Top News from Israel & Palestine: July 22, 2020

What We’re Reading

Occupation, De Facto Annexation, & Human Rights

Israel demolishes Palestinian coronavirus testing centre in Hebron,

“Israeli authorities have demolished a Palestinian drive-through coronavirus testing centre in the city of Hebron, south of the occupied West Bank…Raed Maswadeh, a 35-year-old engineer whose family owns the land in which the drive-through test service was being built, told Middle East Eye that three months ago the municipality had appealed to Palestinians to raise funds to build the facility. ‘My family decided to donate our land at the northern entrance of Hebron for the purpose of constructing a Covid-19 test clinic,’ Maswadeh said. It was built in the memory of his grandfather, who died recently due to coronavirus, and Maswadeh said the project cost his family around $250,000. The land is located in Area C, a part of the West Bank totally controlled by Israel, which almost never gives out building permits for Palestinian residents. Israeli settlers in the area, however, face no such problems. Maswadeh said that they started building the centre without a permit, like many properities in the area. ‘If we applied for a permit, we would not have gotten it. We thought maybe during Covid-19, there would be some exceptions,’  he said. The idea of the project was to ease pressure on hospitals in Hebron treating Covid-19 patients, which have reached full capacity. Maswadeh told MEE that construction had been ongoing for two months, while Israeli soldiers patrolled the area. The soldiers watched bulldozers and building equipment enter the site, but said nothing, according to Maswadeh. However, on 12 July, they received a military order to stop the construction, which was handed to them by an Israeli army commander.”

Palestinian cyclists say attacked by settlers after trail app led them astray,

Avid cyclist Amer Kurdi set out on Saturday with his brother and three others on what was supposed to be an 80-km (50-mile) ride, using the cycling, hiking, and mountain biking app Komoot to chart a path north from the Palestinian village of Birzeit. Over an hour into their ride, Kurdi said Komoot led them east towards a rocky path near the settlement of Shilo. He said a group of Hebrew-speaking men, whom the cyclists later took to be Israeli settlers, approached and asked where they were from. Kurdi, 30, replied that they were from the Palestinian city of Ramallah. Soon after, the men — Kurdi estimates there were five or six — started throwing stones at them, using T-shirts to hide their faces, Kurdi and his brother, Samer, said. ‘The others managed to run away, but I tripped and fell,’ Samer, 28, said. ‘When I got up, a settler was behind me, and he started beating me with a metal rod’.”

Israeli Forces Evacuate West Bank Outpost in Area Earmarked for Palestinians Under Trump Plan,

“Israeli forces evacuated on Wednesday a settlement outpost that had been set up meters from an army base in the West Bank, on territory that, according to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, is supposed to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.” For background, see – “New Outpost Set Up on West Bank Land Meant to Go to the Palestinians Under Trump Plan” (Haaretz)

Palestinians accuse Israel of stealing 1500-year-old Christian relic from Bethlehem,

“Video footage posted online by the PLO Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy showed Israeli forces escorting a large flatbed truck out from the town of Tuqu, in the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem. The rare artefact, which dates back to the Byzantine period, was used as a water basin for baptisms and is one of three known relics of its kind…PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi called the move ‘an abominable act of thuggery and cultural appropriation’ and urged Unesco and its director-general Audrey Azoulay ‘to speak out and protect Palestinian heritage.'”

Annexation Watch

41 former Israeli security officials thank Dems for opposing annexation,

“A group of 41 former Israeli security officials sent a letter to four Democrats from the US House of Representatives Tuesday, thanking them for authoring a letter opposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stalled plan to annex parts of the West Bank.”

At Security Council Meeting, China Warns Israel Against West Bank Annexation,

“The Chinese Ambassador to the Unite Nations joined Wednesday a growing voice in the international community expressing opposition to Israel’s planned annexation of West Bank territories. China is ‘deeply concerned about reports of the plan to annex part of the occupied Palestinian territory,’ said Ambassador Zhang Jun at a Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East. ‘Such a plan, if implemented, will seriously violate international law and relevant UN resolutions, and imperil the two-state solution. We urge the relevant party to refrain from taking any unilateral actions, and do its best to de-escalate conflict and tension. It’s also our firm position that no country should support unilateral actions,’ said Jun, adding that ‘It is equally imperative to stop settlement activities, the demolition of Palestinian structures, and the violence against civilians’.”


