbidding the deportation of protected persons (those living under occupation who are not citizens of the occupying country) from occupied territory. The settlement of the occupying power’s own citizens in the territory under occupation is also forbidden.

The old Palestinian vegetable market in Hebron has been identified as a particular cause for concern, with TIPH describing the area as “an Israeli military zone, often occupied by settlers and a playground for their children.” TIPH also points out that the presence of any Israeli settlement in Hebron is considered to be a violation of international law.

Shuhada Street, which was once a bustling Palestinian area, is today devoid of indigenous people and its shops are shuttered. Palestinians are still not allowed to drive on the street and have no access to parts of it on foot. This sort of contagion is now spreading over surrounding areas. Palestinians living in Tel Rumeida, for example, have very restricted freedom of movement and are virtually surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints. Palestinians are “often harassed at these checkpoints, and… the only way to bring food and other provisions to their homes is by foot.”

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When Israeli journalists asked for comments on the report they were met by silence from Netanyahu’s office and directed to the Foreign Ministry. “TIPH reports are not for publication,” said a Ministry spokesperson. “They are transferred to both sides based on the understanding that they will not be passed on to other parties, certainly not the media. Therefore, we have no intention of commenting on partial information or any other publications about this issue.”

This should not be the end of the matter, though. The time has come for the contents of all TIPH reports to be released by the funding states for the whole world to read. We can understand why Israel has no comment, but we can only wonder why the Palestinian Authority has remained silent for so long.

We must also wonder if this is just the tip of the iceberg in Hebron, and what on earth is happening in other parts of the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Netanyahu was quick to act personally over the two alleged incidents against illegal Israeli settlers, but it seems that 40,000 other incidents count for nothing for no other reason than that the victims are Palestinians.

The principles behind the establishment of TIPH are admirable, but the lack of action which has allowed “normal [Palestinian] life” to disappear over the past 20 years is deplorable. It speaks volumes about the political will of the Zionist State and the lack of any will whatsoever on the part of the international community. The world should hang its head in shame for paying mere lip service to the human, legal and civil rights of the Palestinians and, indeed, the international laws and conventions in which they are enshrined.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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