Palestinian activists in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron have established their own local observer group in the wake of Israel’s expulsion of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) from the city.
Issa Amro, the former director of the Youth Against Settlements (YAS) group in Hebron, announced on social media that he, along with other Palestinian human rights defenders in the city had formed their own group to document the human rights violations and form a protective presence for Palestinians in the city.
On Sunday, the group’s first day of work in the city, a group of Israeli settlers escorted by armed Israeli forces harassed and assaulted the group’s staff members as they escorted a group of Palestinian children to school.
BREAKING: physically assaulted this morning by notorious settlers as we try to escort Palestinian children to school.
Since Israel has expelled TIPH from Hebron, we are forming our own human rights monitoring and protection team.
— Issa Amro عيسى عمرو 🇵🇸 (@Issaamro) February 10, 2019
Video footage of the incident shows at least two settlers filming the group while hurling racial epithets at them.
One settler woman attempted to grab the phone out of the hands of a Palestinian who was filming the event. A few moments later the same settler woman was filmed slapping Amro in the face as Israeli police looked on.
Established in 1994 as part of the Oslo Accords, TIPH served as an international task force that observed and reported on rights abuses in the city.
Much of the group’s work consisted of escorting Palestinian children to school, monitoring checkpoints, and using their presence as a deterrence against settler violence targeted at Palestinians.
TIPH existed under a mandate that was renewed every six months by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), and was up for renewal on January 31. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced earlier this month that he would not be renewing the group’s mandate.
On Tuesday, Amro posted on Facebook saying that Israeli authorities prevented his group from escorting Palestinian kids to school, declaring the area they were operating in as a “closed military zone.”
“The occupation doesn’t want TIPH or EAPPI, or even the local observers,” Amro said. “They want to silence everyone, but we will not give up, we will continue.”
Meanwhile, a group of Palestinian human rights activists staged a protest on Monday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, when a Jewish-American settler shot and killed 29 Palestinians during the morning prayer.
During the demonstration, the activists carried signs calling for the reestablishment of TIPH and an increased presence of other international observers in the city.
Hebron has often been referred to by activists as a “microcosm” of the Israeli occupation.
Following the massacre in 1994, Hebron’s Old City was divided into Palestinian and Israeli-controlled areas, known as H1 and H2, the latter being home to some 800 notoriously violent Israeli settlers.
Some 40,000 Palestinians living in H2 are constantly surrounded by more than one thousand Israeli soldiers and 20 military checkpoints that restrict their every move.
The high concentration of armed Israeli soldiers and settlers has turned the city into a major flashpoint in the occupied West Bank, where human rights violations are a daily occurrence.