Israel Land Authority tells UNRWA to evacuate Jerusalem premises for breaching lease

Government body sends letter to UN agency for Palestinian refugees saying it must also pay over NIS 27 million for allegedly operating on state land without consent

Israelis protest against UNRWA outside its offices in Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

The Israel Land Authority has informed UNRWA that it must vacate its Jerusalem premises in the Ma’alot Dafna neighborhood within 30 days, following the approval of a demand from Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf to evict the UN agency for Palestinian refugees from any state land it is currently occupying.

Goldknopf said Wednesday that the move — which he first called for in February — had received a green light from his ministry’s legal adviser.

In a letter sent Tuesday to UNRWA, the ILA wrote that the agency owes it NIS 27,125,280 ($7,326,711.19) for operating on land belonging to Israel without consent for the last seven years.

In addition, it instructed the agency that it was “required to 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.”

“If you do not comply, the [ILA] reserves the right to act against you with all legal means, and you will need to need to bear the entailing costs. Another warning won’t be sent,” it added.

There was no immediate comment from UNRWA.

According to the Ynet news site, which first reported on the letter, the ILA had previously turned a blind eye to UNRWA’s violation of the terms under which the land was leased to it, but decided to enforce the terms of the lease in light of tensions over the war in Gaza and the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the October 7 massacre carried out by Hamas in southern Israel.

United Torah Judaism leader Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf in Tel Aviv on February 4, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

When Goldknopf first announced the planned eviction, he said UNRWA had “acted in the service of Hamas and even took part in the brutal massacre on October 7,” charging that it acted against Israel while based on Israeli soil.

UNRWA, set up to deal with the Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 war around the time of Israel’s creation, and their descendants, has long been a target of Israeli hostility. Calls for it to be shuttered have risen since Israel accused around a dozen UNRWA staffers of having taken part in the October 7 atrocities. The revelation, accompanied by Israeli claims that thousands more staffers have ties to terror groups, re-energized protests against the agency as donors pulled funding, though many countries have since resumed their support.

The 12 staffers at UNRWA alleged to have been involved in the October 7 onslaught. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An independent review group of UNRWA, led by French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna, found some “neutrality-related issues” but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its allegation of widespread links to Hamas and other terror groups.

Created in 1949, the agency employs around 30,000 people in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It has coordinated nearly all aid to Gaza during Israel’s war on Hamas.

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians since it confers refugee status upon descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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