Palestine amid the spread of Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic is more than ever bringing to the open Israel’s racist and inhumane policies. Israel’s apartheid regime is taking advantage of the Coronavirus pandemic to dramatically escalate its brutal attacks on Palestinians, with almost daily killings, and to rapidly advance its policies of annexation, land grab and expulsion of the Palestinian people. Settler attacks are on the rise.

On the ground, we are organizing to ensure that the communities most targeted by Israeli apartheid and occupation and the socially more fragile members of our society have the support they need, from sanitizers to food. But they need your support as well to denounce the ways in which Israel takes advantage even of COVID-19 to promote its policies of dispossession and displacement.

Stop the Wall calls on the international community and human rights organizations to intervene and support the Palestinian people in their struggle to be safe both from the Coronavirus and the Israeli occupation, which is taking advantage from the moment to escalate its aggressive and settler colonial practices against the Palestinian people.

Background

Since the spread of the Coronavirus, Israel and the Palestinian authorities in Occupied West Bank and Gaza have announced a state of emergency; the Israeli occupation has escalated its aggressive attacks and campaigns of arrests against the Palestinian people. Two Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces since the escalation of violence. Stop the Wall is worried about the Israeli occupation making use of the lock down and difficulties to organize collective popular action to steal more land and water resources.

Health care under the occupation and apartheid is even in normal circumstances a challenge. The pandemic is yet another reason for Israel to test and expand its capacity of lock down. Palestinians in what is called Area C, areas that are under full Israeli military and administrative control and currently under heightened risk of annexation, are those most vulnerable to this pandemic. If the Coronavirus reaches these communities Israel will put restrictions on the PA and international organizations to give them aid. Such communities are also vulnerable due to Israel’s policies of apartheid making these communities lack the necessary infrastructure, such as access to clean water that would allow them to take the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Israel’s apartheid policy and dehumanization of Palestinians becomes ever more evident in these times: while Palestinian residents suffer heightened aggression, the privileged illegal Israeli settlers are treated and protected even as they attack Palestinians. The pandemic represents an excellent moment for Israel to promote and accelerate its project of ethnic cleansing and land annexation in favor of the settlers. The situation in the Gaza Strip is even more disastrous than that in the West Bank as the 13-year-old inhumane siege has made the health system dysfunctional.

However, the Palestinian youth are mobilizing in solidarity with the marginalized communities in area ‘C’ and in the over-crowded refugee camps around the West Bank. Committee members of the Palestinian Youth Forum are launching an initiative to help the Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley and disenfranchised families in refugee camps to combat the virus. Youth, next generation leadership, supply these communities and families with sanitizers and first aid kits in addition to awareness-raising about the spread of the virus and tips to take protective measures.

Palestinians’ lives are menaced by the Israeli bullets not only by the Coronavirus

  • On Sunday, March 22nd, six bullets shot by the Israeli occupation forces at the head of 32-year-old Sofyan Al-Khawaja robbed him of his life. Mahmoud Al-Khwaja, Sofyan’s cousin was also injured with three bullets in his back. The aggressive act of the Israeli occupation forces took place at an Israeli military checkpoint built on lands confiscated from the farmers of Ni’lin. Sofyan, accompanied by Mahmoud was driving his car home at night before the quarantine decision taken by the Palestinian PM Mohammed Shtayyah to contain the pandemic comes into effect (10.00 PM). The Israeli occupation forces took the body of Sofyan and up until now they refuse to give it to his family.

Sofyan al-Khawaja.

  • On Wednesday, March 11th, the Israeli occupation forces shot dead 15-year-old Mohammed Hamayel while defending his land, Mount Al-Arma, near Beita Village, south of Nablus, from being taken over by Israeli illegal settlers. Over a hundred others have also been injured, two with live ammunition suffering in a serious condition. The use of live ammunition and the brutal indiscriminate violence against human rights defenders and peaceful protesters by the Israeli occupation forces may start another wave of escalating violence against Palestinian communities, particularly minors and youth. The Israeli occupation forces and settlers have been attacking the human rights defenders staging a sit-in tent on Mount Al-Arma since a month. While gathering is banned in the occupied Palestinian territories as a preventive measure of the spread of the Coronavirus, Palestinians’ fear of the epidemic is mixed with fears of the Israeli occupation’s real steps on the ground to confiscate Mount Al-Arma. Mount Al-Arma’s importance lies in its strategic location. It overlooks the Jordan Valley, a fertile land threatened with imminent confiscation. Seizing the hilltop represents a panoptical defensive tool that grants the Israeli occupation with a panoramic view over the Jordan Valley and the whole district of Nablus. The confiscation of Mount Al-Arma would also allow Israel to expand Itamar settlement built illegally on the lands of the neighboring villages to Beita-Beit Foreek, Biet Dajan, Yanoun, Awrta and Aqraba villages. For more information about the murder of Mohammed, please see the article published on Stop the Wall website

