Italian minister denies Hebron visit 'in solidarity with settlers'
Published Friday 11/10/2013 (updated) 14/10/2013 14:51
The minister meeting with his Israeli counterpart
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Italian Minister of Tourism and Culture Massimo Bray has denied allegations of acting in "solidarity" with Israeli settlers after meeting with a leader of the illegal Jewish settler community in the Old City of Hebron on Tuesday.
A statement released by the Italian consulate denied these "specious" allegations, highlighting that the visit was not in "solidarity with the settlers" but was instead part of a mission to "contribute to Palestinian institutional building in the field of culture and tourism promotion."
The statement added that the minister had visited the Old City of Hebron and had, "sorrowfully seen the consequences of occupation in order to give testimony about them," stressing that Italy's official position is that "settlements remain illegal under international law."
Youth Against Settlements, a Palestinian activist group, earlier accused Bray of showing "solidarity with fanatic Israeli settlers" and of acting in "clear contradiction with EU regulations and declared policy to stop any support and/or cooperation with the Israeli settlements in the West Bank."
"Bray is now seen as a partner in the occupation and oppression regime of the Israeli government and settler movement, which carries out human rights violations in Hebron on a daily basis," said a statement posted by the group on Facebook.
The minister visited Hebron under the guidance of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, a civilian observer mission that records violations of international humanitarian law and other incidents which occur in the city.
During the tour, a representative of the Hebron Jewish settler community, American-born David Wilder, approached the minister and shook his hand. The minister subsequently continued on a tour with the settler leader, as seen in a Youtube video that has been leaked.
The video shows him being led by Wilder through a museum and day-care center in Beit Hadassa, an illegal Jewish settlement in the center of Hebron's Old City.
On his blog, the minister mentions both the tour of the Palestinian souq as well as the meeting with the Israeli settler. He mentions that the souq was "covered with iron nets to protect them from the rocks and garbage thrown from the windows of settlers."
In the same post, he also mentions meeting with Israeli culture minister Limor Livnat, and discussing ways to increase "cooperation" between the two states.
The minister did not appear to hesitate to meet with the representative of the settler community when approached.
The Hebron Jewish community has referred to the visit as a "historic meeting."
According to Israel National News, "Hebron's Jewish community welcomes such visits and hopes that other international leaders, particularly those from the EU, will follow in Minister Bray's footsteps, following his example, and meet with Hebron community leaders."
Hebron is a frequent site of clashes due to the presence of 500 Israeli settlers in the Old City, many of whom have illegally occupied Palestinian houses and forcibly removed the original inhabitants. They are protected by thousands of Israeli forces. Settlers and Israeli forces regularly target local Palestinans for harassment, and many have been forced from their homes as a result.
A 1997 agreement split Hebron into areas of Palestinian and Israeli control.
The Israeli military-controlled H2 zone includes the ancient Old City, home of the revered Ibrahimi Mosque - also split into a synagogue referred to as the Cave of the Patriarchs - and the once thriving Shuhada street, now just shuttered shops fronts and closed homes.
Jewish settlers have forcibly confiscated land and evicted Palestinians from their homes throughout the Old City of Hebron. A 2006 survey by Israeli organization B’Tselem revealed that around 1,014 Palestinian homes in the Old City had been vacated by their occupants and more than 1,800 businesses had been closed as a result of the Israeli takeover.