For Short-term Relief, an International Presence
IT IS HARD TO KNOW WHETHER THE INTERNATIONAL presence created by foreign citizens at Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters helped prevent further violence there during the recent Israeli siege of the site. But there can be no doubt that the multinational presence of foreign priests in Bethlehem, along with the fact that the international community cares about the Church of the Nativity, helped keep control of what could have been an even more dangerous situation during the standoff in that West Bank city.
This reality can be seen at every site of Palestinian-Israeli friction in the West Bank and Gaza. Any international civilian presence in the occupied territories guarantees a considerably lower level of Israeli military and settler violence toward the Palestinian population – violence which in turn is often the cause of Palestinian violence toward Israelis. An international presence can therefore help break the cycle of violence and pave the way for peace negotiations.
A look at geography proves this theory. Starting from East Jerusalem and going north or south, the number of Palestinian dead and wounded rises the further one goes. Jenin, at the West Bank’s northern tip, was the scene of the most brutal attacks and the most flagrant human rights violations during the recent Israeli military operations. Rafah, the southwest tip of the Gaza Strip, has had more killed and injured than any other Palestinian city. The further one goes from the media and diplomatic center in Jerusalem, the higher the level of violence.
The exception is Hebron, near the West Bank’s southern end. Four hundred radical Jewish settlers live in this city, which has a population of over 200,000 Palestinians. Yet while there have been small skirmishes, and indeed deaths, on both sides during the current intifada, Hebron has seen less of the violence that has beset other Palestinian towns. Since the mass murder committed by a Jewish settler against 29 worshiping Muslims in 1994, an international presence has been created in Hebron, and should be seen as the main reason for the relative calm. In addition to TIPH – the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, a force of unarmed observers from six countries – a group of American Christian peace activists have made the city their home. Members of the Christian Peace Team rotate in walking the areas of Palestinian-Israeli friction, armed only with their courage and sometimes cameras. The reason for their impact is obvious: Killing or injuring a Palestinian might not cause much Israeli or international uproar. But violence to an American or a Norwegian will.
If members of such international peace groups had been in Jenin, we can assume that we would not have witnessed what the New York- based Human Rights Watch described as “war crimes” during the battles in the city’s refugee camp. A similar case can be made for the potential benefit of outside observers at the array of military checkpoints in the occupied territories, where civilians have died, pregnant women have lost their babies, and an entire society has suffered humiliation. Indeed, the Checkpoint Watch – a group of women including Israelis and foreign nationals that has begun a rotating checkpoint watch – has found that the presence of observers has contributed to a significant reduction in the suffering that Palestinians experience at the roadblocks, which has been one of the causes of their frustration and anger.
International observers are not a magic solution. Rather, they would be a short-term medication for a long-term ill – the occupation. If implemented correctly and with a fixed term, placement of international observers can alleviate hatred, disillusionment and anger that have fed the cycle of violence. An international presence in the occupied territories will also contribute to educating Palestinians as to the mistake of the continued suicide attacks against Israelis civilians. It will, as well, help revive hope – whose absence has contributed to the creation of the suicide mentality.
Obviously, there is a risk to foreign observers or forces coming to areas of tension, as was shown recently when two TIPH members were killed on a West Bank road. Despite that risk, the overall situation would clearly be improved by their presence.
Fulfillment of President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s promise of an end to the Israeli occupation, followed by the establishment of the state of Palestine, will require much effort and the rebuilding of trust. The lack of trust can be seen not only between the Israelis and Palestinians, but also between them and the rest of the world. The arguments over who is violating this agreement, who is refusing to enforce that security understanding and who is failing to honor yet another legal commitment have been repeated ad nauseam. To stop the bickering and provide the peoples of the region with a badly needed calm and sense of security, a major role must be given to an outside force.
If the presence of unarmed foreign civilians has provided an irrefutable reduction in hostility, an armed international force will be much more effective so long as such a force has a clear mission and mandate to enforce the peace. It will have the added value of providing neutral testimony regarding any infringement of agreed commitments.
Palestinians, Israelis and the international community surely have an interest in the reduction of the tension and the creation of trust that can usher in successful peace talks. The sooner such an international force is created, the sooner we will begin the long path to peace, independence and security for all.
Daoud Kuttab is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah and its educational TV station. He has been awarded the Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute.
Copyright c 2002. The Jerusalem Report
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