(Arial view of illegal UN construction. Courtesy, Regavim.)

A United Nations agency has been instructed by the Jerusalem District Court to desist from all construction at its Jerusalem headquarters.

A 2017 lawsuit submitted by Regavim, an Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO), accused the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) of numerous violations including illegal encroachment and seizure of public property. The UN frequently condemns Israel for allegedly illegal building in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, despite these areas being the heartland of the Jewish people’s home.

According to documents seen in court, the agency illegally seized dozens of state-owned land in the Armon HaNatziv area, close to the site of the new American embassy. Regavim says it first discovered the U.N. agency’s building activity in March of last year, and petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to get the government to enforce the law.

The NGO describes itself as a “research-based think tank and lobbying group dedicated to the preservation of Israel’s resources and protection of Israeli sovereignty through unbiased application and enforcement of the law.”

An aerial view of the U.N. compound as it looks today. The green line is the current compound, the red line marks the original dimensions allotted by the Israeli government for use by the U.N. It has constructed additional buildings, a gas station, storage facilities, and more: all without building permits or oversight of any kind. (Regavim)

Regavim’s spokesperson Naomi Kahn explained that the unlawful work include demolition of historic buildings, construction of an illegal storage facility and a gas station, which she said has caused environmental damage to the surrounding area. Kahn said, “To make matters worse, the compound has grown through illegal encroachment and seizure of public property from 11 acres to just over 19.”

Regavim welcomed the court’s decision. “The U.N.’s diplomatic immunity does not allow it to violate the laws of the host country,” said Regavim’s attorney, Avi Segal. “Before Regavim submitted its petition, the U.N. made itself at home in the Jerusalem compound, brazenly disregarding Israel’s sovereignty and Israeli law. This decision by the District Court establishes that no further construction will be carried out at the UNTSO compound without the consent and permission of the State of Israel.

“The issue of the illegal seizure of some 30 dunams of land, beyond what was set aside for the U.N.’s use by the state of Israel, will be pursued in a separate hearing.”

Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of international and constitutional law at Northwestern University, previously said that the U.N. is shielded by its longstanding immunity. “Immunity means they cannot be sued in court — even if the court agrees their action is unlawful.”

“The U.N. is behaving absolutely lawlessly in Jerusalem. Even if it considers Israel an occupying power, it is bound to heed the municipal and safety regulations of such a power, which are entirely lawful. The U.N. does not own the building and does not pay rent”, Kontorovich added.

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