The World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel has made the decision to remove Ecumenical Accompaniers from the Hebron area due to security concerns.
WCC’s accompaniment programme is 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.
Among the groups exiting the Hebron area is also the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), in this case as a result of a decision by the Government of Israel not to renew TIPH’s mandate. TIPH was set up more than 20 years ago to help safeguard Palestinians in the Hebron area. The non-renewal of this mandate and the intensified harassment of WCC’s programme and other NGO presences threatens to eliminate any international monitoring and protective presence from one of the most volatile situations in the occupied Palestinian territories, at a time when the vision of a secure and sustainable peace in the region seems more remote than ever.
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit appealed for a just peace in the area, and expressed hope that Ecumenical Accompaniers and other international monitoring and protective presences would be able to return to the area as soon as possible.
“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.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on 28 January he would eject the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, after accusing TIPH of anti-Israel activity.
The WCC accompaniment programme is a response to a specific call from Palestinian church leaders in the region. The programme was established to address circumstances that are specific to the region, though a similar methodology has been trialled in the context of conflict and widespread human rights violations in Colombia.