Israel bans UN rapporteur, looks to boot UNRWA from buildings on state lands

Visa ban comes after Francesca Albanese denies Oct. 7 terrorists were motivated by hatred for Jews, blames ‘Israel’s oppression’; refugee agency head rejects calls to step down

File - UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese addresses the UN, October 2022. (Screenshot/ YouTube, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
File - UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese addresses the UN, October 2022. (Screenshot/ YouTube, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israel officially banned the UN’s special rapporteur for the West Bank and Gaza and moved to evict the UN agency for Palestinian refugees from offices on state-owned land, stepping up a campaign against elements of the world body it alleges are sympathetic to Hamas.

Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese had already been refused entry into Israel for months, but on Monday was officially banned, the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry announced.

The open-ended move came in reaction to comments from the Italian lawyer that appeared to justify Hamas’s October 7 massacre.

“The ‘greatest anti-Semitic massacre of our century’?” Albanese wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, responding to a Le Monde post reporting on French President Emmanuel Macron honoring the victims of Hamas’s onslaught, including a number of French nationals. “The victims of 7/10 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression. France & the international community did nothing to prevent it. My respects to the victims.”

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to fire Albanese, who has been widely pilloried in the past for comments deemed antisemitic.

“The era of Jews being silent is over,” Katz and Interior Minister Moshe Arbel said in Monday’s joint statement.

“If the UN wants to return to being a relevant body, its leaders must publicly disavow the antisemitic words of the ‘special envoy’ – and fire her permanently. Preventing her from entering Israel might remind her of the real reason why Hamas slaughtered babies, women, and [the elderly].”

Hamas’s October 7 massacre saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 250 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

UN special rapporteurs are unpaid, independent experts mandated by the Human Rights Council. They do not speak for the United Nations, but report their findings to the council’s fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms.

In response to the visa ban, Albanese wrote on X on Monday: “BREAKING: Israel’s ‘denying me entry’ is not news.”

She said “all” special rapporteurs for the occupied Palestinian territories have been denied entry by Israel since 2008.

“This must not become a distraction from Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, which are taking a new level of horror with the bombing of people in ‘safe areas’ in Rafah.”

Israel has previously criticized Albanese after she and other UN-mandated rights experts said in November that Palestinians in war-battered Gaza were “at grave risk of genocide.” In a statement on October 14, she accused Israel of aiming to ethnically cleanse Gaza, while not mentioning the Hamas attacks on Israel.

Albanese said during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas that the “Jewish lobby” was in control of the United States. She has also sympathized with terror organizations, dismissed Israeli security concerns, compared Israelis to Nazis, accused the Jewish state of potential war crimes, said Israel controlled the BBC, and claimed that the Jewish state started wars out of greed.

Her comments Monday came hours after Israeli special forces rescued two hostages from Hamas captivity in Rafah in southern Gaza, in a complex operation that involved battles with terrorists and massive Israeli airstrikes.

Israel’s ties with several UN bodies and representatives have soured since the start of the war with Hamas in Gaza.

UNRWA chief: ‘No intention to resign’

On Monday, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini said he had “no intention to resign” following Israeli calls for him to step down, given allegations that at least 12 staff members participated in the Hamas-led terror onslaught on Israel on October 7, including kidnapping Israelis, transporting the body of a dead soldier and taking part in a murderous assault on a kibbutz.

An armed Hamas terrorist leads a man at the Supernova music festival, near Kibbutz Re’im in the Negev desert in southern Israel on October 7, where terrorists from Gaza massacred hundreds of people. (South First Responders/ AFP)

The UN agency provides aid to Palestinians in Gaza and since the allegations were made, a number of donor countries have suspended funding. Senior Israeli leaders including the foreign minister have repeatedly called on Lazzarini to resign since the allegations came to light.

On Saturday, Israel revealed that it had found a Hamas data center built underneath UNRWA’s Gaza City headquarters, adding to questions about the organization’s ties to the terror group.

Lazzarini said his agency had known nothing about the facility; Israeli officials claimed it did.

UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini adresses the assembly on the opening day of the Global Refugee Forum, in Geneva on December 13, 2023. (Photo by JEAN-GUY PYTHON / POOL / AFP)

Israeli Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf said Monday that he had ordered the director general of the Israel Lands Authority to evict UNRWA from any state land it is currently occupying, given the mounting allegations.

In a letter, Goldknopf instructed ILA director Yaakov Quint to “immediately halt” all agreements between the ILA and UNRWA “and remove them from the territories leased to them” by the state — such as the organization’s offices in Maalot Dafna and Kafr Aqab in Jerusalem.

UNRWA offices in East Jerusalem (Maya Zanger-Nadis/Times of Israel)

UNRWA “acted in the service of Hamas and even took part in the brutal massacre on October 7,” Goldknopf wrote, accusing the UN body of acting against Israel, while based on Israeli soil. “Together with the director general of the Israel Land Authority, I intend to put an end to this and remove them from Israel.”

It was unclear whether Goldknopf has the authority to execute the move.

Last week, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the UN agency’s offices in Jerusalem to call for its removal, shouting “UNRWA is a chapter of Hamas!”

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