The End of the Observer Mission in Hebron

It acted as a restraint on the settlers’ worst excesses, writes Jonathan Cook.

By Jonathan Cook

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and U.S. politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonization of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the U.S. last week. It blocked a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council expressing “regret” at Israel’s decision, and on Friday added that ending the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was an “internal matter” for Israel.

Hebron. (Marcin Monko via Flickr)

Hebron. (Marcin Monko via Flickr)

The TIPH was established in 1997 after a diplomatic protocol split the city into two zones, controlled separately by Israel and a Palestinian Authority created by the Oslo accords.

The “temporary” in its name was a reference to the expected five-year duration of the Oslo process. The need for TIPH, most assumed, would vanish when Israel ended the occupation and a Palestinian state was built in its place.

Israel Granted Free Hand in Hebron

While Oslo put the Palestinian Authority formally in charge of densely populated regions of the occupied territories, Israel was effectively given a free hand in Hebron to entrench its belligerent hold on Palestinian life.

Several hundred extremist Jewish settlers have gradually expanded their illegal enclave in the city center, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Many Palestinian residents have been forced out while the rest are all but imprisoned in their homes.

TIPH faced an impossible task from the outset: to “maintain normal life” for Hebron’s Palestinians in the face of Israel’s structural violence.

Until the report was leaked, its documentation of Israel’s takeover of Hebron and the settlers’ violent attacks had remained private, shared only among the states participating in the task force.

However, the presence of observers did curb the settlers’ worst excesses, helping Palestinian children get to school unharmed and allowing their parents to venture out to work and shop. That assistance is now at an end.

Burial Plot of Abraham

Hebron has been a magnet for extremist settlers because it includes a site revered in Judaism: the reputed burial plot of Abraham, father to the three main monotheistic religions.

But that same place in Hebron became central to Muslim worship centuries ago, with the Ibrahimi mosque established at the site.

Israel’s policy has been gradually to prise away the Palestinians’ hold on the mosque, as well the urban space around it. Half of the building has been restricted to Jewish prayer, but in practice the entire site is under Israeli military control.

As the TIPH report notes, Palestinian Muslims must now pass through several checkpoints to reach the mosque and are subjected to invasive body searches. The muezzin’s call to prayer is regularly silenced to avoid disturbing Jews.

Faced with these pressures, according to TIPH, the number of Palestinians praying there has dropped by half over the past 15 years.

In Hebron, as at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site is treated solely as an obstacle – one that must be removed so that Israel can assert exclusive sovereignty over all of the Palestinians’ former homeland.

 The Ibrahimi Mosque. (PalFest via Flickr)

The Ibrahimi Mosque. (PalFest via Flickr)

The Massacre of 1994

A forerunner of TIPH was set up in 1994, shortly after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the Ibrahimi mosque and shot more than 150 Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Israeli soldiers aided Goldstein, inadvertently or otherwise, by barring the worshippers’ escape while they were being sprayed with bullets.

The massacre should have provided the opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister of the time, to banish Hebron’s settlers and ensure the Oslo process remained on track. Instead he put the Palestinian population under prolonged curfew.

That curfew never really ended. It became the basis of an apartheid policy that has endlessly indulged Jewish settlers as they harass and abuse their Palestinian neighbors.

Israel’s hope is that most will get the message and leave.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power for a decade, more settlers are moving in, driving out Palestinians. Today Hebron’s old market, once the commercial hub of the southern West Bank, is a ghost town, and Palestinians are too terrified to enter large sections of their own city.

TIPH’s report concluded that, far from guaranteeing “normal life,” Israel had made Hebron more divided and dangerous for Palestinians than ever before.

In 2016 another army medic, Elor Azaria, used his rifle to shoot in the head a prone and badly wounded Palestinian youth. Unlike Goldstein’s massacre, the incident was caught on video.

Settlers taking a walk on Shuhada Street in Hebron, 2010. (Stella via Wikimedia)

Settlers taking a walk on Shuhada Street in Hebron, 2010. (Stella via Wikimedia)

Israelis barely cared until Azaria was arrested. Then large sections of the public, joined by politicians, rallied to his cause, hailing him a hero.

Despite doing very little publicly, TIPH’s presence in Hebron had served as some kind of restraint on the settlers and soldiers. Now the fear is that there will be more Azarias.

Palestinians rightly suspect that the expulsion of the observer force is the latest move in efforts by Israel and the U.S. to weaken mechanisms for protecting Palestinian human rights.

