Top News from Israel & Palestine: April 6, 2020

What We’re Reading

COVID-19 & Israel/Israelis

Israel set for nationwide lockdown from Tuesday afternoon to early Friday,

“Israel is set for a nationwide lockdown in the lead-up to the Passover holiday, according to multiple reports, with ministers expected to approve the measure Monday night after ultra-Orthodox members of the cabinet reportedly opposed applying limits only to Haredi cities. The lockdown is set to take effect at 4 p..m. on Tuesday afternoon, and to remain in force until early Friday morning. In addition, a curfew could be announced on Passover eve, banning all movement outside the home Wednesday evening…The closure is be extended to the entire country, rather than a handful of cities, after ultra-Orthodox ministers — United Torah Judaim chair Yaakov Litzman and Shas chair Aryeh Deri — protested the restrictions being rolled out largely in Haredi areas. According to multiple Hebrew media reports, the lockdown would prevent most Israelis from leaving the municipal boundaries of their own cities, though they would be allowed to shop for essential supplies within the borders of their cities or regions within the cities.”

Israel Police Begin Setting Up Roadblocks to Enforce Coronavirus Closure Over Passover,

“Israel Police began placing roadblocks at the entrances to Jerusalem on Sunday, in an operation that will continue through the Passover seder on Wednesday night, in an attempt to prevent people from leaving their homes due to the coronavirus outbreak…’We are already past the explanation stage, there will not be any compromises,’ said the head of the operations branch in the Traffic Police, Chief Superintendent Shelly Shaul. ‘The goal is for the roads to be completely empty. Anyone who thinks they can evade them, should know that at a certain stage they will run into the police and not only will they receive a fine but they will also be sent back home.’”

Tel Aviv Suburb Fences Off ultra-Orthodox City Hit by Coronavirus,

“The Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan set up separation fences Monday morning at connection points with the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, claiming that it is closing ‘loop holes’ in the government decision to impose closure on the coronavirus hot spot. The Interior Ministry ordered the blockages removed, and even earlier, the municipality of Bnei Brak announced that it would send workers to dismantle the fences…The Ramat Gan municipality said it erected grid fences after the police began easing the closure on Bnei Brak due to shortage in manpower. The police commented that there is no shortage in manpower and the changes were made according to operational needs.” See Also: “Litzman slams discrimination against Haredim amid Bnei Brak fence row” (Ynet); “IDF deploys troops to Bnei Brak as city under coronavirus lockdown” (Ynet); “Government to evacuate 4,500 elderly from Bnei Brak” (Ynet)

Cabinet names lockdown committee, with 8 cities, Jerusalem areas in crosshairs,

“The cabinet, which met via telephone, authorized a ministerial committee to declare various areas in Israel with high infection rates ‘restricted areas,’ and gave the same powers to the Israel Defense Forces commander in the West Bank”

Spared So Far, Israel's Arab Community Fears Ramadan Could Spark Coronavirus Outbreak,

“As of Sunday evening, only 193 of around 8,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel could be found in Arab communities, according to Health Ministry figures. Not one Arab community appears among the first 60 on the Ministry’s list. Experts say the gap can be partially explained by a relatively small number of tests conducted in Arab communities, as well as a lack of epidemiological investigation to locate those who had been in contact with COVID-19 patients, as Haaretz previously reported. As of Sunday, 6,479 people in Arab communities were tested in contrast to more than 80,000 in Jewish communities.”

Israeli Minister Pushes to Deduct Coronavirus Fines From Asylum Seekers' Deposit Accounts,

“Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan appealed to Interior Minister Arye Dery Sunday to promote legislation that would allow the state to use funds from asylum seekers’ mandatory deposit accounts to pay any fines they receive for violating the coronavirus regulations. Since 2018, 20 percent of asylum seekers’ wages are deposited into accounts that they will only have access to once they leave Israel. The Interior Ministry recently allowed asylum seekers who lost their job or were furloughed due to the coronavirus crisis to withdraw funds from these accounts to pay for living expenses. According to Erdan, ‘offsetting the fines from the deposit money will help bolster deterrence in south Tel Aviv and prevent the spread of the virus among this population.’ Erdan’s initiative is awaiting approval by the Justice Ministry to raise it to a vote at an upcoming government meeting.”

COVID-19 & Palestine/Palestinians

Gaza running out of coronavirus tests, warns Hamas-run Health Ministry,

“‘What is available to us in terms of coronavirus laboratory tests is very scarce. It will be gone within days,’ Ashraf al-Qidra told a press conference in Gaza. ‘Therefore, we turn to international organizations and relevant international and local parties to provide a sufficient amount of the laboratory tests.'”

PA repurposes West Bank hospital for virus cases after infected man visits site,

“The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry decided on Sunday to repurpose the Thabet Thabet Government Hospital in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem for coronavirus cases after an infected man entered the medical facility, the official PA news site Wafa reported. Patients seeking care at the hospital for reasons unrelated to the virus will be instructed to go to other medical institutions, the Wafa report said.”

