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Israel to shut down UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem

Jan. 20, 2019 12:06 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 22, 2019 4:30 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities are set to shut down schools in occupied East Jerusalem run by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) as of next year.

The move would come as the latest strike against UNRWA, which suffered a financial crisis in 2018 due to the United States ending all its financial funds to the agency, in addition to Israel increasingly restricting its activities in East Jerusalem.

Israel’s National Security Council decided during a meeting last month, to revoke permits allowing UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhood to operate, starting as of next year.

The decision would replace UNRWA schools with schools run by the Jerusalem Municipality, using curriculum by the Israeli Education Ministry.

According to UNRWA, the agency runs seven schools in two refugee camps that are located within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, which serve about 3,000 students enrolled.

In October, Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, was already planning to remove UNRWA schools from East Jerusalem and said, "The US decision has created a rare opportunity to replace UNRWA's services with services of the Jerusalem Municipality. We are putting an end to the lie of the 'Palestinian refugee problem' and the attempts at creating a false sovereignty within a sovereignty."

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the United Nations founded UNWRA, to help resettle nearly 700,000 Palestinians after the Arab-Israeli war; UNRWA says that there are 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in the world.

UNRWA currently provides services to some 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the occupied Palestinian territories, and the besieged Gaza Strip.

UNRWA included descendants of the original Palestinian refugees in its total sum of refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes after the 1948 war, as well as those refugees who fled during the 1967 Six Day war.

Meanwhile, Israel and the US have criticized UNRWA for its count of Palestinian refugees, which included the descendants and not only the original refugees displaced from their homes.

The US demanded that UNRWA "figures out the actual number of true Palestinian refugees" emphasizing that the total is not correct, in order to restore aid funds to the agency.

In July, a new bill, entitled "The UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act," was introduced in the US Congress that recognizes only 40,000 Palestinian refugees instead of 5.3 million refugees.

The newly introduced bill would ensure that the contributed to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) would go towards the resettlement of Palestinians displaced by the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, and not their descendants – who are a total number of 5.3 million people.

According to Republican Congressman and initiator of the bill, Doug Lamborn, said that the "refugee status is not something that can be handed down from generation to generation," referring to the descendants of Palestinian refugees who were born and are living in other countries.
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