JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities sealed off and shut down the Mapping and Geographic Information Systems Department of the Arab Studies Society in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday, with police detaining the center's director, Khalil Tufakji, during the raid.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat denounced the closure and “the illegal detention” of Tufakji, describing the man as “a distinguished scholar from Jerusalem.”
Erekat said in a written statement that Israeli forces also seized the documents, computers, and equipment from the office.
Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri confirmed in a written statement that the center was shut down, that materials were seized, and that 65-year-old Tufakji, a resident of the Wadi Joz neighborhood in East Jerusalem, was detained.
According to al-Samri, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had signed an order to seal the institution, which only recently started to operate in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
According to al-Samri, Erdan justified the decision to close the center for six months under the pretext that the office was operating in East Jerusalem under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority (PA), in an alleged violation of the 1994 Oslo Accords.
The statement added that Erdan’s order to close the center came after Israeli police detectives learned that the PA established the office, which she said was being used “to manage the registration process for Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem.”
Al-Samri said the center was funded by the PA and operated as a PA organization with the aim of reporting to PA security services headquartered in the occupied West Bank about Palestinians who were planning to sell property or lands to Jewish Israelis in East Jerusalem, so that those Palestinians may be interrogated. Her statement said that the PA referred to the process of selling Palestinian lands to Israelis as “land theft.”
The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.
According to Erekat, the Arab Studies Society is an academic department that used to be part of the Orient House, an institution in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City that used to serve as the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1980s and 1990s, until it was forcibly shut down by Israel in 2001 after years of effort by the Israeli government.
Israeli police meanwhile argued that investigations revealed that the Arab Studies Society “resumed operations” under the guise of being a geographic consultations service, “but in reality was operating as a PA organization just as it was before.”
Referring to the institution's closure, Erekat said that this “provocative act by the Israeli occupying forces is a reminder of Israel’s ongoing campaign to deprive Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Palestine, of any voice, of its national institutions and organizations, in an effort to erase any Palestinian presence in the city.”
While Israeli police claimed that the center operated in violation of the Oslo Accords, Erekat noted that Israel, as an occupying power, “continues to violate its obligations under signed agreements, as well as of its commitments vis-a-vis the international community.”
More than 20 Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem -- including the Orient House and the Chamber of Commerce -- have remained forcibly closed by Israel since 2001, according to Erekat, who said the measures violated of international law.
The PLO chief cited numerous United Nations resolutions that have called upon Israel to immediately reopen all Palestinian institutions in occupied East Jerusalem, including UN Security Council Resolution 476, which states:
“All legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (…) and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
Erekat went on to condemn “systematic Israeli policies against a Palestinian presence in occupied East Jerusalem,” which he said aim to “bury the two-state solution, consolidate Israel's apartheid regime in the occupied city, as well as in the rest of occupied Palestine, and aim to create a Palestinian demographic minority.”
He concluded his statement by saying that “this serious escalation demands the international community to urgently take concrete measures to reopen Palestinian institutions in occupied East Jerusalem, in line with international law and UN resolutions.”