May 27, 2008
TIPH in Hebron - Articles by David Wilder
To TIPH or Not to TIPH
Addressing the question of international observers in Israel
(An abbreviated version of this article was printed in the Jerusalem Post, headlined, 'To Tiph or not to Tiph' on December 17, 2000)
Israel’s political leadership is presently debating the merits of an international observer force to be deployed throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Hebron has first-hand experience with such a force. For almost four years anyone visiting Hebron has witnessed, among other things, small white Opal automobiles traveling the narrow road between Hebron’s three Jewish neighborhoods. Big red letters reading TIPH adorn the sides of the car, while a small triangular flag flies from the radio antenna. The car’s occupants, wear grayish off-white uniforms with blue sleeves and a red armband reading OBSERVER.
The Temporary International Presence in Hebron, otherwise known as TIPH has frequented Hebron’s streets for the past four years. TIPH observers are imported from six ‘host’ countries, four of which are Scandinavian: Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as Italy and Turkey. Their job is to observe. “Observation” according to TIPH needs to be defined.
According to the official TIPH mandate, their major functions include:
· to provide by their presence a feeling of security to the Palestinians of Hebron;
· to help promote stability and an appropriate environment conductive 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.
The TIPH internet homepage says explicitly, “It is TIPH's purpose to create a feeling of security among the Palestinian population of Hebron and contribute in restoring normal life” The allegations implicit in this mandate are clear. In spite of the fact that the Palestinian Authority now controls 80% of Hebron, including the hills overlooking the Jewish community, Hebron’s Arabs are ‘insecure’ and their lives are abnormal due to the Israeli presence in the city. TIPH has no obligation to ‘observe’ Arab instigation or violence against Hebron’s Jewish citizens.
TIPH observers are unarmed, that is, they carry no firearms. However, they are armed with movie cameras, tape recorders and notebooks. Such equipment, when utilized objectively, is not definable as weapons. However, when used subjectively, video cameras can definitely be classified as ammunition.
For example: In March 1998 soldiers near Beit Hadassah apprehended an Arab on the Israeli 'wanted list.' The Arab resisted arrest, reacted violently and was subdued. TIPH observers did not arrive in time to witness the Arab’s violent resistance, but did film his being restrained.
As they were filming, an eight year old Israeli boy sitting on a soldier’s lap, shot a toy water gun at one of the TIPH observers. The observer grabbed the child, hit him in the chest, and dug his fingers into the child's neck. Fingernail marks and the red patches on the boy's chest were both witnessed and recorded by Israeli police, when later a complaint was issued.
The TIPH observer then removed his nametags, preventing identification, and attempted to leave the area.
This past summer a 16 year old Hebron girl was physically assaulted by an Arab while walking from Hebron to Kiryat Arba. TIPH observers did not record the attempted rape, but did record the reaction of angry Jewish residents.
The point being made is quite simple: TIPH observation is a one-way street. They see what they want to see and ignore what they wish to ignore.
There are other examples of TIPH’s lack of objectivity. A participant in the Norwegian contingent was interviewed in a Oslo suburb newspaper, ‘Nordstrands Blad’, on April 5, 2000. The article begins, “Hebron has always been a Palestinian city with a small Jewish population.” Yngvil Mortensen says about Israeli soldiers, “the make noise, cause damage on houses, throw down waste and urine [from the rooftops] and let the Jewish settlers almost ravage freely.”
When asked about Palestinian stone-throwers she responds, “Would you have liked to be checked three times a day by foreign soldiers? Or that your city is occupied by a foreign power? … If we compare with the German occupation of Norway during the 2nd World War, we called the sabotage and attacks on Germans resistance fighting.”
Every three months TIPH issues a ‘Periodic Report’ to the host countries, Israel and the United States. These reports are tagged ‘secret’ and are generally unavailable to anyone else. However one copy of these reports, “Periodic Report III, dated 1 October 1997 – 31 March 1998 was obtained. Several examples of very one-sided observations:
“Settlers in the Old City have harassed their Palestinian neighbors by throwing objects (stones, bottles, acid, vegetables and eggs), trespassing of Palestinian properties during the night, threatening and using abrasive language.”