Netanyahu has incited against local and international human rights organizations constantly, accusing them of being foreign agents and making it ever harder for them to operate effectively.

And last year U.S. President Donald Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency, which plays a vital role in caring for Palestinians and upholding their right to return to their former lands.

Not only are the institutions Palestinians rely on for support being dismembered but so now are the organizations that record the crimes Israel has been committing.

That, Israel hopes, will ensure that an international observer post which has long had no teeth will soon will soon lose its sight too as Israel begins a process of annexing the most prized areas of the West Bank – with Hebron top of the list. 

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at

23 comments for “The End of the Observer Mission in Hebron

  1. Baz
    February 19, 2019 at 08:49

    I recently enquired of the British Government, why they won’t recognise the
    State of Palestine after such a long period. I received this excuse from the Government amongst my replies-

    ‘……British recognition [of a Palestine State] requires that the Palestinians understand their ‘responsibilities under the Oslo Accords ‘

    I wonder then, what the Government and other Western states will make of Netanyahu’s arbitrary expelling the TIPH (Temporary International Presence Hebron)

    One of Israel’s obligations under the Oslo II peace accords.

    Using the long running conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis is no excuse to withhold
    Recognition of occupied Palestine!

    When the Nazis occupied great swathes of Europe in WWII, the free world didn’t withdraw recognition of those
    occupied states in favour of the designation-Greater German Reich!

    (The international community (including the UN) has recognised some states while they were still embroiled in a war -e.g., the Congo in 1960 and Angola in 1975)

  2. nelswight
    February 18, 2019 at 17:06

    Utterly inconceivable, Jonathan. Hitler would even be fearful of these evil Zionists.

  3. Lucy
    February 18, 2019 at 01:17

    I agree with those who say that Israel couldn’t behave so aggressively without US support.

  4. aso
    February 17, 2019 at 16:01

    Settlers (many with American accents from West LA, Brooklyn, Austin, etc.) don’t just walk in Hebron. They also spit on Palestinian women and beat up Human Rights workers:

  5. February 17, 2019 at 09:54


    I don’t write a whole lot anymore. Every now and then a topic snaps at me, but I rarely snap back.

    Tonight I fiddled with my feelings, and couldn’t stop my fingers.

    Having worked for years to have the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) removed from Hebron, I am of course overjoyed that finally they will be leaving.

    A little background:

    The international organization called TIPH is responsible to the United States and Russia. It was invented following the winter events of 1994, when Baruch Goldstein shot and killed 29 Arabs at the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat Hamachpela).

    They ventured from six countries: Norway, which always provided the head of mission; Italy, which always provided the deputy head of mission; Sweden; Switzerland; Denmark; and Turkey.

    Originally, they strutted around the streets of Hebron for about six months and then vanished. But following the signing and implementation of the Hebron Accords in January 1997, the cursed agreement not only split the city, but also transferred or abandoned most of it to Yasser Arafat, effectively putting the security of Hebron’s Jewish community in his bloody hands.

    To be clear, this was our assessment. But just to be sure, senior security officials repeated this mantra numerous times, primarily as an excuse why they couldn’t provide 100% security to the Hebron Jewish community.

    Originally, the Hebron community decided to avoid TIPH, not initiating any meetings with them, speaking with them, or interacting with them in any way.

    However, a small group of us, working with communications specialists, journalists and the like, realized that some sort of discourse might be helpful. So, since at the time I still lived in Kiryat Arba and not in Hebron proper, we decided I wasn’t formally obligated to abide by the community’s decision and I was given free rein to deal with them.

    At first, I gave them a full tour of Jewish Hebron. That happened once, or maybe twice. It was too much for them to handle. Ignorance can really be bliss, if that’s what you so desire.

    So the tours were reduced to a session in Hebron Museum, a short tour of the history of Jewish Hebron, and then a question and answer session.

    Those were fairly common until one observer asked: We know you don’t like us here, so can you tell us how you would like to see us?

    I didn’t have to think long about my retort: We’d like to see you with your suitcases, on the way to the airport.

    Needless to say, that didn’t go over great.

    One time, the head of mission asked me why we disliked them so much. So I asked him, “How would you feel if strangers, wearing funny hats and clothing, who didn’t speak your language, followed your children around, filming them everywhere they went? Would you like that?”

    To which he replied, “Well, yes, I can see your point.”

    I was once asked to speak at the TIPH headquarters on the “other side of the city.”

    A colleague had done the same several months earlier. But he made the mistake of driving there. Even though he parked in the TIPH parking lot, with TIPH guards on the grounds, his car was destroyed.

