Israel’s former Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered the closure of a nonprofit organization that aids at risk youth in East Jerusalem because its organizers are suspected of being in contact with senior officials of the Palestinian Authority.
For the past two years, the Volunteer for Hope organization has helped about 70 children aged 6 to 15, who mostly come from single-parent households or families in distress, and is legally registered as an Israeli nonprofit with the Registrar of Associations in the Justice Ministry.
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During morning hours, the children’s mothers are taught Hebrew by the organization and in the afternoon the kids spend time there, and learn Hebrew, math and English – along with other subjects.
Three months ago, the police conducted the first raid on the place and confiscated equipment. Since then, the director of the group, Sylvia Abu Laban, has been summoned four times for questioning by the police’s minorities department but was never indicted.
The main evidence for the link between the group and the PA were pictures of Abu Laban with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh at a meeting he held with the heads of civil society groups in Jerusalem, along with the fact that the group took children for a vacation in Jericho.
A week ago, police officers arrived with an order signed by Erdan issued on the basis of the Law for the Implementation of the Oslo Accords, which bans operations by the PA inside of Jerusalem. The order requires Abu Laban to close down all the group’s operations for six months.
“The group only deals with children and their mothers. Not everyone in East Jerusalem agrees to let their children go to city-run centers, we opened a nonprofit organization to prevent dropping out of school and so they don’t resort to drugs or throwing rocks in the street,” Abu Laban told Haaretz. “I don’t receive a penny from the PA.”
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The organization is not connected in any way to the PA, said attorney Mohammed Abu Laban, who represents the group. He said he intends on going to court to stop the closure, which will only cause these youth “to go out to the streets and throw rocks. This is a policy of terror that wants to destroy and not help anyone.”
The closure is part of Erdan’s strict policy against any shred of Palestinian public activity in East Jerusalem. During his term — which ended last week with the swearing in of Israel’s new government when he was given the Regional Cooperation portfolio — dozens of events, conferences, festivals and press conferences were dispersed because they were supposedly linked to the PA.
Examples of this policy include banning a soccer tournament, closing a school, journalists and PA activists were arrested regularly and were placed under restrictions.
In spite of these activities, during the coronavirus crisis Israel allowed armed Palestinian forces to operate inside Jerusalem beyond the separation barrier to impose order and disperse violent confrontations.
The Public Security Ministry and Erdan's office did not respond to request for comment.