Photo by Yoav Dudkevitch/TPS on 2 May, 2024

UNRWA Ordered to Vacate Jerusalem Offices Over Lease Violations

Public By Pesach Benson • 30 May, 2024

Jerusalem, 30 May, 2024 (TPS) -- The embattled United Nations Relief and Works Agency has been ordered to vacate its Jerusalem offices within 30 days over violations of its lease.

In a letter to UNRWA, the Israel Lands Authority said the agency owed it 27.1 million shekels ($7.3 million) for maintaining offices on Israeli state land without permission over the last seven years.

The letter demanded that UNRWA “immediately stop any illegal use, destroy everything you have built in violation of the law, vacate the land of any people or items and return it to the [ILA] within 30 days from the date of this letter.”

The letter was authorized by Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf and the ministry’s legal advisors.

According to Hebrew media reports, the ILA had turned a blind eye to UNRWA’s breaches of the lease till now.

“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,” Deputy Mayor Arieh King told the Tazpit Press Service in February.

But Israeli views of UNRWA, which supports Palestinian refugees, have hardened since October 7. The agency is under fire amid revelations that UNRWA staffers participated in Hamas’s October 7 attacks. Israeli officials demand that the agency be stripped of its authority in Gaza and defunded.

On Wednesday, the Knesset approved a preliminary reading of legislation designating UNRWA as terror organization. The legislation authorizes the Foreign Ministry to make the final determination on the terror designation. UNRWA would then be stripped of its diplomatic immunity, tax-exempt status, and other legal benefits.

Israel’s largest bank froze UNRWA’s account in February over suspicious financial transfers that the agency failed to adequately explain. Israeli forces discovered a Hamas complex located directly under the UNRWA’s Gaza City headquarters. Computer servers belonging to Hamas were directly connected to UNRWA’s electricity system.

Soldiers have found weapons stored in UNRWA facilities on multiple occasions.

Jerusalem’s deputy mayor accused UNRWA of undermining Israeli sovereignty over the city, among other things.

Reports released by IMPACT-SE and UN Watch documented UNRWA employees expressing support for the October 7 attacks on social media.

The UN probed Israeli accusations against 19 UNRWA staffers. But to Israel’s ire, the investigations were dropped as UN officials claimed the evidence presented was insufficient. As a result, Israel is bypassing UNRWA in distributing humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip.

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.

At least 1,200 people were killed, and 252 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on October 7. Of the 125 remaining hostages, 39 are believed dead.