TIPH, the international observatory task force that has been monitoring the divided West Bank city of Hebron since 1997, is a strange organization. Established in the wake of the massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs, the extent of its work is very unclear.
Not only is the activity of TIPH frowned upon by the Jewish settlers of Hebron, support for it is scarcely found among Palestinians and left-wing activists in Hebron. Many activists, who refused to speak about TIPH, admitted off the record that it did very little apart from going around the city in their white vehicles, carrying easily recognizable red license plates.
TIPH members said on Tuesday they only learned about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to discontinue its mandate from the media, adding "We are operating in the city as usual."
"We haven't received any official message from the Israeli government," an employee of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) said. He stressed that "our people are around the city right now," but TIPH personnel couldn't be seen in the city on Tuesday.
Facing increasing pressure from the right to cancel the observers’ mandate. Netanyahu announced Monday that he will not renew the mandate of the TIPH, saying "We will not allow the presence of an international force that operates against us."
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The military Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) also said it learned about it from the media. The force's mandate, which comes up for renewal every six months, was due to come to an end on January 31.
The United Nations said it regretted Israel's decision. "While the TIPH is not a United Nations body its role in contributing positively to defusing tensions in such a sensitive area has been widely recognised," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
"The settlers' attacks will increase," said Aref Jaber, a Palestinian resident of Hebron. TIPH's presence was particularly helpful to schoolchildren, he added, because they patrol the city "in the morning and the afternoon, when they go to and return from school."
"TIPH is our window to the world. They can show the Israeli occupation's ugly face - which is definitely annoying to the Israelis," said Bader Daour, a ceramics merchant in Hebron's old city.
Tthe city's mayor of Tayseer Abu Sinaneh said the Israelis "don't want there to be witnesses to their crimes, or any other crime they commit against the Palestinians anywhere, and especially in Hebron."
Settler leadership, however, welcomed news of the force's upcoming departure. They have accused the TIPH of harassing settlers and agitating against them.
Yishai Fleisher, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, said the TIPH observers "created an atmosphere of conflict, not a congenial atmosphere of peace."
Jews and Palestinians, he said, have inhabited the city for centuries: "We know each other and I'm sure we'll find a way to get along without Norwegian help," Fleisher said.
In recent months TIPH has been at the center of negative attention, following two incidents involving the group’s employees, one in which a TIPH worker was filmed puncturing the tires of a vehicle belonging to a settler living in the city, and another in which a Swiss observer was deported from Israel after slapping a settler boy. Following those incidents, Netanyahu summoned the mission’s chief in July for a meeting.
In December, Haaretz reported on a confidential report that the monitoring force put together, citing numerous violations of international law by Israel that seemed to confirm Hebron’s status as a city torn by both a civilian and military occupation.
The near-100-page-long report, commissioned to mark the 20th anniversary of TIPH, report was based on over 40,000 “incident reports” compiled over the years by TIPH’s team. It concludes that Hebron is moving in the opposite direction to the one agreed upon by Israel and the PLO in the Hebron Protocol.
Reuters contributed to this report.
This article was amended on February 7, 2019.