Bill prohibiting UNRWA from operating on Israeli territory clears preliminary Knesset reading

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

A bill prohibiting UNRWA from operating on Israeli state-owned land passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset 33-10 on Wednesday, following allegations that members of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees had taken part in Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

“UNRWA serves as a platform for incitement and education to hatred of Israel and harm of its Jewish residents. In the schools that it operates in Jerusalem, antisemitic content is studied, and the textbooks glorify terrorists who have murdered women and children,” states an explanatory note to bill, which was sponsored by Likud MK Boaz Bismuth.

“The role of UNRWA is to deal with Palestinian refugees only, meaning that there is no room for it to give any services within the territory of the State of Israel,” it continues, adding that “UNRWA’s institutions serve as fertile ground for committing actions and incitement against the State of Israel.”

“The few services provided by UNRWA in Israeli territory are on a low level, and even the few residents who receive these services complain about this.”

To become law, the bill still needs to pass through committee and three additional readings in the plenum.

Earlier this week, Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf ordered the director general of the Israel Land Authority to evict the agency from any state land it is currently occupying.

In a letter, Goldknopf instructed 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 Ma’alot Dafna and Kafr Aqab in Jerusalem.

It’s unclear whether Goldknopf has the authority to execute the move.

Israel has accused 12 UNRWA staffers of taking part in Hamas’s attack on October 7, and last week the IDF showed reporters a Hamas data center located directly beneath UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City.

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