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Jerusalem mayor vows to kick out UN agency for Palestinian refugees

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Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat today promised to kick out the UN agency responsible for refugee services saying the move will support Israeli “sovereignty and unity of Jerusalem.” He also appealed to “increase the Israelization” of East Jerusalem.

Barkat’s promise to shut down the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, operations in Jerusalem was made at conference hosted by Israel’s Hadashot TV network, reported the Times of Israel. In his speech Barkat accused UNRWA of running schools that promote “incitement” against Israel through its education system.

Nir Barkat

We will close their schools and give pupils hope and Israeli matriculation in the city’s schools, we will put an end to incitement, and we will replace their failed welfare services with our plan,” he said. 

“It is time to set aside the attitude toward them as refugees and see them as residents and rehabilitate them,” he added.

The announcement adds to a looming crisis for Palestinian refugees and came just three days after the Trump administration said it would permanently end its contributions to UNRWA. The U.S. had been UNRWA’s largest single donor, contributing about one third to the 2017 budget of $1.1 billion.

Axios reported that ending all U.S. funds to UNRWA has been in the works for about two weeks, following a private request from the Netanyahu government to the Trump administration that was not disclosed to Israel’s security establishment.

Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for UNRWA, said “UNRWA has received no notification about this alleged plan and UNRWA’s schools and other core services in the city remain operational.” In Jerusalem UNRWA operates 10 facilities, including a health center in the Old City, a field office overseeing its West Bank programs and schools and health centers in a UN refugee camp.

A senior Palestinian senior official for the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi, said threatening to shutter UNRWA operations in Jerusalem is “arrogant and outrageous.”

“Israel is responsible for creating the Palestinian refugee problem, and it has no right to alter the mandate, duties and responsibilities of UNRWA as defined by the United Nations,” Ashrawi said, accusing Israel and the U.S. of targeting the UN as a means to remove Palestinians refugees as core issue in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“These moves are part of the U.S. administration’s plan to dismantle all permanent status issues at the core of which are occupied Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the right of return, the two-state solution, 1967 borders, and the legality of the settlements, thereby destroying the chances of peace,” she said.

U.S. pressure to ‘reduce’ the number of Palestinian refugees

Last Tuesday in Washington DC, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, hinted that the Trump administration would soon pull all of its funding from UNRWA. At a summit for the Foundation of the Defense of Democracies, Haley said she was against closing UNRWA, but wanted to see major changes to the organization in order to safeguard continued U.S. support, namely reducing the number of Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA.

“If it goes and makes sure that they’re not doing those teachings in textbooks, if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account,” Haley said,  “We will look back at partnering them. But otherwise, you’re just molding an organization that has flaws into another organization, and that’s not fixing the problem.”

UNRWA was formed in 1950 by the UN’s General Assembly. It currently provides services for some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees, including 1.5 million dispersed in 58 refugee camps throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Palestinians registered with UNRWA are able to receive its services and humanitarian aid, but receive no special designation or a political status as refugees in the traditional sense.

Speaking to Mondoweiss last week, Chris Gunness noted that its bylaws prevent UNRWA, and the U.S. or Israel, from changing the definition of who is a Palestinian refugee.

“Our mandate cannot be changed unilaterally by any single state,” he said, later adding, “They would have to seek the approval of the General Assembly.” 

He said that UNRWA had no choice but to “robustly raise new monies.”


Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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17 Responses

  1. Keith on September 3, 2018, 4:39 pm

    The foreign policy of empire is now more-or-less being determined by neocons. With this in mind, let me quote neocon Richard Perle so we may appreciate the neocon ideology.

    “If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” (Richard Perle)

    • Ayla1984 on September 10, 2018, 3:29 am Here are some Palestinian cuties that at least add a bit of cheer
      Palestinians are a brilliant mix of an anti-neocon political Approach in the grassroots, a place where you can be an Idealist, dreamer, Anarchist, communist, socialist or anything else – it is so strange, under occupation yet the ambition for freedom defines the entire space there

  2. Citizen on September 3, 2018, 4:43 pm

    US MSM is mum on this issue.

    • Kay24 on September 4, 2018, 5:01 am

      Can you imagine the MSM discussing this arrogance on their shows?
      They’d rather talk about Stormy Daniels, than highlight the plight of refugees, and the inhumane treatment by the only democracy in the Middle East. After all they must keep up the false narrative that Israel is the victim here.

  3. mondonut on September 3, 2018, 5:26 pm

    Great idea. Israel should be responsible for the health and education of all residents of Jerusalem.

    • eljay on September 3, 2018, 7:27 pm

      || mon donut: Great idea. Israel should be responsible for the health and education of all residents of Jerusalem. ||

      I suppose so, seeing as how it is the military power that continues to occupy and colonize the Free City of Jerusalem (FCoJ). But we can all hope that eventually – and sooner rather than later – the FCoJ will be liberated and able to take care of its legitimate citizenry.

