The experience of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee in monitoring and documenting violations of the Israeli occupation
by Imad Hamdan
The old town of Hebron is a historical urban area in Palestine. It is one of the oldest historical cities testifying to the ancient civilization of the Palestinian people. The town is the host of a unique architectural heritage, the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is one of the most important and holiest architectural edifices in the world. Moreover, the vicinity of this sanctuary is also unique in its traditional urban fabric and is characterized by its composition and architectural elements.
Politically, the Old City of Hebron suffers bitterly because of the Israeli occupation, which wages war on the land, its people and its history. The occupation threatens the cityâ€™s historical and cultural features, as well as the Palestinian existence in it. Since 1967, the Israeli occupation authorities committed different types of attacks and violations against the people of the city, their public and private property, to force them out of the city and obliterate the cultural, religious and historical monuments of the city. The occupation implemented a settlement project aimed at besieging the city with settlements, and to dismember it from within. For this purpose, the occupation authorities seized the lands of citizens in the vicinity of Hebron and constructed several settlements on them, most notably the settlement of Kiryat Arba. This settlement project was not limited to the vicinity of Hebron, rather it extended to the heart of the city targeting the old town. The occupation authorities constructed a few settlement outposts inside its neighborhoods, which are known for their historical buildings. It extended full protection for Israeli settlers and took all measures that would put pressure on the Palestinians and displace them from the city. These attacks were exacerbated after the Jewish extremist Goldstein committed the Haram massacre Ibrahimi in 1994 against the safe Palestinian worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque, which led to the death of dozens and wounding of hundreds of worshipers. Following this incident, the Israeli occupation authorities rewarded the criminal and punished the victim by dividing the Ibrahimi Mosque and controlling most of it. It prevented Muslim worshipers from praying and holding rituals and religious events in the Ibrahimi Mosque and its squares in clear violation of the right to the sanctity of places of worship and religious freedom, and the subsequent closure of the Old City completely from streets, neighborhoods and buildings under Israeli military orders. The occupation authorities imposed curfews for long periods and converted the Old City into something like a military barracks After the establishment of many checkpoints and control points, which led to the displacement of dozens of families from the residents of the Old City. This diminished the economic prosperity that once prevailed; 76% of the shops, including 512 shops that were closed by military orders and owners lost their shops, which were their only sources of livelihood. This resulted in economic stagnation, as shoppers were unable to reach from Hebron and other Palestinian areas.
These attacks constituted a flagrant violation of the international humanitarian law (the Geneva Convention of 1949 and its 1977 protocols) and the Hague Convention of 1907 and its annexed rules, which are applicable to the occupied Palestinian territories, and which guarantee protection and respect for the rights of the Palestinian population under occupation. As the occupying power, Israel has a set of legal obligations that it must respect, in addition to a set of moral and ethical obligations that guarantee the protection of the human rights of Palestinian citizens, and prohibits it from violating international human rights law and relevant international agreements and the principles of human rights and human dignity.
In light of these facts, His Excellency the late President Yasser Arafat issued a presidential decree in which he ordered the formation of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee in 1996, with a vision to preserve the old city of Hebron, as an Islamic and Arab town with an ancient cultural heritage. The presidential decree, also, ordered the rehabilitation and restoration of historical buildings in the old town to besiege Settlement outposts, limiting their expansion, and encouraging residents to return and residing in them, preserving these ancient historical buildings, ensuring economic and social revival, and the linkage of the Old City with the rest of the cityâ€™s general fabric.
