Jerusalem mayor accused of following Trump while hizzoner sets clean-up
Following in the footsteps of the Trump administration, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently began a campaign to end the operations of the United Nations Relief Works Agency, the United Nations arm charged with providing services and funding for Palestinian refugees in his city.
The starting point for Barkat’s campaign, closing UNRWA’s offices and ending its activities in the Shuafat refugee camp located in the eastern part of the city, was a prelude to the complete shutdown of what some Israelis are calling “the Palestinian lie” permanently.
On October 23, Barkat visited Shuafat and ordered–for the first time in history–city workers to institute regular cleaning services for the camp. Only the beginning, the municipality affirmed in a news release that in the near future, all of the services UNRWA failed to adequately supply to the Shuafat camp, including education, welfare and health, “will be replaced by successful municipal services until full sovereignty is exercised.”
Last year, despite strong opposition from lawmakers and other American officials, the U.S. Department of State decided to withhold more than $200 million from UNRWA-administered aid programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Although many expressed shock at the cold-turkey withholding of the American contribution that had accounted for about half of UNRWA’s budget last year, the Trump administration explained that the decision had been made in order to ensure “that these aid funds provided by the U.S. are spent in line with the national interests of the country and U.S. taxpayers.”
“The mayor interpreted Trump’s decision of boycotting UNRWA as if Shuafat refugees are no longer refugees,” Kahder al-Debes, a Public Relations Coordinator for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) popular committee at the Shuafat refugee-camp, told The Media Line. He charged that the Jerusalem municipality doesn’t care about the services at the camp, but is currently taking advantage of its poor condition to pressure the United Nations to evacuate UNRWA’s employees in order to turn the camp into a regular neighborhood, end discussion on the right-of-return, and “Judaize” Jerusalem while silencing any further discussion about Palestinian issues.
“They just don’t want any party to help the Palestinian refugees,” al-Debes continued. “They don’t care about the services we have, the humanitarian situation at the camp or how we live.” He clarified that the municipality does not serve any Arab area in the city, keeping those neighborhoods filled with garbage and poor sanitation services despite the fact that Arab citizens in Israel pay taxes like the Israeli citizens.
“They only enter our areas to demolish, arrest or to take advantage of certain events to achieve specific goals like what’s happening now in Shuafat,” al-Debes explained. He charged that Barak “broke” into the camp to threaten UNRWA and other popular committees that provide services to Palestinian refugees, of closing their offices and shutting-down their activities.
“UNRWA is a live witness of the Israeli occupation’s crimes and violations against the Palestinians.” Al-Debes concludes that “[the Israelis] don’t want [the Palestinians] here, they want to end UNRWA’s existence forever.”
Sami Moashaa, the UNRWA spokesperson, confirmed to the Palestinian news agency of Wafa that the Jerusalem municipality did not coordinate with UNRWA before entering the camp.
“The entry of the cleaning crews and contractors accompanied by municipal inspectors and police was not coordinated with us,” he said. In response, however, Moashaa promised that “all of the UNRWA operations in Jerusalem—including the Shuafat camp—will continue uninterrupted.”
“UNRWA provides key-services to an estimated 19,000 Palestinian refugees living in the Shuafat refugee camp and its adjacent suburbs, bringing the total number of Palestinians living there to 75,000,” he stated.
Mohammed Shalaldeh, a law instructor at al-Quds University, told The Media Line that Jerusalem’s municipality violated international law and legitimacy by threatening UNRWA, and is fully responsible for the legal consequences of putting restrictions on the agency’s work in the city.
“[UNRWA] is a body of the U.N. and the legal-framework of its work in Israel is based on the agreement that Israel has with the U.N. itself,” Shalaldeh said, stressing that based on international law, east Jerusalem is considered occupied territory. Therefore, he concluded, what controls the relationship between the occupier and occupied people are international laws.
“Jerusalem’s mayor cannot just decide to rule the Palestinian refugees with Israeli laws,” Shalaldeh asserted.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator and secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Executive Council, told The Media Line that the Jerusalem municipality is without jurisdiction over east Jerusalem, and therefore, thereafter, all of its procedures are “unlawful, void and violate the international law.”
He added that Israel’s attempts “to force new realities” on the ground won’t end in a solution or commitment, charging that “the mayor of Jerusalem is establishing an apartheid system in the city.”
When asked how eliminating UNRWA would affect any future peace-talks, Erekat declared that the Israeli government and its decisions have “destroyed” the peace process.
UNRWA, which serves Palestinian refugees displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, has recently revealed that it is facing a budget deficit of $270 million and urged the international community to make every effort to meet the budget shortfall.
The agency says it currently supports more than five million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, including offering provisions for health care, education and social services.