A member of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) walks past the Beit Romano settlement in Hebron, in the West Bank January 29, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
The letter “T” in the acronym TIPH stands for “Temporary” but the Temporary International Presence in Hebron has been around continuously since 1997.
Originally, TIPH was established in the tense atmosphere that followed the despicable massacre of Muslim worshipers in February 1994 at the Cave of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein, a resident of nearby Kiryat Arba. That first mission really was temporary, lasting for only three months, from May until August. In 1997, TIPH was mandated with monitoring compliance with the agreement that split Hebron as part of the Oslo Accords. Some 80% of the city, home to more than 220,000 Palestinians, was handed over to the Palestinian Authority and became known as H-1, while Israel maintained military control over the other 20%, called H-2, where some 1,000 Jews reside surrounded by Palestinians.
Its observers, all civilians, patrol the streets wearing their distinctive vests and produce reports focusing on alleged Israeli abuses against Palestinians.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would not be extending TIPH’s mandate, which was due for renewal at the end of the month.
Since the group was meant to be temporary, as its name suggests, under the Hebron Agreement it was determined that Israel and the Palestinians had to renew the organization’s mandate every six months. Although it has never been popular in Israel – and in particular has suffered poor relations with Jewish residents of Hebron – the monitoring organization’s mandate has until now been routinely and regularly renewed.
TIPH’s 64 international civilian observers, who operate alongside some 13 local members, come from Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. The presence of Turkish observers has been considered particularly absurd by Israelis, who say it prevents even the pretense of objectivity.
“We will not allow an international force to act against us,” Netanyahu said in a statement to the press announcing his decision to kick out TIPH.
Hebron is Judaism’s second-most holy city, where there had been a Jewish presence for thousands of years, until the 1929 massacre of Jews by their Arab neighbors – long before the State of Israel was born – forced the surviving members of the Jewish community to leave.
According to TIPH’s own website, its mandate includes seven tasks:
“To promote by its presence a feeling of security to the Palestinians of Hebron; 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; to observe the enhancement of peace and prosperity among Palestinians; to assist in the promotion and execution of projects initiated by the donor countries; to encourage economic development and growth in Hebron; to provide reports; and to coordinate its activities with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.”
Increased pressure to end TIPH’s mandate has come from Jewish leaders in Judea and Samaria and right-wing MKs, following the emergence last July of a video showing a Swiss TIPH member slapping a 10-year-old Jewish boy in the face and a Channel 12 TV news report the same month showing security-camera footage of a clearly identifiable member of TIPH slashing the tires of a vehicle belonging to a Jewish resident of Hebron.
The prime minister summoned TIPH head Einar Johnsen in the wake of the footage; the organization condemned the incidents and expelled both staffers caught on film.
Last week, shortly before Netanyahu announced the decision to end TIPH’s current term in Hebron, Strategic Affairs and Public Safety Minister Gilad Erdan handed him a police report claiming that TIPH members were “deliberately creating friction to justify their high salary.” The Palestinians decried the decision, with some saying that they feared a wave of Jewish violence without TIPH’s presence. But the observer group has clearly become part of the problem instead of the solution. Its presence has not prevented lethal attacks by Palestinians on Jews in and near the city. It has been part of an attempt to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is now up to the Israeli forces to keep the peace in Hebron. Their work will be easier without an antagonistic foreign presence fanning the flames.
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