Jerusalem municipality freezes millions from UN and church bank accounts

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The Dormition church on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. (photo: Anna Kaplan / Flash90)

Jerusalem mayor using international organizations in budget dispute with Finance Ministry.

By Michael Bachner | The Times of Israel | Feb 4, 2018


Jerusalem enjoys an annual “capital grant” from the [Israeli Finance Ministry] that helps it offset low tax revenue due to large populations with relatively high percentages that are not part of the taxpaying workforce, including roughly a third of the city’s population that is made up of ultra-Orthodox Jews and another third of Palestinian Arabs.


The Jerusalem municipality has handed out fines totaling millions of dollars to properties owned by the United Nations and by churches, citing a new legal opinion that says the properties are not legally defined as places of worship and therefore aren’t entitled to exemptions from property tax.

The step appeared to be an escalation of a dispute between the municipality and the Finance Ministry over funds. Mayor Nir Barkat has been conducting a high-profile campaign against Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon that included instructing workers to dump trash at the entrance to the ministry offices in Jerusalem and threatening to lay off more than 2,000 city employees.

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Israel demolishes two UN-funded school buildings in Palestinian refugee camp

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Third and fourth grade Palestinian children studying on the rubble of their classrooms in Abu Nuwar, on Feb 4, 2018. (photo: Tamer Bana / WAFA Images)

This is the sixth demolition or confiscation incident in Abu Nuwar school by the Israeli authorities since February 2016.

By Wafa | Feb 4, 2018


“Abu Nuwar is one of the most vulnerable communities in need of humanitarian assistance in the occupied West Bank. The conditions it faces also represent those of many Palestinian communities, where a combination of Israeli policies and practices — including demolitions and restricted access to basic services, such as education — have created a coercive environment that violates the human rights of residents and generates a risk of forcible transfer.”
— Roberto Valent, United Nations acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories


United Nations acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories, Roberto Valent, said on Sunday that he was deeply concerned by Israel’s destruction of donor-funded classrooms in the Palestinian community of Abu Nuwar, east of Jerusalem.

“I am deeply concerned by the Israeli authorities’ demolition this morning of two donor-funded classrooms (3rd and 4th grade), serving 26 Palestinian school children in the Bedouin and refugee community of Abu Nuwar, located in Area C on the outskirts of Jerusalem,” Valent said in a statement. “The demolition was carried out on grounds of lack of Israeli-issued permits, which are nearly impossible to obtain.”

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Belgium pledges $23m to UNRWA after US cuts aid

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UNRWA supports about 5 million Palestinians. (photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)

Belgium is the first to step up after refugee agency pleas for additional donors.

By Al Jazeera News | Jan 18, 2018


“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy. With the help of UNRWA half a million of Palestine children are able to go to school. This prevents them from falling prey to radicalization and extreme violence.”
—Alexander De Croo, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister


Belgium has pledged to donate 19m euro ($23m) to UNRWA, the UN’s aid organization for Palestinian refugees, after the US government announced it would slash its funding to the agency by half.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement on Wednesday that Brussels would allocate the funds over three years.

The first annual payment is being disbursed immediately “considering the financial difficulties that UNRWA currently faces,” the statement said.

Washington announced on Tuesday it is withholding $65m out of the $125m aid package earmarked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, or UNRWA.

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UN seeks donations for refugees after US cuts aid

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Palestinians hold signs during a protest against aid cut, outside United Nations’ offices in Gaza City. (photo: Reuters)

UNRWA issues a broad appeal in the wake of the Trump administration’s aid cut.

By Reuters via New York Post | Jan 17, 2018


“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization.”
— Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA Commissioner-General


The head of the UN agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees appealed on Wednesday for world donations after the United States withheld about half its planned funding for the organization, a move he said risks instability in the region.

Washington said on Tuesday it would provide $60 million to the UN Relief and Welfare Agency while keeping back a further $65 million for now. The US State Department said UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms.

Palestinians, already angered by US President Donald Trump’s Dec 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, denounced the decision, which could deepen hardship in the Gaza Strip where UNRWA helps much of its population of 2 million.

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US cuts to refugee agency a “death sentence”

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A Palestinian woman rides in a car after collecting aid provided by UNRWA in Gaza City on Wednesday. (photo: Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

Trump’s decision to cut aid to Palestinian refugees threatens the well-being of millions.

By Hazem Balousha and Ruth Eglash | The Washington Post | Jan 17, 2018


“We are extremely worried. We support 1 million people with food. . . . [We] just hope we have enough time to persuade them to change their mind and/or to find another donor.”
— Matthias Schmale, UNRWA Gaza Director


The UN Relief and Works Agency, the main body providing aid to millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East, made an urgent appeal for international support Wednesday, one day after the State Department announced that it will slash its annual funding.

“After decades of generous support, dramatic reduction of US funding to @UNRWA results in most critical financial situation in history of Agency,” the agency’s commissioner general, Pierre Krähenbühl, wrote on Twitter. “I call on member states of the United Nations to take a stand & demonstrate to Palestine Refugees that their rights & future matter.”

In a more detailed statement to the media, Krähenbühl said the U.S. contribution of $60 million, less than half of a planned $125 million installment, is “dramatically below past levels” and jeopardizes the “dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support.”

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Israelis urge UN to release “settlement blacklist”

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Construction workers begin work on the new settlement called Amichai, in Shilo Valley, West Bank, on Jun 20, 2017. (photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

A group of prominent Israelis petition the UN to maintain the Green Line no matter how hard the Netanyahu government works to erase it.

By Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man | +972 Magazine | Dec 3, 2017


“As loyal citizens of Israel, [we] believe that the international community has a crucial and urgent role to play in order to redress the Israel/Palestine fast deteriorating conflict. We believe that to serve that end, it is essential that the international community act against the settlement policy of the Government of Israel, which bars any resolution of this conflict.”


Over 400 Israelis, including a former attorney general, retired diplomats, ex-members of Knesset, and prominent intellectuals, sent a petition to the UN urging it to release a list of companies that do business in or with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israel is reportedly doing “everything [it] can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day.” The UN Human Rights Council began compiling the list of companies last year and it was due to be published in March 2017, although political pressure at the time resulted in the publication date being delayed until December.

The database, or list of companies, has been referred to as a blacklist, and was one of the primary motivators behind the anti-BDS legislation currently making its way through the U.S. Congress.

The petition, authored by the Policy Working Group, points to the UN Security Council Resolution 2332, which called on the international community “to distinguish in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

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US pulls out of UNESCO over “anti-Israel bias”

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UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Oct 17, 2016. (photo: Francois Mori / AP)

The US is pulling out of UNESCO for the second time, leaving $550 million in unpaid dues.

By Thomas Adamson & Matthew Lee / The Associated Press via The Seattle Times / Oct 12, 2017


“Universality is critical to Unesco’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity.”
— Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General


The United States announced Thursday it is pulling out of the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural agency because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for “fundamental reform” in the agency.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel plans to follow suit.

While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the timing of the State Department’s statement was unexpected. The Paris-based agency’s executive board is in the midst of choosing a new chief — with Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari leading the heated election heading into Friday’s final vote.

Outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the U.S. decision and tried to defend UNESCO’s reputation. The organization is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions, but also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.

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