The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee aims at protecting and preserving the cultural heritage of the city and strengthening the role of its population and protecting their right to preserve this heritage for future generations. To achieve this, the Executive Bureau of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee was formed to prepare proposals for restoration and preservation projects and supervise their implementation within the architectural specificity of the Old City and its urban fabric. To re-inhabit the Old City with its original population, a special section was created to follow up the re-housing process. It follows a special and unique work mechanism, which commensurate with the uniqueness of the urban and social reality within the Old City on one hand, and the political reality imposed on it on the other hand. The Housing Department follows up on everything related to buildings and residents in an organized manner based on daily and direct communication. This is done through daily follow-up in the field. Its doors are open to citizens, with the purpose of solving their problems and providing them with necessary services. This department seeks to raise awareness among the population to preserve the cultural heritage and to achieve social integration among them. Due to the specificity of the political situation in Hebron, a Legal Unit was created to follow up and document the occupation violations and to disseminate awareness among the population to make them aware of their rights. It also follow up with international human rights institutions, the United Nations Special Rapporteurs, the High Commissioners for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council. The objectives of the Legal Unit are as follows:
1- Limiting settlement expansion in the Old City/Hebron by legally prosecuting settler attacks, and those who support them, against Palestinian property, especially storming and controlling buildings, or parts thereof, with the aim of expanding settlement outposts, controlling lands owned by Palestinian with the aim of expanding settlements or establishing new outposts on them, in addition to thwarting settlers' repeated attempts to create geographical continuity between existing settlement outposts in the Old City, with the aim of completely dismembering the city and controlling it, and confronting settler violence and attacks against citizens aimed at pressurizing them and displacing them.
2- Confronting Israeli military orders, especially orders for closures (streets - areas - buildings), attacks on historical and religious property, land confiscation, seizure of Palestinian real estate, paving settlement roads, prevention the restoration of buildingsâ€¦ etc.
3- Raising the level of awareness among Palestinian citizens of their human rights, educating them on how to deal with attacks by the Israeli army and settlers, and measures that they should resort to when they are exposed to these attacks, providing the necessary psychological and legal support and counseling in a way that enhances their steadfastness and undo the barrier of fear and hesitation they have in pursuing these attacks and punishing their perpetrators.
4- Provide protection to Palestinian citizens and their property by using available legal mechanisms at the local and international levels.
5- Documenting violations committed by the Israeli occupation authorities and settlers against Palestinian citizens and their property, to be used in the legal prosecution of their perpetrators, presently or in the future, given that these violations constitute crimes that do not fall under the statute of limitations.
6- Solving the problem of property fragmentation of the historic buildings in the Old City by following legal mechanisms that regulate the relationship between the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee and the building owners and tenants alike.
7- Exposing the practices of the occupation and settlers at the local, regional and international levels.
To achieve these goals, the Legal Unit developed a work strategy based on continuous communication with the citizens of the Old City, interaction with the local community, and involving them, directly and indirectly, in achieving the goals of the Reconstruction Committee, and giving them a role in following up on what is going on. This necessitated an interest in raising citizens' awareness of their rights. This is an essential factor that encourages citizens to defend their rights with determination and persistence. This required comprehensive monitoring of human rights violations in the Old City, taking note of all their details, and thus taking the necessary legal action regarding them as quickly as possible and following them up to the latest levels of litigation.
In this paper, we will highlight the mechanism used by the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee to monitor and document Israeli violations against cultural heritage and against residents and their property:
Documenting and Monioring Israeli Violations
The Legal Unit documents repeated attacks committed by the Israeli army and settlers against Palestinian citizens and their property. This is done to enable the Unit to pursue these violations judicially on strong and clear grounds, and to keep these attacks in documented records that make it possible to prosecute the perpetrators of these attacks at any appropriate time or place in the future, in accordance with the principle that these violations are not superseded by the statute of limitation. Usually, a field researcher monitors these violations and moves to the sites of attacks, documents and enters them in periodic reports. The field researcher also conducts daily exploratory field visits in all areas of the Old City to communicate with the people and hear from them and learn about their problems. These visits are also documented in periodic reports. The lawyers of the Legal Unit receive victims of human rights violations in the Old City, who seek refuge there on their own or follow up on reports of the field researcher or any other documenting source. The victims fill out an information form about these violations. The lawyers of the Unit also record testimonies made by the victims and collect all necessary documents or evidence proving that the violation occurred against them. Herein, the victims are directed to file a complaint with the Israeli police.