The one-sidedness of these types of accusations is reflected by the fact that they are based, many times, not on eyewitness accounts, but rather on complaints issued by Arabs. Hebron’s Jewish Community has never been requested to respond to these charges, which are entirely false.
“Also, soldiers have been witnessed playing with children…the intermingling between settlers and IDF weakens the respect for the responsible security apparatus. It is also undermining the feeling of equal protection under the law…it is in the interest of all parties that such conduct should be stopped.”
The report ignores the fact that during March 1998 Hebron came under a full week of attacks by Arabs, including rock and fire-bomb attacks, as well as 2 shooting attacks at the Avraham Avinu neighborhood.
The only mention of Arab attacks against Jews in the 15 page report records: “TIPH has also observed and reported attacks against the settlers, who frequently complain about their feeling of insecurity. When settlers complain about lack of security, this often results in increased military presence, exacerbating the situation for the Palestinians”.
How does TIPH affect the IDF? Correspondent Hugh Pope, writing in the Wall Street Journal on November 10, 2000 wrote, "When TIPH comes past, we put our guns down," said a young Israeli soldier guarding a deserted crossroad in the 20% of Hebron controlled by the Israeli army.”
When examining the possibility of an international observer force throughout Yesha, it is necessary to ask: are we prepared to accept such international observers in Gilo? What will be the Israeli response to such observers stationed in Beit Jalla, during an Arab shooting attack on Gilo? Will the IDF dare retaliate, knowing that Israeli shooting may endanger the ‘observers.’
The final question that must be addressed is the actual effectiveness of the observer force in enforcing any type of normality. The answer seems to be crystal clear. TIPH observers have theoretically increased the Arab sense of security over the past four years, thereby bringing about a ‘relaxing of tensions’ in the city. Despite this, the Jewish Community of Hebron has been under constant shooting attacks for the past two months. If this is any measure of TIPH’s ability to bring about peace and quiet, they can only be judged as a total failure.
On November 10, 2000 Mr. Einar Henriksen, current TIPH Head of Mission issued the following statement: "During the last weeks, the level of conflict has been high. In Hebron, as well as elsewhere, this has unfortunately resulted in a high number of injuries and casualties. I take this opportunity to express my condolences to the bereaved families and to wish the injured full and speedy recovery." This is full extent of TIPH’s reaction to Arab attempts to kill Israelis day after day, night after night, in Hebron.
Allowing such biased, subjective, and in some cases, anti-Semitic ‘observers’ throughout Yesha and possibly in “Israel proper” can only be detrimental to the best interests of the State of Israel.
Hebron-Past, Present and Forever
by David Wilder
The Jewish Community of Hebron
Strangers in a Strange Land
March 8, 1998
For a moment use your imagination: A narrow street, shops, automobiles, horses, push-carts, tens (sometimes hundreds or more) of people milling about, in the middle of the street. Among the people some adorn Kafiyas. Some women wear clothe mask covering their faces. Others only cover their hair. Other men and women also have their heads covered, with kippahs (Yarmulkahs) and kerchiefs respectively. A uniformed military presence is obvious too.
Into this mass confusion add some surrealism: small white cars with red lettering on the side. Flying from the antenna is a triangular flag, also with red lettering. Standing next to the car are its driver and passenger, both wearing off-white gray uniforms and blue vests.
Now the icing on the cake: Walking down the middle of the street is a group of red-hatted (baseball cap) people.
It sounds like a scene out of a bad science fiction book? Well, its not science fiction, but it is strange.
Hebron 1998 - it's not enough that Jews and Arabs mingle - mostly indifferent to each other - sometimes doing business together - occasional problems, but mostly, each going about his or her own life, ignoring the others. Hebron has turned into an international city -- with unwanted guests.
Two groups today wander the streets of Hebron - one official, the other unofficial. They are both known by acronyms: TIPH and CPT: Temporary International Presence Hebron and Christian Peacekeeping Team.
