HEBRON – A Palestinian charity in the West Bank city of Hebron is concerned it will be shut by the Israeli military and forced to close its orphanages and schools, employees at the institution told IRIN.
The Israeli military has ordered the closure of buildings rented by the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS), saying it is working for Hamas.
"At first we thought maybe they were just taking the business side of the charity, but now, after we appealed to the Israeli high court, our lawyer realised the orders mean they really want to close everything, including the schools and orphanages," said Rashid Rashid from the ICS.
Some 240 boys and girls aged 5-18 live at the orphanages, while thousands of other children, many of whom have lost at least one parent, receive schooling, food and clothing from the charity.
The ICS has received support from both the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron and the Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights.
It also said the Israeli military had seized US$157,000 worth of goods – including rice, oil, sugar, clothing and first aid kits – from its warehouse. The bakery’s equipment, worth over $43,000, was confiscated, along with items at the administrative office.
Military orders posted on the rented buildings, a girls’ school under construction and on a bakery owned by the society, said: "I order the seizure of all assets of the Islamic Charitable Society in Hebron including this land…," followed by a name and description of each property and signed by Gen Gadi Shamni, head of the military in the West Bank.
Shamni ordered the building to be vacated by 1 April (the building with tenants has now been vacated), warning that a further stay would be akin to aiding the "Hamas terrorist organisation", meaning they could face jail.
The Israeli military told IRIN the ICS "masquerades as a charity organisation in order to cover its activities of increasing support for the Hamas terror network", adding that it raised money for "terrorists" and "recruits new terror operatives and disseminates the creed of anti-Zionism and `Jihad’ among its population".
It also accused the group of indoctrinating youth with radical Islamist ideology, though it presented no proof, citing only intelligence information.
The ICS said it had no connections with Hamas. It provided IRIN with documents showing that the Palestinian Authority (PA), including the current government of Salam Fayyad, has audited and approved the work of the organisation.
A spokesman for Fayyad said the PA government was in contact with the Israelis and was trying to solve the issue and keep the charity’s work going. Fayyad’s stamp is crucial as he has shut down numerous organisations with alleged ties to Hamas since becoming premier of the West Bank-based government following the Islamic movement’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in June last year.
"We have been open since 1962. We had Jordanian approval, then Israeli and now that of the PA," said Ghassan Muhammed, a supervisor at the charity’s boys’ school. "We were around long before Hamas even existed."
For some children at the orphanage, with broken families they do not want to go back to, the prospect of losing their stability is daunting.
Muhammed, aged 15, has been living at the boys’ home for over two years, since his father died. His mother remarried very quickly and her new husband was not interested in keeping the boy around. He now only has contact with her several times a year.
"So I came here, to study and live," he said shyly. He hopes to finish high school and study at the university, possibly with a grant from the ICS, though now he and his teachers know all prospects are up in the air.