Ecumenical Accompaniers in Hebron have many duties. One of our duties each week is to maintain a protective presence in the old city of Hebron during tours organized by the Israeli Settler community. These tours are of the Old Souk (market area) in the old city of Hebron and are for Israeli Settlers and other tourists. The tour groups range in age and gender and have anywhere from 15-100 attendees. The tours begin in the mid-afternoon between 3 and 4pm and last for approximately one hour. These tour groups are accompanied by a large number of fully armed Israeli military soldiers who clear the path for the settlers and tourists and stop all movement in the old city to ensure the safety of the settlers and tourists. This is standard procedure as all Israeli citizens have the right to protection by the Israeli military.
Our current team has not witnessed any incidents during these tours, but previous teams have witnessed Palestinian shop keepers and citizens being harassed by settlers/tourists during the tours and there have been reports of vandalism towards shops from these tour groups.
EAPPI monitor these tours for hostility towards the local community and shops and provide a protective presence by sitting with local shop keepers to ensure their safety. EAPPI also documents incidents of aggression towards shop keepers and the local community by taking photos of such incidents. EAPPI monitors these tours in cooperation with CPT (Christian Peace Maker Team), ISM (International Solidarity Movement) and TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron).
As I monitored the tour last Saturday with my team mates, I felt the effects of a segregated community, living so close to one another, yet so fearful of the other. I saw the excessive amount of security the Israeli citizens had with them and the fear in the eyes of the Palestinian citizens and shop keepers. A team member and I also witnessed a shop keeper close his shop at the beginning of the tour in fear of harassment. We witnessed the soldiers pointing their guns directly at people who were not in any way a security risk. In general, I found it sad that this form of segregation is keeping people separated who could live as true neighbors. This segregation is perpetuated by insecurity and many political and historical factors and has been described by many as apartheid. I can only pray that one day this community can live without fear and harassment and without the need for an international protective presence.