Photo Credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90
Members of TIPH, or Temporary International Presence speak with Israeli soldier outside the Cave of the Patriarchs.

By Ariel Kahana / Israel Hayom

The international observer mission in Hebron is tainted with corruption, which its officials are ‎tirelessly working to cover up, a former officer ‎with the organization recently alleged.‎


The Temporary International Presence in Hebron, or ‎‎‎TIPH, is a civilian observer mission that was established ‎‎‎in the wake of the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs ‎‎‎massacre, where Dr. Baruch Goldstein ‎‎‎killed 29 Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others ‎‎‎as they gathered for a prayer service inside the ‎‎‎holy site. ‎

The TIPH mission, which comprises personnel from ‎‎‎Italy, Norway, ‎Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, was ‎‎‎originally launched at the invitation of the Israeli ‎‎‎government and the Palestinian Authority, with the aim ‎‎‎of monitoring and recording any violation of ‎‎‎international humanitarian law.‎

Recently, however, there has been a growing number ‎‎‎of complaints alleging its members are ‎violently targeting the Jewish ‎‎‎community in Hebron. ‎These allegations have been ‎compounded by accusations made by a former TIPH ‎officer, suggesting that mission officials are embroiled in fraud and perjury, which they spare no ‎effort to cover up, including by smuggling TIPH ‎members out of Israel to evade punishment.‎

Last week, Bennet Nygaard Solum, who served as ‎TIPH’s chief procurement and financial officer twice in the last decade, testified before an Oslo-based notary ‎that “the TIPH fails to meet its own code of ethics. It ‎disregards Israeli and Palestinian law in Hebron and ‎prefers to protect its own members from any ‎allegations of wrongdoing, with all that that ‎entails.”

In his affidavit, Nygaard Solum‎ admitted he had taken ‎part of such ‎cover-ups in the past.‎

‎“The reason for the change in my position is that I ‎want to bring these facts to light. I knew of some ‎of these things in 2011, but at the time I was ‎advised not to say anything,” he said. ‎

The first case that Nygaard Solum reveals in his ‎testimony involved the alleged embezzlement of TIPH ‎funds in 2011, which he said was covered up by ‎senior members of the observer force. ‎

‎“As the financial officer, I investigated fraud ‎allegations against three local employees who were ‎accused of drawing checks from the Arab Bank in ‎Hebron. The case centered around checks that were ‎not delivered to a supermarket that was our main ‎supplier,” he recalled.

Nygaard Solum’s investigation found that the local ‎employees, who were in charge of daily procurement ‎operations, embezzled the money, but he was made to ‎participate in the cover-up.‎

‎“TIPH’s legal adviser instructed me not to mention ‎this incident in a hearing we had in 2011,” he said.‎

He also spoke of a previous fraud case, this time in ‎‎2009.‎

‎“This case involved writing incorrect sums in ‎procurement orders, which didn’t match what was ‎actually received by the purchasing department. For ‎example, an invoice would say we ordered 40 [cartons ‎of] milk but only 20 would arrive,” he said. ‎

‎“The difference was divvied up between the local ‎employee and the supermarket. The procurement ‎officer at the time knew about the fraud but didn’t ‎report it to his superiors, so not as to lose his job,” ‎he explained.

Nygaard Solum further said that senior TIPH ‎officials assured the local employee that if she ‎pleaded guilty to the fraud, her punishment would be ‎mitigated, “but this was a false promise,” he said.‎

He also accused TIPH commanders of covering up ‎incidents where members of the observer force ‎accosted Israelis, saying they were smuggled out of ‎the country to avoid answering for their actions. ‎

In one case, in which a TIPH observer slashed a ‎local Israeli’s tires, “TIPH’s deputy commander lied ‎to the police and said he didn’t know the observer ‎who did it, when, in fact, he did, in order to ‎protect TIPH,” said Nygaard Solum.‎

‎“The observer was granted immunity from the legal ‎proceedings and sent directly home, to Italy, and ‎the official explanation was that he was leaving for ‎family reasons. ‎

A review of police records in the case revealed that ‎TIPH’s deputy commander ‎told local authorities he ‎would inform them of the observer’s name within two ‎days, but only did so a month later, long after the ‎offender was safely back in Italy.‎

TIPH commanders also protected the force’s legal ‎adviser, Lucas Walter, from prosecution after he ‎slapped a Jewish boy in Hebron.‎

According to Nygaard Solum, “Walter was sent home, ‎to Switzerland, without delay, to protect him from ‎prosecution.”

Nygaard Solum‎, confirmed to Israel Hayom that he ‎gave the affidavit, saying he stands by his ‎statements.‎

TIPH was unavailable for comment.‎

Israeli lawmakers seek to end TIPH mandate

Over the weekend, 15 lawmakers urged Israeli Prime Minister ‎Benjamin Netanyahu not to renew TIPH’s mandate in ‎Hebron. ‎

‎“It has been almost 22 years since TIPH was deployed ‎in Hebron, during which the observer force was ‎discovered to be biased, in the full sense of the ‎word, undermining IDF soldiers and the State of ‎Israel,” the MKs wrote in a letter to the prime ‎minister. ‎

‎“While the Jewish community in Hebron has suffered ‎thousands of terrorist attacks, TIPH observers have ‎been careful to monitor and report only on the ‎plight of the Palestinians in the city, and contrary ‎to their mandate, they host foreign diplomats on ‎anti-Israeli propaganda tours in the city, and ‎participate in activities organized by the boycott, ‎divestment and sanctions movement.”

The observes “regularly harass the Jewish residents ‎of the city and their children, and recently, two ‎violent incidents in which they were involved were ‎captured on camera (the slapping of a 10-year-old ‎boy and slashing tires),” the letter continued.‎

‎“After 22 years, the time has come to bring TIPH’s ‎mandate, which was always intended to be temporary, ‎to an end.”

The letter was signed by Likud MKs Yoav Kisch, Amir ‎Ohana, Nava Boker, Yehuda Glick, Sharren Haskel, ‎Miki Zohar and Nurit Koren; Habayit Hayehudi MKs ‎Bezalel Smotrich, Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli ‎and Nissan ‎Slomiansky; and Shas MKs Yinon Azoulay, Yoav Ben ‎Tzur, Yakov Margi, Michael Malkieli and Dan Saida.‎

Likud MK Anat Berko also called on Netanyahu to end ‎TIPH’s mandate. ‎

Israel would next have to ratify the ‎mission’s mandate in January 2019. Deputy ‎Foreign ‎Minister Tzipi Hotovely has already called on Netanyahu to explore terminating it.‎


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