Mapping error led to closure of Palestinian cartography center
Israeli authorities believed the office was within Jerusalem boundaries, when al-Ram is in fact a West Bank village
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief
Due to a mapping error by Jerusalem police and the public security ministry, a Palestinian cartographic center in the West Bank village of al-Ram was mistakenly shut down by Israeli authorities last week.
The Mapping and Geographic Information Systems Department of the Arab Studies Society was closed down following the accusation that it was being used by the Palestinian Authority to monitor land sales to Jews by Palestinians. Israel banned the Palestinian Authority from carrying out official business in East Jerusalem in 2001.
Police and the public security ministry believed that the center was within the boundaries of the capital, thereby giving them the discretion to bar it for six months while investigating. According to its own website, the Arab Studies Society researches and documents the social, cultural and political history of the Palestinians since being founded in 1980.
Authorities briefly arrested the center’s chief cartographer Khalil Tafakji at the scene. Tafakji also heads the Maps and Survey Department at Jerusalem’s Orient House, which operated as the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s headquarters in the city until the building was shuttered by Israel in 2000.
However, only upon interrogating Tafakji later that day did police learn that the center had in fact been located in the West Bank, outside the capital’s boundaries all along, the Haaretz daily reported.
He was released soon after and authorities told him that the mapping department could be reopened immediately.
The head cartographer said that interrogators had pressed him regarding his ties to the PA. Tufakji insisted that his income was exclusively financed by the Arab Studies Society, a nongovernmental research organization.
Shortly after the shuttering, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who ordered the closure of the facility, said in a police statement that the office’s operations were “part of the plan by the PA to harm our sovereignty in Jerusalem and to terrorize Arabs who sell their properties to Jews in the city.
“I will continue to work with determination to prevent Palestinian authorities from gaining a foothold in Jerusalem,” he said.
The statement added that the center acted without a permit and in violation of the Oslo Accords in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, within the boundaries of the State of Israel.
The public security ministry and the police have yet to issue statements apologizing for the error.