THE UN has called on the international community to take action to ensure that civilian human-rights defenders in Hebron, in the West Bank, are allowed to carry out their monitoring work without harassment from Israeli settlers. The UN was responding to reports that human-rights activists have been threatened and physically attacked.
The call comes against a background of increasing tension in the West Bank, where numerous individual stabbings and shootings have been carried out by Palestinians on settlers and Israeli security personnel, leading to violent retaliation from settlers.
Hannah Griffiths (Back Page Interview, 23 October) is among those attached to the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), established by the World Council of Churches in 2002, and managed by the Quakers in the UK and Ireland. In one incident, on 14 October, Ms Griffiths was chased, punched, and kicked in Hebron, in an area controlled by the Israeli authorities.
Speaking later, she said: "The situation has got so much worse in the last few months. We are being targeted, but it is worse for the local Palestinians, who tell us they are scared to go to work. Teachers are scared to go to work, and children are scared to go to school."
At the Qurtuba school in Hebron, where "protective-presence" volunteers accompany about 100 children through checkpoints to and from school, teachers reported a lack of concentration among pupils, and signs of psychosocial distress. The director of the UN Relief and Works Agency Operations West Bank, Felipe Sanchez, said that if no action was taken to remove the sources of stress suffered by schoolchildren, "an entire generation of children and youth will be lost. Their future must be restored."
On Human Rights Day earlier this month, the UN co-ordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, Robert Piper, led a delegation of UN and NGO leaders to Hebron to assess the welfare of human-rights defenders there. After the visit, Mr Piper said that human-rights defenders "must be allowed to continue their work without violence, threats, or retaliation".
James Heenan, of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that they should be free to protect the rights of others, and be protected as they did so. "The fact that these very people have themselves become a target is alarming," he said.