Mohammed Hamayel

Escalation of Arrest Despite the Coronavirus Pandemic

  • On Sunday, March 22nd, the Israeli occupation forces raided the houses of Mamdouh Barry and Alaa’ Sadeq from Qalqilya and arrested them despite the fact that all the Palestinians in the West Bank are now in quarantine. Amid the epidemic, Barry and Sadeq’s lives are exposed to the danger of catching COVID-19 through contact with the Israeli soldiers.

  • On Wednesday, March 18th, 9 Palestinian youth have been arrested in an overnight raid to different areas in Occupied West Bank: six Palestinian youth were arrested from Ramallah, two from Jerusalem and one in Qalqilya. Detention of Palestinians from Jerusalem never stopped; some have been even arrested while they were cleaning their neighborhoods as a protective measure from the Coronavirus. 1

Palestinian Prisoners isolation does not shields them from the Coronavirus

  • The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society announced on March 19th that four Palestinian prisoners have got infected with the Coronavirus in Megiddo prison in sections (5), (6) and (10) and caught it after contact with a prisoner who contracted it through an Israeli interrogator in “Petah Tikva” investigation center. Currently, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are at risk of infection from the Israeli jailors and investigators, who, of course, have represented a threat to the prisoners even before the spread of the Coronavirus.2

  • The Israeli occupation authorities have excluded the 5,000 Palestinian prisoners from the emergency measures to contain and mitigate the pandemic. The Israeli prison administration decided to cut supply of sanitizers and hygienic chemicals for the canteens selling products to prisoners. We call on international human rights organizations to intervene to protect the lives of the Palestinian prisoners; mainly, by providing them with disinfectants and pursuing preventive measures as recommended by the World Health Organization.

While the pandemic is expanding, the Palestinians’ Land is Shrinking

  • Over a week ago, the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced before his constituents that he intends to annex the Jordan Valley to become an integral part of Israel in addition to developing Israeli illegal settlements in other parts of Occupied West Bank. The Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection also proclaimed that the aim is to impose Israel’s sovereignty over the Jordan Valley within six months from now.3 Amid the pandemic, Palestinians popular struggle, which proved effective to support the steadfastness of threatened communities in area ‘C’ and to prevent, or at least hamper the Israeli occupation’s real steps towards annexation, has to take a temporary break. This means that for Palestinians their health and their land are at risk: Palestinians sound the alarm about both, the Coronavirus and the annexation of the Jordan Valley.

  • The Jordan Valley constitutes about 30% of the West Bank. It’s a fertile strip of land which Palestinians consider as the largest land reserve for their future state. The annexation of the Jordan Valley will squeeze Palestinians into even smaller Bantustans and prevent them from any potential development. Trump’s ‘Theft of the Century’ gives Israel the green light to annex area ‘C’, particularly the Jordan Valley. The annexation of Palestinian land legitimizes and legalizes Israel’s settler colonial practices in the West Bank pursued since 1967.

