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Arab Studies Society department reopened after forcible closure by Israel

March 17, 2017 5:08 P.M. (Updated: March 19, 2017 7:27 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- The Mapping and Geographic Information Systems Department of the Arab Studies Society reopened in Beit Hanina on Thursday after Israeli authorities forcibly shut it down two days prior following an order from Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

Director of the center Khalil Tufakji, who was briefly detained during the Tuesday raid, told Ma'an on Friday that he had obtained permission to reopen the office and also regained equipment and documents that had been seized by Israeli police.

Erdan had issued the order to close the department claiming that it was operating within Israel's municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority (PA) government, which he said was in violation of the 1994 Oslo Accords.

However, Tufakji said that he explained to Israeli authorities during his interrogation that the office was located within borders of the PA-controlled West Bank, adding that the office was a research institution that has nothing to do with the PA.

Beit Hanina was placed under the control of the Jerusalem municipality when Israel illegally annexed the territory in 1967. However, the neighboring community of Beit Hanina al-Balad remained within the occupied West Bank and was further cut off from the Israeli municipality after the constructionist of Israel's separation wall.

The exact location of the office remained unclear, and a spokesperson for Israel's Jerusalem municipality was not immediately available for comment on the issue.

Tufakji said that the mapping department's work in documenting Israeli violations regarding the demolition of Palestinian homes and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements was the cause of the Erdan's order. "The Israeli side does not want anyone to speak or show its violations to the world and takes advantage of international circumstances to silence the voice of Palestinians,” he told Ma'an.

After Israeli police raided and sealed the office on Tuesday, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat denounced the closure and “the illegal detention” of Tufakji, describing the man as “a distinguished scholar from Jerusalem.”

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 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.

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.”
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