Leaked Report Renews Calls to Oust TIPH from Hebron

Israeli lawmakers decry foreign observers as agitators.

24.12.18, 15:26
(PHOTO: TIPH headquarters in the H1 Palestinian Authority section of Hebron. Credit: Wiki Commons.)
The pressure to end TIPH's presence in Hebron is growing following a Knesset conference and a leaked confidential report. Two incidents of attacks on Jewish residents this year have brought the group into the spotlight. Since the 1997 Hebron Accords, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron has patrolled the city in order to protect Palestinian Authority residents. Two previous incarnations of TIPH existed in 1994 and 1996. 
On Monday a group of Members of Knesset, government ministers and Jewish Hebron residents held a conference at the Knesset to celebrate the community. Billed as a show of solidarity for the Hebron settlers, the issue of TIPH was on the top of the agenda.
The conference was hosted by Members of Knesset Yoav Kisch (Likud Party) and Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home Party). In attendance was Avraham Ben Yosef, head of Hebron's Municipal Administration, and Orit Strook, a former Knesset member and long-time Hebron resident.
Since leaving Knesset, Strook has been working behind the scenes for the community. She praised the Knesset's new zoning plans for the Hezekiah quarter and the old wholesale market (Mitzpe Shalhevet), as well as the new Tel Hevron archaeological site. "They also responded appropriately to UNESCO's hallucinatory decision that Hebron is solely a Palestinian heritage city," she told Israel National News.
The conference was scheduled a day before a conference hosted by the Meretz Party calling for the expulsion of Jews from Hebron.  Strook said those who call for the removal of Jews from Hebron from Jews are on the extreme fringes of society. "Meretz apparently smells new elections in the air and wants to show their constituents that they are doing something, but our conference will be attended by Members of Knesset, ministers and party leaders proving we have a consensus when it comes to support and that the majority of Israelis have no problem with Jews living in Hebron," she said.
The center of attention was on TIPH, which has it's mandate renewed every six months. Originally conceived by the United Nations to keep the peace between Jewish and Arab residents, the foreign observers in their vests and white cars have been accused of blatant bias against Israel. According to their official website, part of their mission is to "promote by its presence a feeling of security to the Palestinians of Hebron" and "to help promote stability and an appropriate environment conducive to the enhancement of the well-being of the Palestinians of Hebron and their economic development." They also "monitor Israeli settlers." Observers come from Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
In July, a TIPH observer was sent back to his home country after being caught on video slapping a ten-year-old Jewish boy in the face. The observer had been participating in a Breaking the Silence tour of the city, something not allowed according to TIPH's protocols. Later that month, it was revealed that a TIPH member was filmed puncturing the tire of a Jewish resident's vehicle.
This month, a TIPH report severely criticizing Israel and condemning the Jewish civilian presence in the city was released. The leaked report has resulted in more backlash against the group. The confidential report was quoted in part by reporter Uri Blau in Haaretz newspaper. The article entitled "Confidential Report Based on 20 Years of Monitoring Claims: Israel Regularly Breaks International Law in Hebron" complains that Palestinian Authority residents face restrictions in the Israeli controlled side of the city, but fails to mention that the 80% of Hebron the PA controls is completely off-limits to Israelis. It also attacked the State of Israel for opening the Tel Hevron archaeological garden, because it highlights the Jewish historical connection to the city. No mention is made of Arab terrorist attacks against Israelis.
The paper quoted an unnamed diplomat who has seen the report, but the full 100-page document is confidential. The writer interviewed a member of TIPH who stated "TIPH reports are not for publication. They are transferred to both sides based on the understanding that they will not be passed on to other parties, certainly not the media. Therefore, we have no intention of commenting on partial information or any other publications about this issue." After the Haaretz expose on the TIPH report, the issue was covered by multiple pro-Palestinian media outlets such as the International Middle East Media Center, and the Palestine News Network.
Long-time Haaretz reporter Uri Blau gained notoriety in 2009 for publishing illegally obtained classified Israel Defense Force documents that dealt with how the army carried out preventative operations on terrorists. Upon the arrest of the former IDF soldier who gave him the information, he fled the country. Upon his return he agreed to a plea bargain and served 4 months community service for possession of classified IDF documents.
This is not the first time Haaretz newspaper has faced legal action. In June 2001, veteran Haaretz journalist Amira Hass was ordered to pay the Jewish Community of Hebron 250,000 shekels in damages after the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled she had published slander.
Hass published unsubstantiated accounts that local Jewish residents defiled the dead body of a terrorist who has just been killed by the IDF in front of a Jewish apartment complex. Hass wrote that Jewish residents kicked, spit and otherwise abused the corpse as it lay outside Beit Hadassah, a residential Jewish building. The Jewish residents initially asked for a written apology but when Haaretz refused, they sued, accusing them of falsely reporting the story with malicious intent. TV footage of the incident proved Haaretz's account was false.  Judge Rachel Shalev-Gartel ruled that Hass had damaged the community's reputation. 
