My Word: TIPH and threats: Temporary and permanent

Recently, it has become clearer the international observers have been playing a one-sided role, and, as you might guess, that is not on Israel’s side.

A member of TIPH - Temporary International Presence in Hebron foreign observer force, January 2019 (photo credit: JEWISH COMMUNITY OF HEBRON)
A member of TIPH - Temporary International Presence in Hebron foreign observer force, January 2019
There is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program, economist Milton Friedman used to say. And in this case, five foreign governments are involved.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 28 announced that Israel would not be extending the mandate of the TIPH observers in Hebron, which was due for renewal at the end of the month. The group has been around so long that few people seem to remember that the initial “T” in its name stands for the word “Temporary.”
The Temporary International Presence in Hebron has been monitoring the situation of the city since 1994. Recently, it has become clearer that beyond monitoring, the international observers have been playing a one-sided role, and, as you might guess, that is not on Israel’s side. Its 64 observers, who are civilians, patrol the streets wearing distinctive vests embossed with the TIPH initials, and produce reports focusing on alleged Israeli abuses against Palestinians.
TIPH was established following the despicable massacre of Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein, a resident of nearby Kiryat Arba. Three years later it was mandated to monitor compliance with the agreement, which as part of the Oslo Accords split the city into two: H1, some 80% of the city, which is home to more than 220,000 Palestinians, and which is under Palestinian Authority control, and H2, the other 20%, where 1,000 Jews reside surrounded by Palestinians in an area under Israeli military control.
Under the agreement, in accordance with its supposedly temporary nature, the organization’s mandate comes up for renewal every six months. Despite its lack of popularity in Israel, until now TIPH’s mandate was routinely renewed, possibly partly to avoid upsetting relations with the countries which send observers. Indeed, it didn’t take long for Norway, which supplies observers along with Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey, to declare the move “worrying,” a strong-sounding word in diplomatic language.
The Palestinians, for their part, not only claimed that ending TIPH’s presence was illegal (despite the renewal clause), but called for a UN force to replace it in Hebron and in other Israeli-controlled areas, including east Jerusalem.
TWENTY-FIVE years is a long time for something temporary, but it is not even a blip on the timeline of Hebron’s history. There was a continuous Jewish presence in Hebron, Judaism’s second-most holy city, for thousands of years. It ended with the 1929 massacre of Jews by their Arab neighbors, which forced the surviving members of the Jewish community to flee. This was, of course, long before the State of Israel was established (in 1948), belying the mantra that “the Palestinian-Israeli” conflict started with Israel’s birth or with the “settlements” that followed the Six Day War in 1967.
In the War of Independence, Hebron and the surrounding areas came under Jordanian control, and the Jews were the victims of ethnic cleansing. (The massacre of the Jewish residents of Gush Etzion is one of the country’s most overlooked tragedies.) Israel regained control after the Arab world tried yet again to destroy the Jewish state in 1967.
As my Jerusalem Post colleague Seth J. Frantzman points out, after more than five decades, Israel has controlled the area longer than either the British or the Jordanians (or the Palestinian Authority) but TIPH has “temporarily” patrolled Hebron’s streets for more years than Jordan ruled there.
TIPH’s website lists its mandate as comprising seven main 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.”
Israelis, you might notice, are barely deemed worthy of mention, let alone protection.
It seems memories are shorter than TIPH’s presence. Far from having a calming effect, TIPH itself has occasionally come under attack – from the very Palestinians they profess to be protecting. The worst incident was in March 2002 when Swiss national Catherine Berruex and Turkish citizen Turgut Cengiz Toytunc were killed and another Turkish observer wounded when a Palestinian opened fire at close range on their clearly marked car. TIPH tributes speak of their “tragic deaths,” but refrain from mentioning the Palestinian identity of their killers.
In another serious incident, in February 2006, TIPH staffers fled their offices when they came under attack by hundreds of rock-throwing Palestinians in the wake of the publication in Denmark and Norway of the cartoons of Muhammad as a bomb-carrying terrorist.
TIPH was in place but ineffective in a terror attack that most Israelis find hard to forget: In March 2001, 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass was fatally shot in the head by a Palestinian sniper as she sat in her stroller at the entrance to Hebron’s Avraham Avinu neighborhood.
The decision to end TIPH’s mandate did not come out of the blue. Last July, a video emerged showing a Swiss TIPH member slapping a 10-year-old Jewish boy in the face and the same month a Hadashot TV news report showed security camera footage of a TIPH member slashing the tires of a vehicle belonging to a Jewish Hebron resident.
Both staffers were expelled by TIPH, but their departure did not restore even the pretense of impartiality.
Shortly before Netanyahu announced that he was terminating TIPH’s term, 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 Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff noted this week that Erdan also charged that TIPH members had interfered with the work of IDF soldiers and the police, created friction with the Jewish residents, and cooperated with extremist left-wing organizations that promote the delegitimization of Israel.
TIPH’S LONG-TERM temporary presence in Hebron is part of a much broader phenomenon: The ongoing attempt to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We will not allow an international force to act against us,” Netanyahu said in his announcement that he was kicking TIPH out.
Although there are some 200 ongoing territorial disputes around the globe, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict receives more attention than others – to Israel’s detriment.
A bill in Ireland is progressing that could result in fines of up to €250,000 or up to five years in jail for selling products from Jewish companies based in “the West Bank,” Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. Apartheid, anyone?
Meanwhile this week, Amnesty International called on online vacation booking sites Airbnb,, Expedia and TripAdvisor to boycott Jewish listings in east Jerusalem in addition to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank.)
In response to Amnesty’s appeal, Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation of the UK and Ireland, issued a statement decrying the organization’s lack of neutrality and “whitewashing any culpability the Palestinian leadership and perpetrators of terrorism have with regards to the conflict.” “For Amnesty to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Israel and the settlements, and to encourage boycotts which harm the Palestinian people and economy, shows that they are more concerned with jumping on an anti-Israel bandwagon than actually helping the Palestinians into a better position and a better life,” he said.
World Jewish Congress CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer said, “If Amnesty wishes to involve itself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it should center its attention on the real human rights abuses ongoing in Palestinian territories, and not attack corporate businesses who strive to bridge divides and build peace through global tourism and interaction.”
There are undoubtedly some Jewish residents of Hebron who are hotheads, but it is up to the Israeli public to condemn them and the Israeli authorities to deal with them. According to TIPH’s underlying criteria, there should be international observers placed in every city where there are hate crimes – unless they are committed against the Jewish community. 
Sadly, blind hatred of Israel is not temporary, nor is it restricted to the streets of Hebron.