Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has withdrawn the mandate of the international observer unit in Hebron, less than a month before the 25th anniversary of the massacre that prompted it.
In a move being seen as a political play to his right-wing base ahead of elections, Netanyahu ordered the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) out of Israel, accusing it of “operating against us”.
The TIPH was set up after the settler and reserve IDF medic Baruch Goldstein entered the Ibrahimi Mosque in February 1994, killing 29 worshippers and injuring another 125. It triggered riots in which the IDF killed 25 Palestinians.
A month later, UN Security Council Resolution 904 ordered measures to guarantee the safety and protection of the city’s 175,000 Palestinian civilians, prompting the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel to jointly ask Denmark, Norway and Italy to provide a team of observers.
They were later joined by Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, and its mission officially established under a protocol of the Oslo Accords, its work paid for by the observe states and coordinated through the Norwegian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
But last month Ha’aretz reported on a secret 100-page TIPH assessment detailing Israeli violations of international law, prompting the organisation’s supporters to question the timing of Netanyahu’s announcement this week.
With several hundred Jewish settlers living in the city, the TIPH reportedly accused Israel of disregarding land rights, hampering Palestinians’ free movement, of being “in severe and regular breach” of the right to non-discrimination, and of failing to protect residents from deportation.
However, Israeli press recently reported settlers’ accusations that TIPH staff having been slashing settlers’ car tyres and slapping settlers’ children, so pressure has grown among Netanyahu’s right-wing supporters to turf the observers out.
On Monday he did, saying: “We will not allow the presence of an international force that works against us,” despite Netanyahu having been part of the Israeli team to agree the observers’ scope in 1997-8.