East Jerusalem worries of healthcare collapse over coronavirus,

“Citing Israeli neglect of Palestinians living in the holy city and with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) banned from operating in the area, Palestinians in East Jerusalem say they have been left to fend for themselves. Walid Namour, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Hospitals Network in East Jerusalem and head of the Augusta Victoria hospital in the city, told Al Jazeera that East Jerusalem hospitals are facing a potential outbreak with a ‘big shortage’ of medical respirators. ‘The [Israeli] occupation [authorities] have ignored us for a long time and our capabilities are limited,’ Namour said.”

PA bans Israeli goods to prevent spread of coronavirus,

“The decision, issued by PA National Economy Minister Khaled al-Osaily, forbids the distribution and sale of Israeli goods and used materials of any kind. Anyone who violates the decision, which goes into effect on Sunday, would be held legally accountable, Osaily said. He emphasized that his ministry, together with PA security forces, has been making an effort to implement a law that combats settlement products, which was approved by PA President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010.”

Packed With Refugees, Palestinian Camps Face Grave Threat if Coronavirus Spreads,

“‘(UNRWA) is not sanitizing the camp, and they are not cleaning the camp in efforts against this epidemic,”‘ Abu Aker said in Bethlehem’s Deheisheh camp, referring to the UN agency which provides services to 5.6 million Palestinian refugees…UNRWA has faced budget difficulties for years amid donor fatigue and other conflicts in Syria and Yemen. But its financial troubles escalated after 2018, when the United States, its largest donor, halted its annual aid of $360 million…Despite its troubles, UNRWA last year secured a three-year renewal of its mandate by the United Nations. But soon afterwards came an unexpected challenge: coronavirus. It launched flash funding appeals, saying it needed $14 million over an initial three-month period to confront the illness in its camps. The crisis comes ‘while UNRWA is facing the most severe financial crisis in its history,’ spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai told Reuters at the agency’s headquarters in Amman.”

COVID-19 expenses upending PA budget formulation,

“he state of emergency declared by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 5 and the strict measures announced by the government on March 18 to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian territories are expected to further constrain the financial capacity of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The government was expected to pay the full salary of state employees, but if the state of emergency is prolonged, a financial crisis will loom.”

Israel’s real coronavirus test lies in freeing Palestinians from its grip,

Avner Gvaryahu writes, “Israel is not just responsible for its nine million citizens, but for all 14 million human beings living under our control between the river and the sea. Yet its stranglehold over the Palestinian people has never been so shortsighted, presumptuous, and dangerous. We actively prevented an entire nation from building themselves a national home, a state. We ruthlessly crammed them into Bantustans, making it impossible for them to develop their own economy, public infrastructure, and normal diplomatic relations. We bombed hospitals and power stations in Gaza, without stopping to ask ourselves what might happen when the sick come to the fence asking for medical treatment that we have refused to supply them.”

Coronavirus restrictions expose deficit in Palestinian-Israeli Oslo Accord,

“Unarmed Palestinian security has been working in Qalandia and Kufr Aqab, known as Area B and just outside the Israeli wall built deep into Palestinian areas of Jerusalem. This is one of the first times that Palestinian armed security with their official suits have been deployed unofficially in the Kufr Aqab and Qalandia areas. Mohammad Hadieh, a lawyer and the executive director of ACT, a conflict resolution Palestinian NGO, told Al-Monitor that the vacuum left by Israel has led to lawlessness. ‘In Kufr Aqab, we have armed thugs that deal with drugs. We have unregulated buildings coming up everywhere, as well as people wanted for crimes in the Palestinian areas,’ he said.”

Hard work and ingenuity as Gaza rises to the challenge,

“All the confirmed cases had been travelling outside of Gaza and have been placed in quarantine by the health ministry in a centre near the border with Egypt, along with other suspected cases. But while residents of Gaza have been particularly fearful of the potential effects of Covid-19 in an area already deeply strained by the effects of nearly 13 years of siege, a spirit of helpfulness and solidarity has gripped the Palestinian territory – as a number of individuals have launched initiatives to help Gaza and neighbouring areas through the pandemic.”

Israel needs to protect Palestinians from COVID-19,

“Under international law, control means responsibility. A foreign military occupying another territory is responsible for meeting the population’s humanitarian needs, protecting human rights, and, to the extent possible, restoring normal civilian life. An occupying power may and often does delegate tasks to local officials, as Israel did in 1995, when it delegated civilian competences to the Palestinian Authority. However, so long as Israel continues to exercise effective control over Gaza and the West Bank – including controlling borders, natural resources, and movement of people and goods – it remains responsible for the welfare of Palestinians. That means that if the Palestinian authorities can’t adequately protect people from COVID-19, Israel has an obligation to use its own, necessarily limited resources, to do so.”