    SO WHEN I ventured over there, they brought me and returned me.

    The subject matter was clearly defined: History and no politics. Fine, no problems with that, until, following the lecture, the participants asked political questions, which I had no choice but to answer, politically.

    All went well until it was time to wrap up, at which time I held a page from an Oslo newspaper with a translation to English that was written by a TIPH observer, claiming that the Arab attacks and terror could only be compared with the “freedom fighters” in WW2, whereby the Jews were compared to the Nazi SS.

    They weren’t overly overjoyed with this presentation and quickly sent me back to “my side” so as not to do any more damage.

    On the way home, the TIPH driver told me, “I never knew about the Jewish tradition of the ‘Ibrahimi mosque,’” aka the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

    And to be clear, they weren’t all evil. One Italian observer, years ago, sat with me numerous times, and at one meeting handed me an envelope with photos for my use. These included a picture of beaming TIPH officials with Arafat, here in Hebron.

    I could keep going, as 25 years leaves you with good juicy stories. Anyone who is interested is welcome to do a simple Google search for “David Wilder+Tiph.” There are plenty of articles, at least 2 of which made it to the op-ed pages of The Jerusalem Post.

    That’s all in the past. My focus is now geared more toward the future.

    TIPH’s goals included not only Hebron. Their long-term objective was to act as an “observer” organization throughout all of Judea and Samaria. At numerous junctures during various “peace talks,” the idea of an international force patrolling Judea and Samaria was on the table – not only as neutral observers, but also armed.

    Our “friends from afar” still have not yet grounded this possibility, as seen this week when these European allies suggested sending foreign observers to overlook the upcoming Israeli elections in order to ensure their credibility.

    This is, of course, absurd, that is, unless you happen to be European.

    There are no assurances that this bizarre and dangerous idea will not continue to surface.

    It is dangerous because it is an overt challenge to Israeli sovereignty. Keeping in mind that our neighbors include Gilo, Ramot and Ramat Eshkol in the same breath with Hebron, Ma’aleh Adumim and Beit El.

    Without any doubt, the TIPH presence in Hebron was detrimental to our security, as I pointed out numerous times over the years. The very thought of such an organization, with official sanction, meandering through Jewish communities, be they in Jerusalem or anywhere else, is more than disturbing; it is anathema.

    Hopefully, Netanyahu has learned from his mistakes – the Hebron Accords, the Wye Accords and permitting a hostile organization such as TIPH to function within a Jewish community – and will, as long as he is premier, take care to prevent such possibilities in the future.

    It will finally happen. TIPH is as I hoped to see them: on their way to the airport, suitcases in hand.
    Goodbye and good riddance.

    The writer was spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron for 22 years.

    • Skip Scott
      February 17, 2019 at 12:09

      “Goodbye and good riddance”. Yes, you’ll now be free to “mow the grass” unobserved.

    • February 19, 2019 at 01:46

      BDS is the answer. Even tho it is a crime to speak against the Fatherland we can still choose to buy what we want in the supermarket. (for now)
      This will no doubt endear you to the populace.

  6. JoAnne
    February 15, 2019 at 17:55

    What I would like to understand is this: how does a minority population institutionalize cultural control over a majority, concentrating power so exclusively that it abuses that power with impunity?
    The “why” can be explained by irrational fear, ignorance and inherent “superiority striving”. These are common obstacles to healthy, ethical community building which are studied in all “wisdom traditions” with relative success. But the “how” is beyond my limited imagination…it would require such a depth and breadth of strategic administrative planning and practice for purposes of domination and exploitation, impervious to conscience, that investigation and prevention appear “beyond the scope” of scientific inquiry.
    It seems to me that the “human” is confronting the “inhuman” in the ultimate test of creative intelligence. The greatest minds and historic lessons dishonored by a violent malevolence that human cognition cannot contain. I hope I am unaware of a growing transformation in international leadership that can demobilize the engineers of predatory politics, economics and technology, and can redirect us toward a wholesome, symbiotic Common Good. Begin (or redouble efforts) in Palestine, at the UN, in the biological sciences, in international conferences and the armaments industry, in Interfaith Conferences…somewhere…everywhere. The socio-ecological, cultural crisis of civilization is everyday reality. Human violence must be stopped on a global scale. Violence is inhumane.

