Palestinians are patrolling al-Khalil (Hebron) to document violence by settlers after Israel’s expulsion of international observers last month.
Israel expelled the unarmed civilian observers after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “will not allow the continuation of an international force that acts against us.”
The international mission, known as TIPH, was established after a settler opened fire on Muslim worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, killing 29 people and wounding over 100 others.
Until recently, the mission stationed observers from Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey to report on violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the divided city.
Al-Khalil, the West Bank’s largest city, is a frequent flashpoint between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Over 200,000 Palestinians live in the city, along with several hundred extremist settlers who live in heavily fortified enclaves protected by the military.
Countries contributing to an international observer group safeguarding Palestinians in al-Khalil denounce Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the task force.
Palestinians frequently must pass through Israeli checkpoints in the area of the settler enclaves, restrictions that have hit the once-thriving city center and forced many businesses to close.
They are also a constant target of settler violence, which has prompted Palestinian activists to fill the void by launching their own patrols to document attacks.
Armed with video cameras and donning blue vests, the activists say they have enlisted 18 volunteers and begun work since Sunday.
“By expelling the international monitors, the Israeli government wanted to hide the Israeli settlers’ and soldiers’ violations, but we will not let them get away with that,” Issa Amro, an activist leader, told the Associated Press.
“We will document any attack by photos and words, and we will circulate it all over the world.”
Amro said they began by escorting Palestinian students to school in al-Khalil’s Israeli-controlled downtown area.
Hundreds of Palestinian students study in schools in al-Khalil’s Old City where altercations between Palestinians and Israelis are not uncommon.
Amro said tensions started right away and he was “slapped and punched by the settlers” who cursed the activists in front of the Israeli soldiers as “dogs and sons of dogs.”