Apr 28 2002

Foreign Observers would foster civility

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The reality on the ground in Palestine is hard to refute. The presence of any international civilian in the occupied areas is an instant guarantee of a considerably lower level of violence, brutality and death. Simply put, we Palestinians need to ensure that as many international civilians as possible are in our midst for our protection and for safeguarding the peace process. Add more outsiders, and the vicious cycle of violence could be broken or greatly reduced.

Just look at the West Bank: The farther one travels from East Jerusalem, going either north or south, the fewer international civilians there are — and the higher the numbers of injured and dead are. It is no coincidence that Jenin, which lies in the northern tip of the West Bank, far removed from Jerusalem, was the scene of the most brutal attacks and the most flagrant human rights violations of the recent Israeli assault.

But consider Hebron. Ever since the mass murder committed by a Jewish settler against 29 worshiping Muslims in 1994, there has been a strong international presence there, which is the main reason for the relatively calm situation recently. The outsiders in Hebron include a group of mostly Scandinavian, unarmed observers, as well as a group of American Christian peace activists known as the Christian Peace Team. The activists walk the areas of Palestinian-Israeli friction armed with nothing more than their personal courage and possibly a camera or a video recorder. The effect of outside observers in Kosovo in reducing violence is also undisputable.

I would propose something similar for the West Bank and Gaza as a whole: a major role for an outside force, perhaps made up of civilians as well as regular peacekeepers, that would help provide the peoples and the parties of the region with a badly needed calm and sense of security. Such a calm can’t take place when a powerful occupying army acts with such reckless disregard for human life and dignity.

The international force must have a mandate to enforce the peace. It could even be lightly armed. It could be a U.N. force or a U.S.-led multinational force. The world powers that have invested so much money in war and destruction could make a small contribution to peace in our region by funding this force. This force could also help stop the mutual finger-pointing and provide a neutral witness to those who are guilty of violating any agreed-upon commitments. It would surely have impressive results, as in Hebron, on a much larger scale across the Palestinian territories.

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