Jerusalem Deputy Mayor: Kick UNRWA Out of Israel
Jerusalem, 6 February, 2024 (TPS) -- Jerusalem’s deputy mayor called for the embattled UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to be kicked out of Israel, and a bipartisan group of Knesset members signed a petition urging the agency be defunded.
“It’s not surprising that they are allowing themselves not to accept, not respect Israeli law here in Jerusalem. They’re building illegal buildings, they have petrol stations in places they’re not allowed to have, and it’s time that the Israeli government will allow us, the municipality of Jerusalem, to pass a law against UNRWA. We expect the government of Israel to just kick them out of Israel and specifically from Jerusalem,” Deputy Mayor Arieh King told the Tazpit Press Service.
King was explaining friction between UNRWA and the Jerusalem municipality ahead of a rally outside the agency’s Jerusalem headquarters. The protest came amidst reports that Israel’s largest bank froze UNRWA’s account over suspicious financial transfers that the agency failed to adequately explain.
“UNRWA is the only organization that is responsible for educating Arabs for 70 years in Jerusalem to hate the Jews, educating them that there is no right for Jews in the land of Israel. And it’s not surprising that we have Arabs who graduated from UNRWA schools who joined terror organizations here in Jerusalem. We’re not talking about Gaza, we’re talking about Jerusalem,” King told TPS.
King also criticized UNRWA for inflating the number of refugees, saying the agency recognizes as refugees “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians living in eastern Jerusalem with permanent resident status. This status gives Palestinians access to Israeli education, health and social services, and the right to vote in municipal elections — though not national elections.
He stressed to TPS that if UNRWA leaves Jerusalem, the municipality could take over the services currently provided by the UN agency.
“They have all the conditions to live here in Jerusalem like all the other Arabs. Most of the Arabs in Jerusalem don’t learn in UNRWA schools. But many do. Israel and Jerusalem have the ability to take care of them exactly like we are taking care of them. It’s time that they will be exactly like any other Arab living in Jerusalem,” King told TPS.
“They get a salary if they work in the municipality or in hospitals or in legal offices. And [yet] they are being counted as refugees. That’s ridiculous. After more than 50 years of living in Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, most of the Arabs were born after UNRWA was founded. So how can they be titled as refugees? They are living where they were born.”
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 20 Knesset members signed a petition calling for UNRWA’s defunding.
The petition says that “UNRWA’s involvement in activities counterproductive to peace and security, notably on October 7th, necessitate a critical reassessment of aid channels to Palestinians.”
The lawmakers who signed the petition came from five parties in the governing coalition and two opposition parties.
“The exposure of the fact that UNRWA employees actively participated in the heinous massacre known to modern humanity led to the freezing of funding to the organization. We must turn this freeze into a permanent cessation of UNRWA’s role,” said Likud MK Dan Ilouz, who spearheaded the petition.
“Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only does the organization perpetuate the conflict, but it also actively and violently participates in it — an unacceptable reality. We are dealing with an organization that educates for terrorism, collaborates with terrorism, and even pays salaries to employees who are essentially terrorists. We must seize the opportunity to ensure it does not continue to do so,” Ilouz said.
Since October 7, the agency has been under fire numerous times, prompting Israel to demands that UNRWA be stripped of its authority in Gaza amid revelations that members of the agency’s staff participated in Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel. The US and 14 other countries have suspended funding for the agency.
Israel intelligence incriminating 12 staffers of their participation, including using UNRWA vehicles and facilities as 1,200 Israelis were massacred was leaked to The New York Times. Afterward, The Wall Street Journal reported that one in 10 UNRWA employees is either an active member or has ties to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Reports released by IMPACT-SE and UN Watch documented UNRWA employees expressing support for the attacks on social media.
Palestinian refugees are the only refugee population with its own dedicated UN agency. The rest of the world’s refugees fall under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Israeli officials have called for UNRWA to be closed and for Palestinian refugees to be brought under the responsibility of the UNHCR.
The UNRWA’s definition of refugees not only includes the original refugees, but also their descendants in perpetuity, including those who have citizenship in other countries. The UNHCR definition does not confer refugee status on descendants.