TIPH has been in Hebron for about a year. Actually they made their first appearance almost four years ago but that didn't last very long. Then, they wore white uniforms and red hats - they were labeled "The Pizza Men." Today, these hundred or so men and women from various countries have invaded. Turkey, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Switzerland among those nations represented. What do they do in Hebron? Officially, they are 'observers.' So, they observe. What do they observe? That is a good question. They see what they want to see. And what they don't want to see - well, your guess is as good as mine.
To be fair, I have had some personal contact with groups of these people - periodically I give them tours of Ma'arat HaMachpela and an occasional lecture about the Jewish history of Hebron. Once in a while we strike up a conversation in the street. My experience has shown that they are not all Israel-Jew haters. Some are neutral, a few like us, and there are others… However, the group, as a group, cannot be seen as impartial. I have been told that recently they began issuing reports about Palestinian infractions in Hebron. But these accounts are few and far between - and much too late. The Arab violence against Jews in Hebron, and unceasing violations of the Hebron accords has left a bloody trail one year long. The fact that now they remember to add a word here or there about Arab transgressions is no excuse for the overt bias shown since they arrived in Hebron.
Nevertheless, the problem with their being in Hebron is deeper than the pure objectivity, or lack of it. Again, imagine walking down the street - over one shoulder you watch to make sure your next-door neighbor isn't planning on sticking a knife in your back. Over the other shoulder you watch for the blue-vested TIPH with their movie cameras and notebooks, jotting down whatever you do or say. Shades of Big Brother is Watching! TIPH presence certainly doesn't add to a cool, calm and relaxed living atmosphere.
Occasionally tempers flare and uncalled for actions occur. For example, this week Israeli soldiers near Beit Hadassah apprehended an Arab on the Israeli 'wanted list.' The Arab resisted arrest, reacted violently and was subdued. Of course, TIPH missed the first part of the show and arrived for the second act, movie cameras and all. As they were filming, an eight year old, sitting on a soldiers lap, played with a toy water gun. It seems that he managed to shoot at one of the TIPH observers, whose pants were dampened. Whether the child did this intentionally or not, I don't know - possibly yes, possibly no. But the TIPH observer grabbed the child, hit him in the chest, and dug his fingers into the child's neck. Fingernail marks and the red patches on the boy's chest were both witnessed and recorded by Israeli police, when later, a complaint was issued.
The TIPH observer then removed his nametags, preventing identification, and attempted to leave the area.
Later, a Reuters correspondent called me, asking for a reaction to the following account she had received: Jewish settlers threw water and eggs at TIPH observers filming Israeli soldiers arresting two Arabs. Israeli cars blocked the road, preventing the TIPH people from leaving the area, until Israeli security forces intervened.
This is not the norm. It is serious, should not have occurred and should not be repeated. The TIPH observer who attacked an 8 year old who squirted him with a water gun must be severely reprimanded and possibly be brought to trial and deported.
The major problem with TIPH is the overwhelming naivete that plagues their existence here. They have no idea what they are observing, due to a total lack of cognizance as to the underlying conflicts that permeate Hebron. They try to make sense out of events which are foreign to their thought processes, because of their inability to understand what has led up to the event in question, and its possible consequences. They then report inaccurately back to their superiors giving accounts of what they thought they saw, without realizing what they truly witnessed. Of course, a staggering percentage of their subjective chronicles shed a negative light on the IDF and/or Israeli citizens in Hebron.
I once had an interesting conversation with two of these observers both of whom come from Italy. They said to me: "We are both religious Roman Catholics. You (the Jews) and the Arabs are both religious. Religion should unify you. Why doesn’t it?"
So, I replied, "Where was this religious unity when Jews were slaughtered by the thousands by Christians during the Crusades, among other time periods, because they refused to accept Christianity?"
They looked at each other, scratched their heads, and then one responded, "Well, you are right, but that doesn't make it right."
This is the 'impartial observer force' doing its duty in Hebron. Strangers in a strange land.