The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, through its lawyers, files petitions and lawsuits against the attacks of the Israeli army and settlers with the competent Israeli courts such as the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice, the Magistrateâ€™s Court, the Central Court, in addition to various military courts and objection committees. These cases vary according to the nature of the violations, which may be a result of the issuance of military orders by the occupation authorities for various purposes, such as orders for the closure of areas, streets, houses, and shops in the Old City, seizure of buildings or preventing their restoration, demolishing buildings and destroying Palestinian property in general, confiscation of lands, assaults on historical, cultural and religious propertyâ€¦etc. Cases are also filed against various settler attacks, such as physical attacks against Palestinian citizens, which amounted to direct shooting at defenseless Palestinian citizens, attempting to kill them, terrorizing them, beating them, throwing incendiary materials and waste on them, and poisoning their animals and agricultural crops, as well as their attacks on Palestinian property, such as storming Palestinian homes and shops, controlling them, destroying them, stealing or vandalizing their contents, seizing Palestinian lands or destroying crops, and other practices aimed at pressuring the Palestinians, stripping them of their rights, displacing them from the Old City, to achieve the Jewish settlement project. There are also similar cases that result from various attacks carried out by the Israeli occupation army against Palestinian citizens and their property.
Lawyers of the Legal Unit provide legal assistance and guidance to human rights victims among the citizens of the Old City. They direct victims to resort to legal channels when they are subjected to any attack and inform them of the means to be followed to confront these attacks. This assistance starts, as previously mentioned, from the first moment of the occurrence of the attack until the legal follow-up is completed. Moreover, lawyers of the Legal Unit follow up on cases of arrests of Palestinian citizens until they are released from the occupation prisons. In cases that need special legal follow-up from a specialized authority, such as the Palestinian Prisoners Club or the International Committee for the Defense of Childrenâ€™s Rights, lawyers of the Legal Unit provide those affected with addresses of concerned agencies specialized with following up their cases.
The Legal Unit organizes various awareness activities such as workshops and counseling meetings for different sectors of the local community in the Old City (children, youth, men, women, people with special needs). Subsequently, these awareness activities vary, such as informing citizens of their rights as stipulated in local and international laws, how to deal with attacks by the Israeli army and settlers, ways of documenting violations and keeping evidence, submitting complaints and giving statements, introducing litigation procedures before Israeli authorities, introducing mechanisms of the International Organization for the Protection and Defense of Human Rights, etc. for this purpose, the Legal Unit issues various introductory publications that provide information and guidance on all relevant human rights issues.
Use of International Legal Mechanisms
Based on the developmental methodology used in the various departments of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, the Legal Unit expanded its competencies and tasks in an attempt to benefit from the judicial applications of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Accordingly, it initiated efforts to become familiar with methods followed by the United Nations bodies concerned with human rights, as well as with their various mechanisms in protecting human rights in the world. The Unit aspire to pursue and use the same in the Old City / Hebron. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, like other heritage preservation institutions, also contributed to the preparation of the 2018 Material Heritage Law, which had a significant impact on providing legal protection for cultural heritage in the Old City.
The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee's efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of the Old City culminated in its registration on the World Heritage List. Because of the threats surrounding it because of the presence of the Israeli occupation and its arbitrary measures against this cultural heritage, the city was registered on the endangered list. With this registration, protecting the cultural heritage in the Old City of Hebron becomes an international responsibility to ensure that the danger to this cultural heritage is removed. In this context, the Rehabilitation Committee is keen to communicate permanently with the World Heritage Committee to follow up the violations against the urban heritage, which is listed on the World Heritage List.
â€¢ Expansion of the Unit for Monitoring and Documenting Human Rights Violations in the Old City of Hebron by increasing its staff and distributing them to several geographical areas.
â€¢ Work with foreign solidarity activists of different nationalities to be able to reach closed areas to Palestinians.
â€¢ Establishing a network of relations with the rest of the workers in the field of documentation from various local and international institutions.
â€¢ Establishing a new database that is compatible with the amount, size, and nature of the data that will be obtained, and developing it to benefit any party in need of information, whether local or official institutions such as the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department, researchers, etc.
â€¢ Carrying out a research study and comparative studies on the impact of violations in health, educational issues...etc.)
â€¢ Coordinating holding or participating in international events such as (international conferences or workshops or preparing photo exhibitions at associations or organizations...etc.).
â€¢ Holding lectures on human rights violations in the Old City in international and local universities, law faculties in various universities, human rights organizations and international forums.
â€¢ Establishing a solidarity network that includes international diplomats, members of parliaments or legal personalities.
â€¢ Empowering and supporting women in the Old City and the contact areas, and supporting their victims