Noam Tibon

Master's in Public Administration (Wexner Fellowship), Kennedy School of Government, 2002

Colonization and its Discontents

Col. Noam Tibon was commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Hebron from 1999 until June 2001. Tibon served as the chief local enforcer of a discriminatory regime that favored Israelis, and especially Jewish colonists, over Palestinian civilians. His forces fatally shot stone-throwing protesters, carried out punitive house demolitions, and imposed prolonged mass house arrests, while allowing Jewish colonists to rampage through the city, attacking Palestinians and internationals with impunity.

Separate and Unequal

For decades, Israel has colonized the territories occupied in 1967 with settlements reserved for Jews, a practice that is perennially condemned worldwide as a violation of international law. Israel's colonies underpin a separate-but-unequal system of laws and living conditions: 400,000 Jewish colonists enjoy the full rights and protections of Israeli law (half of them in east Jerusalem, whose annexation by Israel has not been recognized by any other country), while over 3 million Palestinians live under military rule.

Most West Bank colonies are built in open areas outside Palestinian cities. Hebron is an exception, and one which vividly illustrates the problems of Israel's colonization policy. The heart of the city, called "H2," is a 4.3 square-kilometer area home to 35,000 Palestinians who endure extraordinarily repressive conditions for the benefit of some 500 Jewish colonists. Colonists are sometimes armed and organized as de facto paramilitaries.

Hebron schoolchildren encounter checkpoints en route to school

Residents of H2 are confined to their homes by the army for much of the year (sometimes for days or weeks on end), destroying the local economy and making ordinary life impossible (curfews do not apply to colonists). Even when Palestinians can move about, they are left defenseless against violent colonists who are rarely, if ever, punished by Israeli authorities. Even international observers in Hebron are regularly stoned and harassed by colonists. These conditions have caused the flight of hundreds of Palestinians from the area in recent years.

Shuttered Palestinian shops in Hebron; a chainlink fence suspended between shop awnings catches garbage thrown down onto the street from Jewish colonists living above.

Colonist harassing a Palestinian family whose house is now encaged to "protect" it from attacks; note soldier stand idly by at left

Graffitti by Hebron colonists

More video of Hebron colonists available here. The conditions in Hebron were so oppressive that a number of soldiers who served there later published their testimonies of abuses they had witnessed or participated in.

Hebron under Tibon

Soon after the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, protests erupted in Hebron that were met with deadly force by the Israeli army, and unrestrained mob violence by Jewish colonists. Human Rights Watch, which conducted field investigations in the city in November 2000 and February 2001 -- during Tibon's command -- issued a detailed report on the human rights situation in the city:

Our research found serious and extensive human rights abuses in Hebron district, including excessive use of force by IDF soldiers against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators; unlawful killings by IDF soldiers; unacknowledged assassinations of suspected Palestinian militants; attacks by Palestinian gunmen directed against Israeli civilians living in settlements and in circumstances that have placed Palestinian civilians at grave risk from Israeli response fire; disproportionate IDF gunfire in response to Palestinian attacks; extensive abuses by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians and the lack of an IDF response to such abuses; and "closure" measures imposed by the IDF on the Palestinian community that amount to collective punishment. Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities have failed to take the necessary steps to stop the security forces under their control from committing abuses, and have also failed to adequately investigate and punish abuses committed by security forces and civilians in areas under their control.
A Palestinian youth in Hebron feeding birds on his rooftop, as seen through the scope of an Israeli sniper

The HRW report was published in April 2001 -- months before Tibon attended Harvard's Kennedy School of Government -- and was covered by the Washington Post (16 April) and the Independent (11 April), among other major media outlets.

One of the illegal practices documented by HRW was the indiscriminate use of heavy machine guns against Palestinian neighborhoods as retaliation for Palestinian attacks:

"IDF gunfire has caused extensive structural damage to hundreds of Palestinian homes in Hebron, and has resulted in civilian casualties. On many occasions, it appears that IDF soldiers responded with widespread gunfire into civilian neighborhoods, hitting dozens of homes at a time. The apparently untargeted nature of IDF gunfire and its civilian toll raises serious concerns that the IDF is firing indiscriminately, in violation of international humanitarian law standards." [emphasis added]
Several years later, while commanding Israeli forces in Nablus, Tibon demonstrated the same tactic of indiscriminate area fire to Time magazine:

"Tibon strides to an observation point and trains his binoculars on the ambush site. He's ordered retaliation on the area from which the Palestinian shots originated. The thumping reports of a tank machine gun crash around the valley. 'It's a punishment,' he says. 'Nobody's going to shoot at my soldiers and get away with it.' If the surrounding houses are damaged, Tibon believes that Palestinian residents will press the gunmen not to attack from there again." [emphasis added]
Such collective punishment of civilians by an occupying power is flatly prohibited by international law.

Tibon also failed in his duty to protect Palestinian civilians from Jewish colonists. He made his bias clear in an interview with Israeli media quoted by HRW:

"Let there be no mistake about it. I am not from the U.N. I am from the Israeli Defense Force. I did not come here to seek people to drink tea with, but first of all to ensure the security of the Jewish settlers."
Tibon's lax attitude towards colonists was apparent in hits description to parliamentarians of a riot as having been incited by colonists from outside the city:
"There are some forty people here. … We identified them and warned the heads of the Jewish community in Hebron not to be tolerant of them… We had information that something was about to occur. Unfortunately, they did not heed my advice and related to them compassionately, and what happened here this past week is extremely bad. They break into shops, plunder them, burn them. Things that are hard to believe."
The Israeli human rights group B'tselem slammed Tibon for acting as if he had no power over the matter:

"The brigade commander [Tibon] is sovereign in the area and therefore has the duty to protect the lives and property of the Palestinians there. By placing blame for the riots on the settler leadership in Hebron, who showed 'compassion' toward the rioters, he seeks to evade his responsibility for the acts of the settlers and to justify the army’s failure to protect the Palestinians."

After finishing at Harvard, Tibon has held a number of positions in the Israeli military, including head of the Nahal infantry brigade, head of personnel for the land forces command, and since 2006, commander of the West Bank division.