East Jerusalem Struck by Record Number of Coronavirus Cases,

“In 24 hours, 151 new cases were identified, which marked the third time more than 100 cases were recorded in one day, all three occurring in the last week…According to sources in the city, the true numbers are higher, since some patients, especially in neighborhoods lying beyond the separation barrier, were tested by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and don’t appear on Israeli databases. According to Samih Abu Ramila, the head of a committee to combat the coronavirus in Kafr Aqab, a neighborhood in northern Jerusalem lying beyond the separation barrier, there are more than 400 cases he knows of in his neighborhood, whereas the official numbers is 109…Israel’s handling of the health crisis in East Jerusalem has been given to the IDF Home Front Command, which has set up headquarters at city hall, coordinating the assistance provided, the opening of labs for testing for the virus and the evacuation of residents to designated hotels for quarantine or to hospitals.”

Nearing 2,000 new cases, Israel sees record daily rise in virus infections,

“In the past 24 hours, 1,977 people have tested positive for coronavirus, Israel’s highest daily tally of confirmed cases since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Health Ministry reported Wednesday morning…The country’s major virus hotspots in the past 7 days were Jerusalem with 1,794 new confirmed cases, followed by Bnei Brak and Beitar-Illit with 962 and 487 news cases, respectively.”

Health Ministry cuts quarantine period for coronavirus patients,

“According to the new order, patients will now be considered recovered after three consecutive days without symptoms and at least 10 days since testing positive or the onset of symptoms.”

Palestinian Politics in the time of COVID

With Economic, Political Woes, West Bank's Second Coronavirus Wave Might Spin Out of Control,

“A month ago, the number of active coronavirus cases in the West Bank stood at 340. On Tuesday, it crossed the 7,000 mark. Around 350 new patients are diagnosed each day, and about 60 Palestinians have died of the coronavirus over the last month…On top of the spread of the virus and the severance of ties with Israel is the fact that West Bank Palestinians increasingly lack confidence in their leaders’ decisions. They are skeptical of the PA’s judgment, worried about their livelihoods and openly dispute the latest restrictions that have been imposed in a way that may sound familiar to Israeli readers. Over the last few days, there have been a growing number of disturbances of the peace in protest against the PA’s handling of the crisis.”

Mladenov warns: PA at risk of total collapse due to COVID-19, annexation,

“The Palestinian Authority is on the verge of ‘total collapse’ due to the twin combination of COVID-19 and Israel’s pending annexation plans, UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov warned on Tuesday. ‘May salary payments were delayed due to an 80 per cent reduction in Palestinian revenues,’ Mladenov said. ‘It is unclear whether the Palestinian Government will have sufficient resources to make any future salary payments or, indeed, to continue to carry out its governing functions in the coming months,’ Mladenov told the UN Security Council during its monthly meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Fatah says ‘honeymoon’ with Hamas will end soon,

“Several senior Fatah officials in the West Bank are said to be opposed to Rajoub’s conciliatory approach toward Hamas. By presenting himself as the unifier of Palestinians, Rajoub is mainly concerned about strengthening his chances of succeeding PA President Mahmoud Abbas, they believe.”

Israeli Domestic Politics

Israelis block entrance to parliament amid intense protests,

“After a night of intense protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, dozens of Israeli demonstrators chained themselves together and briefly blocked the entrance to parliament on Wednesday morning. Police arrested four and broke up the gathering, which was called to protest an upcoming vote to grant the government sweeping authority to bypass parliament in enacting measures to combat the rapid spread of the coronavirus. But it came amid a fresh outpouring of discontent with Netanyahu.”

Analysis & Commentary

Democrats Can’t Allow Israel to Pursue Annexation Without Consequences,

“Now that the partisan divide is clear, the question is, what will Democrats do? Peter Beinart, probably the most well-known liberal Zionist thinker in the United States, just published a piece in the New York Times saying he no longer believes in a Jewish state or a two-state solution and called for one binational state that can be home to both Palestinians and Israelis. The articulation of this kind of position from a prominent American Jew may embolden Democrats to move away from the two-state paradigm or at least entertain the notion that what they have done thus far simply has not worked. But punitive policies that could actually influence the Israeli government—such as supporting boycotts, divestment, and sanctions—are still off-limits. Likewise, conditioning U.S. aid to Israel, which Sen. Bernie Sanders championed during his presidential campaign, is still mostly taboo, even though Republican presidents from Gerald Ford to George H.W. Bush have engaged in it. In 1981, Reagan suspended a military arms pact with Israel over its annexation of the Golan Heights. A decade letter, George H.W. Bush threatened to withhold a $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel over its expansion of settlements. Maybe the most salient example came under President Gerald Ford, in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger took a hard line with Israel and pressured it to withdraw from the Sinai. At the time, Ford told Kissinger that the United States would not ‘isolate itself from the rest of the world to stand behind Israeli intransigence’—pretty much the polar opposite of U.S. policy today. In the spring of 1975, the U.S. government implemented a ‘reassessment’ of U.S.-Israel relations, which included the freezing of arms deliveries to Israel. So, for Democrats, conditioning aid to Israel should actually be a no-brainer.”