    • Peter Hamill
      February 16, 2019 at 20:07

      Check the Old Testament, I think you’ll find the violence is integral to the Israeli Jewish culture.
      It doesn’t help that the monetary and banking system is run by Jews, and has been far back into history. It is also a problem that our “democracies” in the west are reliant on the same monetary and banking system and effectively owned by them.
      To change the current seat of power would involve such upheaval I suspect most people would soon be grovelling back to the banking overlords for respite. It will take a selfless, concerted effort to make a better future, which would probably be a long time coming.
      As for how Israel exerts it’s authority over the Palestinians, that’s easy, Israel is armed, violent and psychopathic. The Palestinians effectively have their hands tied behind their backs having no effective arms, no effective support and no effective cohesion.

  7. Mild -ly Facetious
    February 15, 2019 at 17:50

    The Politics of Creative Destruction //
    AKA; The Incremental Dissipation of an
    Indigenous Race of People via
    Incremental ( “justified”)Annihilation

    • Jovanda
      February 15, 2019 at 20:11

      Thank you!

  8. February 15, 2019 at 17:03

    Someday in the future a more enlightened and compassionate people will wonder why descendants of the same father (Abraham) could not live together. Of course, land grabs and ethnic cleansing go hand in hand with a people who are always crying “anti-Semitism.” Israel is bringing on its own destruction. Without U.S. backing the oppression of the Palestinians would be unlikely.

    • Mild - ly facetious
      February 15, 2019 at 21:58

      In today’s ‘Instagram’ society, deception, ignorance and grossly opaque reality perceptions, it’s very easy to shape-shift and/or confuse
      the willfully ignorant.

      The masquerade party celebrates on as Isaac and Ismael ignorantly lead the US MIC and the Zionist IDF into “The Last Days” apocalypse.

      “Hillary Clinton’s Failed Libya Doctrine” (consortium
      meets with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Palestinian “final solution” ??

      Or, Jared Kushner and MBS concur here? saudis-are-running-scared/5481170

  9. Joe Tedesky
    February 15, 2019 at 16:44

    Once again the Consortium provides news which our American MSM refuses to air.

    It is time for every American Jew and Gentile to raise up against the USA’s Israeli contracted involvement into Middle Eastern affairs, starting with the Palestinian plight from where the Israeli rein supreme. No more should we good thinking Americans honor the spectacle of an Israeli prime minster undermining our President’s peaceful ambitions as was, in the case of the signed Iran nuclear agreement. No more fighting wars in the Middle East to complete the Israeli Yinon Plan, to help create the Greater Israel. No more berating a US Congresswoman who questions AIPAC influence on our barely recognizable democracy. It’s just not the time, it’s a long overdue time, where the war crimes of the USA and Israel must seize.

    What a disgrace that we Americans get teary eyed hearing Lee Greenwood’s ‘I’m Proud to be an American’….. okay but until we compassionate citizens in this country can capture our country away from this bought and paid for AIPAC USA Government, we Americans should remain remorseful and humble and, not celebrate our greatness while ignoring the Palestinians pain. If my petition here doesn’t resonate with you then think of the coming ‘blowback’, that is unless you can’t think otherwise for the sake of these suffering human beings. Peace.

    • Realist
      February 16, 2019 at 16:00

      From the Washington perspective (which does not represent all AMERICA), only selectively demonized foreign leaders and movements are guilty of the very sins which it perpetrates without shame or limit. As told by the tools in the American MSM only immoral conscience-free devilish leaders like Castro, Ho, Arafat, Milosevic, Khomeini, Nagibullah, Saddam, Gadaffi, Assad, the Kim’s, Putin and now Madura (the complete list would be enormously longer) are willing to slaughter their own people to cling to power so they can plunder their country’s wealth and defy Washington’s divinely-blessed alternative plans for their people. Meanwhile, you will never hear a word of criticism against the Diem’s, Thieu, Ky, Pinochet, Galtieri, Netanyahoo, the line-up of tyrants propped up in half a dozen Central American countries by the likes of Eliott Abrams during the 80’s, Poroshenko, Mohammed bin Salman, and even Emmanuel Macron who has been ordering ruthless attacks on his own people! Why do these guys get a pass rather than being presented as the pretext for World War III? Oh, that’s right, they are “our SOB’s.”

      • Joe Tedesky
        February 17, 2019 at 01:36

        What’s that called, ‘Psychological Projection’?

  10. Dunderhead
    February 15, 2019 at 16:41

    When speaking of anti-Semitism there is absolutely no one worse then the Likudnik and Zionist’s in general, beyond the manipulation of the Jewish people to this ideology of hate toward the Palestinians, not to mention Muslim world in general, I just cannot get over the irony that in the persecution of the Palestinians the Israelis are in fact murdering the Direct descendents of the ancient Israelites.

