Knesset caucus demands ouster of Hebron observer force in wake of new revelation

A Knesset caucus demanded that a civilian observer group in Hebron be removed from the city for associating with radical group Breaking the Silence. 

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

For the second time in five weeks, the chairmen of the Knesset’s Land of Israel caucus called on Tuesday for the government not to renew the mandate for the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), a civilian observer mission long accused of bias in favor of the Palestinians, after a revelation that the group has been working with a radical NGO.

Israel Hayom reported Monday that the observer mission has been running joint tours of Hebron with Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence for groups of diplomats and left-wing activists.

Breaking the Silence opposes Israeli control of Judea and Samaria. Most of its funding comes from foreign governments. In 2009, Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz, “Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a ‘human rights organization.’”

“Following the exposure of TIPH’s ties with Breaking the Silence (BTS) and the active and obsessive involvement of the observer force in pro-Palestinian, anti-Semitic, defamatory and false propaganda against Israel — in complete contravention of the force’s mandate — we again call upon the government to do what is needed and announce the end of the TIPH mandate in Hebron already at the end of this December,” said Likud MK Yoav Kish and MK Betzalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home party.

According to the report, TIPH claims that its members either join Breaking the Silence tours as individuals or speak to the group on a voluntary basis, independently of their work with the observer organization.

However, people with knowledge of the matter say that the ties between the groups are quite close and come from the top. Israel Hayom said that the head of BTS met with TIPH leader Einar Johnsen in his Hebron office several times before the joint work began.

TIPH is considered pro-Palestinian by Israeli right-wing circles. Israel Hayom reported that TIPH funds the publication of a book titled Hebron and its Surroundings, which it said adopts the Palestinian narrative and glides over the truth about Arab terrorism.

The book refers to 1948 as the “year of the Nakba (Catastrophe),” and says that between October 2015 and May 2016 “22 Palestinians and one Jew were killed,” without noting that those Palestinians were terrorists actively trying to harm Israeli soldiers and civilians, and that the Jew was a terrorist victim.

The Knesset caucus first called for TIPH’s ouster in November, following revelations by a former member of the force that its officials broke Israeli law in various ways. For instance, they bundled members who engaged in physical altercations with Hebron Jews out of the country so that they could avoid being questioned by Israeli authorities.

At that time, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely asked the prime minister not to extend their mandate due to it being “inconsistent with Israeli interests.”

The civilian observers started operating in Hebron following the massacre of 29 Arabs in the Cave of the Patriarchs by Dr. Baruch Goldstein in 1994. The mission was withdrawn twice but ever since Hebron was divided into Palestinian-controlled and Israeli-controlled sections in 1997, it has been a constant presence in the city.

Its mandate, however, comes up for renewal every three months by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.