When Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan recommended not renewing the mandate of the international observer task force that monitored the the divided West Bank town of Hebron, he based his position on an Israel Police report that claimed that employees of the observer force, which was known as the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, or TIPH, of “creating situations showing friction” to justify their pay.
But the police report cited only three specific incidents in 2017 and 2018, which included two investigations into violence against TIPH observers by Jewish residents of the city. The third case involved alleged violence by an observer against a Jewish teenager.
Despite the small number of incidents cited, the report made sweeping conclusions, including the assertion that “the delegation members interfere with and confront soldiers at crossing points” and that “the delegation members have high salaries, and it appears that they are trying to justify their presence and activity in the area through situations reflecting friction ....”
Following Erdan’s recommendation and heavy right-wing pressure, in January 2019, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to renew TIPH’s mandate, which had functioned for 20 years in Hebron, a city with a large Palestinian population and small enclaves of Jews who live in uneasy coexistence.
“We will not permit the continued presence of an international force that is acting against us,” Netanyahu said at the time.
The three cases
One of the cases mentioned in the report involves two attacks by groups of teenagers on TIPH employees who were on duty in the Jewish section of Hebron. The TIPH members’ identity tags were also stolen. The investigation of the case was closed on the grounds that the perpetrators had not been identified.
The second case involved intentional damage to a mirror on a TIPH observer’s car, allegedly by a Jewish settler. That case also closed because the vandal could not be identified.
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The third case arose out of a complaint that a TIPH employee slapped a Jewish child who had thrown eggs or rocks at him during a tour of the city by “Breaking the Silence,” the organization of Israeli army veterans that opposes the occupation of the West Bank. The TIPH observer was deported from the country and the case was closed.
The report also claims that the Palestinians used the TIPH to file false complaints against the Israeli army and police that were then transferred to the Israeli District and Coordination Liaison Office, which coordinates contact between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Responding to an Haaretz query, Israel Police said in a statement that "The report in question is an internal document written at the time as a summary of TIPH activity, and included a general review of the organization and its activity, which concludes with insights based on the reality in the field at the time."
Decisions regarding the activity of the organization in Israel were made by Israel's political echelon, said the response, "not by the Israel Police."
Erdan’s office responded that the "Minister's decision not to extend TIPH's mandate in Hebron was based on a professional report formulated by the Judea and Samaria Police District. The three examples mentioned in the petition filed by Haaretz are merely a partial description of police investigations, but the police are not basing [its recommendation] solely on these investigations."
The statement added that "the reports also include decisions on the activity of TIPH observers that isn't necessarily criminal," adding that "activity that causes continuous friction and confrontation with IDF soldiers, is cynically used by Palestinians to file false complaints against the army and the police."
The conclusions of the report from the Israel Police were published in the media weeks before Netanyahu’s announcement that observer force’s mandate would not be renewed. Apart from saying that the observer force was acting against Israel, the prime minister did not provide the specific grounds for the decision.
The police initially refused to publish their entire report, but later did so in response to a freedom of information request from the Movement for the Freedom of Information and the anti-occupation organization Peace Now.
The two organizations also requested the intelligence analysis underlying the report but that request was denied. The state said in response that it was the police report that was ultimately provided to the Public Security Ministry.
Peace Now said in a statement that "It's very grave to find out that the only thing that was behind Netanyahu's decision to breach an international accord and harm Israel's image and foreign relations by expelling the TIPH observers were demands made by settlers and right-wing NGO that oppose TIPH presence in Hebron."
Peace Now stressed that "The fear of [classified] reports by the observers indicates that the Israeli government knows it has something to hide, and disgraceful acts are carried out in Hebron to protect a handful of settlers in the midst of Palestinian population, acts that must stopped."
The police described the intelligence analysis as “an internal document written at the time as a summary regarding the TIPH that includes a condensed general overview of the organization’s activity, concluding with insights based on the reality on the ground at the time.” The decisions regarding TIPH’s continued activity were a political matter not a police decision, the police added.
Israel’s decision not to renew the observer force’s mandate prompted a protest by Norway, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland and Turkey, which had contributed observers. Germany and the European Union also endorsed the protest statement.
Founded after massacre at Tomb of the Patriarchs
TIPH was founded by Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the 1998 Wye agreement signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Netanyahu during the Israeli leader’s first stint as prime minister.
The observer force was initially established under a different format, following the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers by an American-born Israeli, Baruch Goldstein, at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs. In its final form, the TIPH had 64 observers from the five countries.