Israel has taken a drastic step in response to the scandal involving the United Nations agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) and its links to Hamas. On Monday, the government ordered the expropriation of land occupied by UNRWA offices in East Jerusalem.
In addition, the Israeli authorities have prohibited entry into their territory of special rapporteur Francesca Albanese, after she made comments about an attack launched on Gaza that Israeli authorities deemed “anti-Semitic.” The decision was made by Yitzhak Goldknopf, Israel’s housing minister, who directed Yaakov Quint, director general of the Israel Lands Authority (ILA), to expropriate land from UNRWA offices in East Jerusalem.
The move will affect UNRWA’s offices in Maalot Dafna and Kafr Aqab, which are located in East Jerusalem informally annexed by Israel since 1967 and form part of the Palestinian territories under international law. Goldknopf justified his decision by saying that UNRWA acted “in service” to Hamas, a terrorist group that governs Gaza Strip. He added: “My intention is to put an end to this and kick them out of Israel.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Interior Minister Moshe Arbel described Albanese’s comments as “scandalous” and announced her ban from entering Israel. Albanese reacted immediately on social media and doubled down on his stance: “Israel’s ban is not new; Israel has banned all special rapporteurs on the Palestinian territories since 2008! This should not divert attention from Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, which reach a new level.”
UN special rapporteurs are defined as voluntary independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to report on their investigations. However, the scandal involving UNRWA and its links to Hamas led to escalation and suspicion about its role in Israel’s view that statements like those made by Albanese increase tensions between nations.