I don’t write a whole lot anymore. Every now and then a topic snaps at me, but I rarely snap back.
Tonight I fiddled with my feelings, and couldn’t stop my fingers.
Having worked for years to have the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) removed from Hebron, I am of course overjoyed that finally they will be leaving.
A little background:
The international organization called TIPH is responsible to the United States and Russia. It was invented following the winter events of 1994, when Baruch Goldstein shot and killed 29 Arabs at the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat Hamachpela).
They ventured from six countries: Norway, which always provided the head of mission; Italy, which always provided the deputy head of mission; Sweden; Switzerland; Denmark; and Turkey.
Originally, they strutted around the streets of Hebron for about six months and then vanished. But following the signing and implementation of the Hebron Accords in January 1997, the cursed agreement not only split the city, but also transferred or abandoned most of it to Yasser Arafat, effectively putting the security of Hebron’s Jewish community in his bloody hands.
To be clear, this was our assessment. But just to be sure, senior security officials repeated this mantra numerous times, primarily as an excuse why they couldn’t provide 100% security to the Hebron Jewish community.
Originally, the Hebron community decided to avoid TIPH, not initiating any meetings with them, speaking with them, or interacting with them in any way.
However, a small group of us, working with communications specialists, journalists and the like, realized that some sort of discourse might be helpful. So, since at the time I still lived in Kiryat Arba and not in Hebron proper, we decided I wasn’t formally obligated to abide by the community’s decision and I was given free rein to deal with them.
At first, I gave them a full tour of Jewish Hebron. That happened once, or maybe twice. It was too much for them to handle. Ignorance can really be bliss, if that’s what you so desire.
So the tours were reduced to a session in Hebron Museum, a short tour of the history of Jewish Hebron, and then a question and answer session.
Those were fairly common until one observer asked: We know you don’t like us here, so can you tell us how you would like to see us?
I didn’t have to think long about my retort: We’d like to see you with your suitcases, on the way to the airport.
Needless to say, that didn’t go over great.
One time, the head of mission asked me why we disliked them so much. So I asked him, “How would you feel if strangers, wearing funny hats and clothing, who didn’t speak your language, followed your children around, filming them everywhere they went? Would you like that?”
To which he replied, “Well, yes, I can see your point.”
I was once asked to speak at the TIPH headquarters on the “other side of the city.”
A colleague had done the same several months earlier. But he made the mistake of driving there. Even though he parked in the TIPH parking lot, with TIPH guards on the grounds, his car was destroyed.
SO WHEN I ventured over there, they brought me and returned me.
The subject matter was clearly defined: History and no politics. Fine, no problems with that, until, following the lecture, the participants asked political questions, which I had no choice but to answer, politically.
All went well until it was time to wrap up, at which time I held a page from an Oslo newspaper with a translation to English that was written by a TIPH observer, claiming that the Arab attacks and terror could only be compared with the “freedom fighters” in WW2, whereby the Jews were compared to the Nazi SS.
They weren’t overly overjoyed with this presentation and quickly sent me back to “my side” so as not to do any more damage.
On the way home, the TIPH driver told me, “I never knew about the Jewish tradition of the ‘Ibrahimi mosque,’” aka the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
And to be clear, they weren’t all evil. One Italian observer, years ago, sat with me numerous times, and at one meeting handed me an envelope with photos for my use. These included a picture of beaming TIPH officials with Arafat, here in Hebron.
I could keep going, as 25 years leaves you with good juicy stories. Anyone who is interested is welcome to do a simple Google search for “David Wilder+Tiph.” There are plenty of articles, at least 2 of which made it to the op-ed pages of The Jerusalem Post.
That’s all in the past. My focus is now geared more toward the future.
TIPH’s goals included not only Hebron. Their long-term objective was to act as an “observer” organization throughout all of Judea and Samaria. At numerous junctures during various “peace talks,” the idea of an international force patrolling Judea and Samaria was on the table – not only as neutral observers, but also armed.
Our “friends from afar” still have not yet grounded this possibility, as seen this week when these European allies suggested sending foreign observers to overlook the upcoming Israeli elections in order to ensure their credibility.
This is, of course, absurd, that is, unless you happen to be European.
There are no assurances that this bizarre and dangerous idea will not continue to surface.
It is dangerous because it is an overt challenge to Israeli sovereignty. Keeping in mind that our neighbors include Gilo, Ramot and Ramat Eshkol in the same breath with Hebron, Ma’aleh Adumim and Beit El.
Without any doubt, the TIPH presence in Hebron was detrimental to our security, as I pointed out numerous times over the years. The very thought of such an organization, with official sanction, meandering through Jewish communities, be they in Jerusalem or anywhere else, is more than disturbing; it is anathema.
Hopefully, Netanyahu has learned from his mistakes – the Hebron Accords, the Wye Accords and permitting a hostile organization such as TIPH to function within a Jewish community – and will, as long as he is premier, take care to prevent such possibilities in the future.
It will finally happen. TIPH is as I hoped to see them: on their way to the airport, suitcases in hand.
Goodbye and good riddance.
The writer was spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron for 22 years.