Coronavirus in Gaza: The Blockade Will Kill Palestinians,

“Gaza residents will suffer not just from the natural complications the virus causes, but from the fact that the siege puts them at an extreme disadvantage in all three categories considered vital to battling the coronavirus epidemic: health services, social conditions that determine the level of health, and the ability to keep social distance from one another.”

Israel Elections

Gantz to Ask President Rivlin for Extension in Forming Government,

“Kahol Lavan chairman and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz informed President Reuven Rivlin on the progress of unity government negotiations in a phone call Sunday, saying that he plans to request a two-week extension on his mandate after the Passover holiday.”

Blue and White said willing to bend on annexation, but not on judge appointments,

“The Blue and White party is reportedly willing to compromise on West Bank annexation in order to form a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, which has demanded support for the move. Likud’s insistence on veto power in the appointment of judges, however, could see the coalition negotiations blow up without agreement, the Kan public broadcaster quoted sources in Benny Gantz’s party as saying Monday morning…According to Channel 13, Gantz is prepared to accept a limited degree of annexation in order to reach a unity government agreement, but is not willing to agree to any move until after the coronavirus pandemic has ended, and is only willing to agree on annexation of settlement blocs located west of the security barrier. The network also said that he is pushing for a guarantee that the move won’t be made unilaterally but rather as part of a broad peace initiative and in full coordination with the Defense Ministry, which he is slated to lead.” See Also: “Gantz, Have You No Red Lines at All?” (Haaretz Editorial)

Eyeing Positions in Netanyahu's Government, Labor Formally Asks to End Left-wing Alliance,

“Israel’s Labor Party submitted on Saturday a formal request to dissolve its short-lived alliance with left-wing Meretz, effectively clearing Labor’s way to join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan…Haaretz reported on Monday that Peretz was set to join a unity government led by Netanyahu and would be appointed economy and industry minister, following a Sunday meeting with representatives of Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party.”

Blue and White, Labor plan merger as Gantz and Netanyahu hold coalition talks,

“Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz met with Labor chief Amir Peretz on Monday to discuss a possible merger of their parties as they are set to join the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following the dissolution of Labor’s alliance with the left-wing Meretz. The talks came as Gantz also met Monday with Netanyahu for new coalition talks, with their parties claiming progress toward forming a new government.”

Israel’s Lapid back in race to lead Israel,

“From the moment the party was dismantled, Lapid seemed liberated. He regained control and was eager to start a new life in politics. Now, he is once again the sole leader of a party formed in his image. He returned to his comfort zone in an attempt to build himself up as an alternative to the current government. It sounded promising, at least on paper. After all, he was the only one to stick to his election promise by refusing to sit in a Netanyahu government. Given the reality of Israeli politics, however, the chances of Lapid now forming a government are negligible. First of all, his ability to win the support of a large voter base from the political center is limited, especially after he attempted to form a government with the support of the Arab Joint List. And he returned with zeal to his original, anti-ultra-Orthodox agenda. The problem is that this makes him the leader of a sectoral party, not a governing party.”

International Aid for Palestine

Will Trump administration provide COVID-19 aid to the Palestinians?,

“The United States recently touted some $40 million in emergency humanitarian assistance throughout the Middle East and North Africa to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. The West Bank and Gaza are not on the list of beneficiaries of this US largesse…Bonnie Glick, the deputy administrator at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), defended the policy in an interview with Jewish Insider published today. ‘It actually isn’t controversial except it’s portrayed in a controversial way,’ Glick said. ‘The Palestinians, through [Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas], asked us to stop our assistance to the Palestinian Authority, because under congressional legislation it would’ve meant that they would be on the hook to pay reparations to American terror victims’.”

Norway Pleads for More Aid to Help Palestinians Tackle Coronavirus,

“Norway called on Friday for more money to help the Palestinian Territories get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there has only been one death and 161 reported cases of the coronavirus in the Palestinian Territories, the outbreak is expected to worsen there. Globally cases have now passed 1 million, with more than 53,000 fatalities, with most in the United States, Italy and Spain after the initial outbreak in Asia. ‘We need to work together to prevent this from being a bigger humanitarian and health disaster than we think it can be, especially in Gaza, but also in the West Bank,’ Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told Reuters.”

FMEP Resource

Settlement Report: April 3, 2020,

“In a wild week in Israeli politics, the Blue & White party splintered as Benny Gantz entered into negotiations with  Likud party to form an emergency power-sharing government. As negotiations made significant headway, the issue of Israel’s annexation of West Bank land nearly derailed the deal. At the time of publication, Israeli press is reporting that the parties have come to some kind of an agreement and expect negotiations to be completed soon that finalize a coalition agreement; it remains unclear what if anything has been agreed with respect to annexation..”