Israeli Authorities Were Unaware of Jerusalem City Limits When Shuttering Palestinian Mapping Office

Police believed the office was operating from within the city limits, when it is in fact in the West Bank. It was only after the center's director was questioned that the police learned of its error.

Palestinian geographer Khalil Tufakji (C) is detained as Israeli security forces carry out a police order to close his mapping office in East Jerusalem, March 14, 2017.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

Jerusalem police and the Public Security Ministry were not aware until last week of the precise border of the city. Officials in both organizations mistakenly believed that the post office neighborhood (Dahiyat al-Barid), is within the boundaries of the capital when it is in fact in the southern part of Al-Ram, a town in the West Bank.

On the basis of this lack of knowledge, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan last Tuesday ordered the closure for six months of the Cartographic Section of the Arab Studies Center, whose offices are in the Hirbawi building in Dahiyat al-Barid. The closure order signed by Erdan stated that the offices served as a “representation of the Palestinian Authority” that operated without a permit and in violation of the Oslo Accords in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, within the boundaries of the State of Israel.

The same day, the center was shut down and its director, Khalil Tufakji, a geographer, was detained for questioning. It was only while Tufakji was being questioned that the police learned of its error; Tufakji and his lawyer, Ziad al-Hidmi, were told the same day that Tufakji was free to leave and to reopen the center immediately.

Khalil Tufakji, the head of the Cartographic Section of the Arab Studies Center.
Amira Hass

When the center was closed down, the Israel Police spokesman’s office issued a press release. Among other claims, the announcement said Tufakji passed to the Palestinian security organizations information about land sales in Jerusalem, “and when there is a suspicion of forgery or an intention to sell land or a home to a Jew, an investigation is opened by the Palestinian security forces.”

Neither the Public Security Ministry nor the spokesman’s office of the Israel Police have issued a correction, explaining to the media that the closure order was based on an error.

Police welded office door shut

In an interview with Haaretz on Monday, Tufakji said that 10 days before the closure, police officers came to the center, walked around its rooms, took pictures and left without saying a word. When they returned with the closure order last Tuesday, they took a few files and seized seven computers as well as maps and photographs that had been hanging on the walls. The door to the office was welded shut.

Tufakji was taken immediately to police headquarters in downtown Jerusalem’s Russian Compound, where he was questioned for about half an hour. According to Tufakji, an investigator who identified himself as “Bahjat” asked about his ties to the Palestinian Authority, and Tufakji stressed that his salary is paid by the Arab Studies Society, a nongovernmental research organization.

Tufakji said the detective did not mention the claims about his “passing information about land sales,” and that he told “Bahjat” that the center is located in Dahiyat al-Barid, in the West Bank, and that the border “drawn by Rehavam Ze’evi and Moshe Dayan in 1967” follows the road separating Dahiyat al-Bareed and Beit Hanina.

Around half an hour after Tufakji’s questioning was completed, and some six hours after the closure order was presented, “Bahjat” told Tufakji he was free to go. Tufakji told Haaretz the detectives did not touch the computers. He returned to work at the center on Thursday, two days after the closure.

The Arab Studies Society was founded in 1980 for the purpose of researching and documenting the social, cultural and political culture of the Palestinians. Until 2001 it was located in Orient House in East Jerusalem, which, after the 1993 Oslo Accords, became the PLO’s headquarters in the city. In the summer of 2001, Israel ordered Orient House’s closure. Tufakji and his mapping department moved to the offices on the edge of Al-Ram.

The separation barrier that Israel built in the 2000s does not follow Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. It left part of Dahiyat al-Barid “on the Israeli side.” Residents of the West Bank who live in the neighborhood have permits that allow them to pass through the Qalandiyah checkpoint to reach their homes, but if they cross the road just meters to the west or the south, they risk being arrested for being in Jerusalem without a permit.

Neither Israel Police nor the Public Security Ministry responded to requests for comment by Haaretz.