Coronavirus: Israeli Settlers’ New Way to Intimidate Palestinians

  • While the Palestinian Authority is trying to restrict the movement of Palestinians even in their towns as protective measures from the Coronavirus amid its limited medical facilities, dozens of Israeli illegal settlers visited Sebastia’s archeological site (Nablus district) under the Israeli army’s protection. The presence of the Israeli settlers and the army amongst Palestinian towns represents a real threat inflicting intimidation on the Palestinian population as there is a noticeable expansion of the pandemic in Israelis.4

Home Demolitions 

  • While millions of people around the world, including in Israel, are quarantined in their houses as a way to shield themselves from catching COVID-19, about a week ago, a Palestinian family from the Shufat refugee camp in occupied Jerusalem was forced to demolish its own home! The Israeli High Court ordered the family to demolish their home claiming that it was built without a construction permit, which the Israeli Authorities hardly issues for Palestinians. Tareq Mohammed Ali, the owner of the house, decided to demolish his home as refusing to do so would force him to pay the expenses of demolition if it was to be carried out by the Israeli occupation authorities. The Israeli authorities practice apartheid against the people of Jerusalem including rejecting construction permits to them as a way to gradually reduce the number of Palestinians living in Jerusalem while increasing that of the Jews as one form of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their city.5

Tareq Mohammed Ali demolishes his own home.

The ‘inhabitable’ besieged Gaza is the most vulnerable to the Coronavirus

  • Developed countries like Italy and South Korea, which have not been suffering from long-standing military occupation and tremendous oppression and apartheid practices, are facing a real challenge to contain and mitigate the epidemic. Two Palestinians who come from abroad have contracted COVID-19 and have been quarantined since they have arrived in Gaza. If COVID-19 hit the tensely populated Gaza Strip and put the 2 million people, who are still reeling on the rubbles of their houses left by aggressive Israeli attacks and still trying to heal the wounds of the peaceful demonstrators who have protested on the borders with Israel when the Great March of Return erupted in 2017, the consequences that will be inflicted upon the people of Gaza will be disastrous.

  • In 2012, the United Nations warned that by 2020, the Gaza Strip will be inhabitable.6 2020 has started and brought with it an epidemic that will worsen the situation in the moment COVID -19 finds a lacuna in the hermetic siege Israel imposes on Gaza, which, according to UN reports, has caused severe shortages in medical supplies. According to a report published by OCHA, 97% of the water in Gaza is not drinkable.7 This means thatdoctors in Gaza don’t even find clean water to disinfect their hands before treating people. 70% of the people in Gaza are refugees expelled from their land when Israel was created in 1948. They receive aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), including healthcare and protective measures against the pandemic. However, UNRWA has recently announced it is in urgent need for US $14 million to respond to the robust emergency situation in Palestine and the host Arab countries following the COVID-19 outbreak. The Flash Appeal the agency has recently launched points to the requirements for health and other services related to the containment and the mitigation of the pandemic in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. UNRWA Acting Commissioner General Christian Saunders stated that “overcrowded living conditions, physical and mental stress and years of protracted conflict all make vulnerable population of over 5.6 million Palestine refugees particularly susceptible to the ongoing threat of COVID-19.".8

  • The financial crisis the UNRWA is currently facing has started in 2018 when the US administration cut its financial aid to UNRWA, the “irredeemably flawed operation,” as described by the administration, specifically to programs serving the Palestinian refugees in Gaza.9 The US administration’s policy towards UNRWA since President Donald Trump has come to power is an attempt to liquidate the Palestinian refugees’ cause. This resonates with what Trump’s announced ‘Deal of the Century’ on last January calls for: Palestinian refugees should give up their right of return.


Notes:
1 http://english.pnn.ps/2020/03/18/iof-arrest-9-palestinians-in-overnight-raids/
2 https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/coronavirus-palestine-prisoners-israel-jail-test-positive-covid-19
3 http://english.pnn.ps/2020/03/10/netanyahu-vows-to-impose-israeli-sovereignty-over-jordan-valley-and-settlements/
4 https://www.palestinechronicle.com/israeli-army-allows-settlers-into-west-bank-site-despite-coronavirus-closure/
5 https://www.palestinechronicle.com/palestinian-family-forced-to-demolish-its-home-in-jerusalem/
6 https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/press-releases/gaza-2020-liveable-place
7https://www.ochaopt.org/content/study-warns-water-sanitation-crisis-gaza-may-cause-disease-outbreak-and-possible-epidemic
8 http://english.pnn.ps/2020/03/18/unrwa-launches-covid-19-us-14-million-flash-appeal-for-palestine-refugees/)
9 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/31/trump-to-cut-all-us-funding-for-uns-main-palestinian-refugee-programme

First published in Stop the Wall.