      • mondonut on September 3, 2018, 10:41 pm

        @Elijay Free City of Jerusalem

        Free City of Jerusalem?? Is that another one of your inventions or are you somehow imagining that Corpus separatum actually happened?

      • eljay on September 4, 2018, 7:07 am

        || mon donut: @Elijay Free City of Jerusalem

        Free City of Jerusalem?? Is that another one of your inventions or are you somehow imagining that Corpus separatum actually happened? ||

        It isn’t my invention and I’m clearly aware that it hasn’t yet happened. But we can all hope that one day – when Israel has withdrawn to within its / Partition borders – it will happen.

      • echinococcus on September 4, 2018, 6:36 pm


        Stop supporting a major crime against humanity.
        It still looks as if the principal objective of all your interventions were to make the subconscious of Palestinian resistance supporters accept the colonialist crime of Partition as legitimate and unquestionable.

      • mondonut on September 5, 2018, 10:58 pm


        Ha! Even Elijay is not bonafide enough for the true believers.

    • Talkback on September 4, 2018, 2:18 am

      Only criminal, racist and inhumane shmocks can support the dismantlement of a refugee agency instead of illegal settlements.

    • Misterioso on September 4, 2018, 10:06 am


      “Great idea. Israel should be responsible for the health and education of all residents of Jerusalem.”

      Not a “great idea.” Although it will never happen, as history attests west of the green line, to make “Israel” responsible for Palestinians’ education in occupied Jerusalem would result in a barrage of lies designed to serve the objectives of fascistic Zionism.

      For the record:
      Israel’s educational Apartheid: “Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel’s Schools” by Human Rights Watch –September 2001 [website:

      “The Israeli government operates two separate school systems, one for Jewish children and one for Palestinian Arab children. Discrimination against Palestinian Arab children colors every aspect of the two systems. Education Ministry authorities have acknowledged that the ministry spends less per student in the Arab system than in the Jewish school system. The majority’s schools also receive additional state and state-sponsored private funding for school construction and special programs through other government agencies. The gap is enormous–on every criterion measured by Israeli authorities ….” April 26/05
      “Palestinian textbooks: Where is all that ‘incitement’?
      By Roger Avenstrup International Herald Tribune

      JERUSALEM “Palestinian textbooks contain incitement to hatred of Israel, right? Both President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton have said so. Zionist groups constantly lobby European foreign ministries to stop support for Palestinian textbooks on that basis, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon affirmed it at a recent Likud party meeting.

      “Detailed analyses of the textbooks have been done by research institutes. The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem commissioned studies from the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), and in Europe the Georg Eckert Institute facilitated research. Research papers have also been published in international fora such as the Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, and presented at the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

      “At the political level, a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Palestinian education and the Political Committee of the European Parliament have both held hearings on the matter. No country’s textbooks have been subjected to as much close scrutiny as the Palestinian.

      “The findings? It turns out that the original allegations were based on Egyptian or Jordanian textbooks and incorrect translations. Time and again, independently of each other, researchers find no incitement to hatred in the Palestinian textbooks.

      “The European Union has issued a statement that the new textbooks are free of inciting content and the allegations were unfounded. The IPCRI 2003 report states that the overall orientation of the curriculum is peaceful and does not incite to hatred or violence against Israel and the Jews, and the 2004 report states that there are no signs of promoting hatred toward Israel, Judaism or Zionism, nor toward the Western Judeo-Christian tradition or values.”

  4. amigo on September 3, 2018, 5:50 pm

    This needs to get to the Labour NEC folks before the IHRA meeting on Tuesday.I don,t know how to arrange that.Perhaps someone reading this might know.

    This has to be about as racist as it get,s.Let,s see Margaret Hodge and co explain this one away.

  5. amigo on September 3, 2018, 7:26 pm

    Not surprising Israel is not welcome in FIFA.

    On the field of play they score too many own goals.

  6. gamal on September 3, 2018, 7:37 pm

    “they score too many own goals”

    speaking of which

    “Bizarre Israeli Analyses of Syrian Curriculum Circulate in the Middle East

    My friend, a senior UN official based in Amman, Jordan, recently received a newsletter from an Israeli institution – “IMPACT-se”. Their report was called, ‘modestly’, “Reformulating School Textbooks During the Civil War”.

    It is full of analyses of the Syrian curriculum.

    Interesting stuff, without any doubt: Manipulative, negative, but interesting. It made it to many other places in the Middle East; to Lebanon, for instance, where even the word “Israel” is hardly ever pronounced.

    Predictably, being compiled in Israel, the report trashes Syria, its ideology, and the determined anti-imperialist stand of President al-Assad.

    However, that may backfire. Excerpts that are quoted from the Syrian curriculum would impress both education experts, as well as the general public”

  7. Xpat on September 4, 2018, 10:57 am

    The USA is not the solution – it’s the problem.
    I oppose President @realDonaldTrump in his decision to back to the hilt a country whose sole purpose is to perpetuate Jewish victim-hood.

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