Palestinians pass by the gate of an UNRWA-run school in Nablus in the West Bank August 13, 2018.
(photo credit: ABED OMAR QUSINI/REUTERS)
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees is unaware of any decision to close its schools in east Jerusalem, a senior UNRWA official said on Wednesday.
Last week, Hadashot TV reported that the US National Security Council has decided that permits to UNRWA schools in east Jerusalem will be revoked starting next school year.
Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat had also proposed ending UNRWA’s activities in the city
. The Jerusalem municipality, he said, will provide health, education, welfare and sanitation services to all the Arab neighborhoods in the city.
“The US decision to stop funding UNRWA creates a rare opportunity to deal immediately and decisively with the Palestinian Authority’s intention to perpetuate the ‘refugee problem’ and encourage incitement,” Barkat said. “There are no refugees in Jerusalem, only residents. They will receive their services from the Jerusalem municipality alone, like all residents.”
Sami Mshasha, chief of communications and Arabic language spokesman for UNRWA, said in response that at no point since 1967 have the Israeli authorities challenged the basis on which UNRWA maintains and operates premises in east Jerusalem.
“Israel is a party to the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations which safeguards the UN’s ability to fulfill its functions free from interference,” he said. “Furthermore, there is a bilateral agreement between UNRWA and Israel which obligates Israel to protect our installations in areas under its authority and to facilitate UNRWA tasks to the best of its ability, among other obligations. We deliver services and maintain facilities in east Jerusalem as part of our operational area.”
As part of its mandate, UNRWA manages the affairs of the Shuafat refugee camp, which is located between French Hill and Givat Ze’ev in northern Jerusalem, as well as several health clinics in some Arab neighborhoods.
PA officials rejected the idea of ending UNRWA’s operations in east Jerusalem
and claimed it was part of a “conspiracy” to “eliminate the right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes in Israel. They also denounced the move as an Israeli effort to “Judaize” Jerusalem and change its Arab and Islamic identity.
The PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Israel’s reported measure against UNRWA was the result of US President Donald Trump’s decisions and policies against the Palestinians, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
and halting US financial aid
to the agency. Ending UNRWA’s operations in east Jerusalem, the ministry charged, poses a threat of “ethnic cleansing” of the Arab residents of the city, particularly those living in Shuafat camp.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that Israel’s “provocative decision targeting Palestinian refugees in Jerusalem is an affront to international law, as well as the will of the international community as expressed in UN resolutions.”
This plan, she added, “is part of a wider Israeli strategy that aims to displace and replace the Palestinian people through ethnic cleansing and other criminal acts in order to entrench its colonial regime. In its campaign against Jerusalem, Palestine refugees and UNRWA, Israel is empowered by the US Administration’s illegal and unilateral decisions against Palestinian rights.”
Hamas also condemned the purported move against UNRWA and warned Israel against closing the agency’s schools in east Jerusalem. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the move was part of a “Zionist-American scheme to liquidate the Palestinian cause and the rights of our people.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality also denied the report.
The municipality added, however, that Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion had instructed the city’s professional staff to establish new municipal schools in and around the refugee camps located in Jerusalem.
These schools will offer better quality education and will be supervised and controlled by the Ministry of Education and the Jerusalem Municipality.
“We are already witnessing the passage of thousands of students in east Jerusalem, including the Shuafat refugee camp, into the official system,” the municipality said.
“We are convinced that at the end of the day UNRWA schools will give up [have to close for lack of pupils],” the municipality said.
If did not provide any additional information about the plan and did not respond to two requests for more information about its plan for new schools.
Mshasha said that UNRWA services 2,359 pupils in six east Jerusalem schools, in Wadi Jose, Silwan, Shuafat and Kalandiya.
He added that there was no migration of pupils out of the schools now that the second semester of the school year has started.
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