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.