The new Haaretz article about TIPH is generating a backlash and the renewed focus on the organization may bring about its ouster from Hebron. My Israel chairwoman Sarah Haetzni-Cohen, who grew up in Hebron, recently responded to the issue in Makor Rishon newspaper stating, "Suddenly, a confidential report finds its way to Haaretz. How? I can only guess. And there -- the usual lies: Israel violates international law, violates freedom of worship, etc. They reach foreign representatives and diplomats through their reports and countless briefings and tours. We pay the price."
In addition to the leaked report, this month it was reported that TIPH has been running joint tours of Hebron with the Breaking the Silence NGO for groups of diplomats and left-wing activists, in violation of its mandate. Unlike in the incident of the Jewish child being slapped, this was not the case of a single TIPH representative taking part in a tour, but pre-planned excursions with trained activists. 
In response to the revelation, MK Kisch and MK Smotrich stated, "following the exposure of TIPH’s ties with Breaking the Silence and the active and obsessive involvement of the observer force in pro-Palestinian, anti-Semitic, defamatory and false propaganda against Israel — in complete contravention of the force’s mandate — we again call upon the government to do what is needed and announce the end of the TIPH mandate in Hebron already at the end of this December."
This month it was revealed that TIPH has also been accused of bank fraud and other crimes. ‎TIPH’s former chief procurement and financial officer Bennet Nygaard Solum testified that “TIPH fails to meet its own code of ethics. It ‎disregards Israeli and Palestinian law in Hebron and ‎prefers to protect its own members from any ‎allegations of wrongdoing.”
In his affidavit, Nygaard Solum‎ admitted he had taken ‎part of such ‎cover-ups. "As the financial officer, I investigated fraud ‎allegations against three local employees who were ‎accused of drawing checks from the Arab Bank in ‎Hebron. The case centered around checks that were ‎not delivered to a supermarket that was our main ‎supplier,” Nygaard Solum stated in an affidavit.
Local ‎employees embezzled the money but "TIPH’s legal adviser instructed me not to mention ‎this incident in a hearing we had in 2011,” he said.‎
He also spoke of a 2009 previous fraud case which involved "incorrect sums in ‎procurement orders, which didn’t match what was ‎actually received by the purchasing department. For ‎example, an invoice would say we ordered 40 [cartons ‎of] milk but only 20 would arrive," he said. ‎
‎"The difference was divvied up between the local ‎employee and the supermarket. The procurement ‎officer at the time knew about the fraud but didn’t ‎report it to his superiors, so not as to lose his job," ‎he explained.
Nygaard Solum stated that he knew of the incident in which a TIPH member punctured the tire of Jewish resident's car, and that "TIPH’s deputy commander lied ‎to the police and said he didn’t know the observer ‎who did it, when, in fact, he did, in order to ‎protect TIPH."
In response, elected officials sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him not to renew TIPH's mandate. 
"It has been almost 22 years since TIPH was deployed ‎in Hebron, during which the observer force was ‎discovered to be biased, in the full sense of the ‎word, undermining IDF soldiers and the State of ‎Israel,” letter read.
‎“While the Jewish community in Hebron has suffered ‎thousands of terrorist attacks, TIPH observers have ‎been careful to monitor and report only on the ‎plight of the Palestinians in the city, and contrary ‎to their mandate, they host foreign diplomats on ‎anti-Israeli propaganda tours in the city, and ‎participate in activities organized by the boycott, ‎divestment and sanctions movement.”
The observers “regularly harass the Jewish residents ‎of the city and their children, and recently, two ‎violent incidents in which they were involved were ‎captured on camera. After 22 years, the time has come to bring TIPH’s ‎mandate, which was always intended to be temporary, ‎to an end.”
The letter was signed by MKs Yoav Kisch, Amir ‎Ohana, Nava Boker, Yehudah Glick, Sharren Haskel, ‎Miki Zohar Nurit Koren, ‎Bezalel Smotrich, Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli,  Nissan ‎Slomiansky, Yinon Azoulay, Yoav Ben ‎Tzur, Yakov Margi, Michael Malkieli and Dan Saida.‎
Likud MK Anat Berko and Deputy ‎Foreign ‎Minister Tzipi Hotovely had previously called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to explore terminating TIPH's mandate.
Karin Aggestam, a former TIPH observer and author of the 2001 journal article From theory to practice: Temporary International Presence in Hebron distinguishes between what she calls neutrality and impartiality. According to Aggestam, TIPH is not expected to be neutral, since she interprets its mandate as to monitor the welfare of the Palestinian Authority residents.
* End of the TIPH Mandate? - Arutz Sheva
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