    • Rachel Cohen
      February 18, 2019 at 13:59

      Many of us realize the genocide and visciousness and do NOT support it. We also realize these are our cousins. Although many Jews like me have family and freinds in Israel we want the 1967 borders respected and reparations given. Im sick of the way the word “zionism” has been used as a dog whistle to FOMENT anti semtism across the world and conflate what the Murderous Nazi /Likud govt has been doing with world Jewry. I am terrified for me and horrified for palestinians.

  11. Dennis Rice
    February 15, 2019 at 13:59

    It is sad when someone who is Jewish, regardless of their birthplace or citizenship, including in Israel, who oppose the illegal grab for land by the Israeli government (supported by the U.S.) will be called a “self-hating Jew” by other Jews.

    In such situations, it seems that such other Jews themselves do not understand what antisemitism means.

    Such other Jews themselves are the cause of antisemitism. (Including “such others” in our own American government).

    And, we cannot rule out the influence of Jews in our government anymore than we can rule out the influence of Wall Street.

    • Mild - ly Facetious
      February 15, 2019 at 20:31

      Thank You, Dennis Rice for your valiant attempt/s to foment True Justice in and within a nation bent on Jewish/Zionism as Public (and Military)Policy.

      Even in the history of their Extreme extent as to Publicly Assassinate their elected Prime Minister and, afterward, INSTALL the 20 + year DICTATOR, Bebe Netanyahu — an extremist / murderous avaricious Racist/Hater of the People Group which lived and thrived on the land, in peace, for Centuries and Decades, as Peaceful Pastural People …

      Those, passionate, peaceful, liberal, cooperative human beings, living off the land thru hard work / sun and rain — the history of families Living off what the earth produced for their lives thruout centuries and decades of peaceful existence ———–

      SUDDENLY!! !!USURPED by British Army/Air Force and British armed Arab Militia / Overwhelming “United Nations” Police/Military Power over the habitat of a non-combative century’s old community of farmers – forced out of their lands / off their centuries of farms and animals and simple way-of-life — by USURPERS – German Jews and British Politicians looking to usurp the native sovereignty of the heretofore Dominant Culture of People who’d LIVED ON THE LAND for Centuries !!!!!!

      The invading Zionist Jews were Awarded the CENTURIES OLD lands of the Palestinians by Reason Of BRITISH AUTHORITY.
      … Since then,the People of Palestine have been treated as less-than-human subjects of inhumane indignities, arrests w/ long imprisonments, w/successive subsequent penalties and/or forfeitures inflicted upon families / whole neighborhoods and communities.

      The inhuman punishments inflicted upon the Palestinians are as the inhumanity put upon the Jews in the hands of Nazi Germany.

      The Political Jews of Netanyahu’s Israel are of no observable difference from the Nazi disrespectful / horrific treatment of The Jewish inhabitants / citizens who’d lived and prospered in Germany for decades past. –

      – Arab Moslems lived at peace with thriving Jews for centuries before the rising tide of Zionism provoked a “new world order” of Rothschild styled Capitalism / “Zionism” / and the discovery of the machine lubricating OIL in the Middle East.

      This discovery of Arab Oil in the 1900’s (With Churchill) is the subsequent fore-seer of the now Dictator in Israel / Bebe Netanyahu —
      who has called the political shots in Israel since the day and time when he planned and oversaw the assassination of President Rabin in Israel, c. 1995/96.

      Netanyahu is a brutal, murderous dictator who takes pleasure in the subjugation and inhumane treatment of Palestinian People.
      His strong and most longed for desire is the Elimination / Extermination of all Palestinians – so that he would be forever know as the Israeli Ruler who wears the Crown as Overseer of the Restoration of Jerusalem as Capital of the Israeli State/Nation.

      (Jared Kushner is doing his best to help Bebe achieve his place in Israeli history.)

      (Long live The Talmud in Synagogues thru-out the World-Wide Jewish Dispersion) …

    • February 19, 2019 at 01:55

      the influence of AIPAC on the government can be seen here on this site the gives the recipiant and the donation amount by year. I suspect it is grossly underestimated

  12. Jeff Harrison
    February 15, 2019 at 12:04

    Over at The Nation there is a piece by Talia Lavin on the maddening persistence of antisemitism. I commented that until you have some understanding of the cause of antisemitism, you have no hope of eliminating it. You read stuff like this and you can only say that the Israeli Jews bring the hatred on themselves.

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