RAMALLAH - The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Oxfam and Save the Children have warned today that hundreds of civilians, including children, will see their safety put at risk by the withdrawal of international observers deployed in the city of Hebron.
In late January, the Israeli government declined to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), an international observer force that has played an important role in reducing conflict in this highly volatile city. Their removal and the reduction of other civilian observer groups threaten the already fragile security situation and risk contributing to a rapid decline in the city’s stability.
Save the Children Regional Director Jeremy Stoner said: “Palestinian children attending schools near Israeli settler communities in Hebron have experienced threats and violence from settlers for years. The role of the TIPH and other international observers has been very important in reducing confrontations and ensuring children's safety and access to education.”
“Just last week, we visited one of the schools in Hebron, and the headmistress told Save the Children that staff and students felt exposed and vulnerable without international observers accompanying the children,” he added.
In one of the most vulnerable schools in Hebron, Qurtoba school, the military checkpoint to the school has recently been reinforced with a guard tower and an electronic gate. This has completely severed the school area from the neighbourhood of Beit Hadassa. Parents are not allowed to enter the school premises. Without international observers, the children and teachers will be directly exposed to any potential violence from settlers who live in the area.
Oxfam Country Director Chris Eijkemans said: “This move will exacerbate an already volatile situation, increase impunity for human rights abuses and put civilians in more danger. Decisions like this pave the way for further settlement expansion and annexation of Palestinian land. It is a dangerous green light for more violence and abuse of international law, making any prospect of a peaceful, just and lasting resolution for Palestinians and Israelis increasingly remote.”
“Short of dismantling the system of closures, restrictions and checkpoints affecting Palestinians in Hebron, the Israeli government is responsible for ensuring the unhindered passage of civilians, including students and school staff, through checkpoints on their way to and from schools”, said NRC Deputy Regional Director Maureen Magee. “Israel must ensure that schools are protected, safe places for children. We see from our work in Hebron’s schools how children are traumatised by harassment and violence. Left unchecked, this will leave long-lasting scars.”
Israel should take steps to ensure that children can go to school and learn safely in line with its international obligations. The three organisations call on the Israeli government and the international community to take additional steps to support international protective presence in Hebron. They also call on all sides to tackle the longer-term causes of the conflict and take steps to protect all children and families who deserve to live in safety and dignity.
* Save the Children supports programmes to protect children from violence at school and in their communities in Hebron and throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
* Oxfam supports Palestinian farmers, women’s cooperatives and small businesses in Hebron, helping women and men to improve agricultural production and create jobs.
* The Norwegian Refugee Council provides humanitarian assistance and protection to vulnerable Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including in Hebron. NORCAP, NRC’s global provider of expertise, has been responsible for the recruitment, deployment and follow-up of the majority of Norwegian observers to the TIPH.