The World Council of Churches plans to pull its observers from the West Bank city of Hebron fearing that they are no longer safe from “harassment” by Jewish residents of the city and the IDF.
The announcement follows Israel’s decision to end the 22-year old observer mission, known as the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, which had 64 civilian participants from Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey that participated.
TIPH had operated in Hebron through an agreement that was signed twice a year by the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The observers reported on incidents of alleged human rights abuses by Jewish resident of the city and the IDF against Palestinians.
The WCC said that its program was “among several non-governmental and peacemaking organizations that have reached a critical point this week as a result of alleged harassment by settlers and by Israeli soldiers.”
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said, “The WCC accompaniers are currently prevented from fulfilling their role as a peaceful protective presence for residents in Hebron,” said Tveit.
“We must strengthen our resolve for the pursuit of just peace, and not allow harassment or threats to keep us from this pursuit.”
The WCC’s program in Hebron is part of the church’s larger “Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI)” that was created in 2002 and operates in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. It was created in response to a call from Palestinian church leaders in the region.
The Israeli right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu said it was certain its operation against the group in the last few months had helped led to its decision to leave the Hebron. An Im Tirtzu spokesperson said that members of its group had been filming the WCC observers and posting those videos on social media. Those videos showed the observers trying to hide from the cameras.
Matan Peleg, CEO of Im Tirtzu that led the efforts to oust the EAPPI from Hebron, said:
"We are pleased to see that foreign government-funded delegitimization organizations are beginning to leave Hebron.
“These organizations do nothing apart from fuel the fires of conflict and provoke IDF soldiers, and they are the true obstacle to peace. We are pleased that our efforts to 'film the filmers' succeeded, and we promise to continue working on behalf of IDF soldiers and the State of Israel,” Peleg said.