Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 16, 2020

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FMEP Resources

FMEP Legislative Round-Up: March 13, 2020,

“(STOP ARMING HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS) HR 5880: Introduced 2/12 by Omar (D-MN) and having no cosponsors, the “Stop Arming Human Rights Abusers Act.”  On 3/10, referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. NOTE: Despite the fact that nobody in Congress is going to come out saying they support actively arming human nations that regularly violate human rights, it is clear that this bill will go nowhere, given the fact that few in Congress have any serious interest or willingness to scrutinize U.S. support for a range of aid recipients and arms purchasers, including many in the Middle East (including, of course, Israel).”

Settlement Report: March 13, 2020,

“On March 9th, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet approved a plan for the construction of a controversial road designed to facilitate Israeli annexation of a huge area of West Bank territory located between Jerusalem and Jericho. The purpose of the road is to enable Palestinians to travel between the northern and southern West Bank through what would be the new massive Israel settlement bloc just east of Jerusalem, while preventing them from entering Israel’s (expanded) territory. The road represents a key element in Israel’s broader plan to annex the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, the planned settlement of E-1 settlement, and surrounding territory. “


Government okays mass surveillance of Israelis’ phones to curb coronavirus,

“The government on Sunday approved a proposal to allow the Shin Bet security service to perform mass surveillance on Israelis’ phones without requiring a court order in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, prompting major concerns of privacy and civil liberty violations. The measure will require final approval from the Knesset’s subcommittee on clandestine services before it can be put into action.” See Also: “Equating coronavirus with terror, Netanyahu turns surveillance powers on Israelis” (+972 Magazine)

Netanyahu sparks privacy scare with move to track corona patients’ phones,

“Such tracking technologies, which in large part rely on data from cellphones, have principally been used by the Shin Bet security service in counterterrorism operations, not against Israeli citizens who have not been accused of a crime…While the Shin Bet security service confirmed that the dramatic course of action was indeed being considered, it denied rumors that the tools would be used to enforce quarantines, saying that they would only be employed to help authorities track the paths of confirmed carriers of the disease in order to find people they may have infected…Netanyahu acknowledged that the use of the technologies would infringe upon citizens’ privacy, but said that he’d checked the matter with the Justice Ministry…The technology in question — details about which are largely classified — is used by Israeli security services to track people’s movements both in real time and retroactively, allowing them to retrace their targets’ steps and see with whom they’ve interacted. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in a statement that a number of restrictions would be placed on the authorities using the tracking tools in order to limit the violation of individuals’ privacy.”

Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque shut as precaution against coronavirus by Muslim clerics,

“Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock will shut their doors until further notice, religious authorities said on Sunday, in a move to protect worshippers at Islam’s third holiest site. Prayers will still be held on the huge open area around the two shrines and other Muslim prayer sites on the sacred compound known to Muslims worldwide as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount. ‘The Islamic Waqf department decided to shut down the enclosed prayer places inside the blessed Aqsa Mosque, and until further notice, as a protective measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus,’ Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, the Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Reuters. ‘All prayers will be held in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa mosque and doors will remain open to all worshippers,’ he added.”

PA urges Tulkarem residents to stay home after 2nd virus case revealed in city,

“Abu Bakr’s Office said the governor urged residents to not enter public spaces in order ‘to preserve their health and well-being and allow for necessary tests and inquiries to be conducted.’ Earlier on Monday at a cabinet meeting, Shtayyeh said that the newly infected person was recently studying in Poland. Palestinian authorities have said that, as of Monday, there were a total of 39 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the West Bank — 37 in Bethlehem and 2 in Tulkarem. They said the condition of 15 of them has started to improve.”

PA: We won’t be able to cope alone with major outbreak of virus,

“The surging number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, 213 at press time, is deeply worrying  Palestinian Authority health officials, who warned on Sunday of a ‘catastrophe’ if a large number of Palestinians in the West Bank are diagnosed with the disease. The number of coronavirus patients in the West Bank stood at 38 by mid-Sunday as no new cases were registered in the PA-controlled areas, the PA Health Ministry said. Thirty-seven cases have been reported in the Bethlehem area, while only one Palestinian from Tulkarm was diagnosed with the disease.”

Israel dreads coronavirus outbreak in Gaza,

“The threat of COVID-19 reaching Gaza and sparking an extreme humanitarian health crisis is real. So far, there have been no reports of people in Gaza being infected by the coronavirus. This can be attributed to the territory’s isolation, which offers Gaza relative safety from the virus. The problem is that according to every assessment, it is only a matter of time before the first cases are identified there. Given current circumstances, it is doubtful that the flimsy infrastructure in the most densely populated region in the world would be able to contend with a dramatic crisis of such serious proportions.”

An Emergency for Israeli Democracy: Coronavirus Crisis Cannot Chip Away at Checks and Balances,

“Unbalanced, unchecked power is now concentrated in the hands of the prime minister of a caretaker government, allowing him to take and institute draconian measures the likes of which we’ve never seen – and with dizzying speed. This is happening without a government, without a sitting parliament, and against an exhausted justice system, whose powers have been curtailed in the dead of night; this is happening using all the authority of the executive branch, particularly the army, the police and the Shin Bet security service.”

Government approves penalties for violating coronavirus quarantine,

“The government approved on Sunday a series of emergency regulations to deal with the outbreak of the coronavirus, among them a NIS 5000 (roughly $1,360) fine for individuals who are found violating quarantine. According to the regulations, police and local authorities can impose administrative fines on individuals who violate quarantine or the Health Ministry’s guideline that forbid mass gatherings. A NIS 5,000 fine will be imposed for violating isolation obligation and leaving quarantine prematurely. A NIS 3,000 fine will be imposed for failing to report to the Health Ministry about entering quarantine or failing to report arrival from abroad. A NIS 5,000 fine will be imposed for violating a police officer’s order to disperse a mass gathering.”

Palestinians were a security risk. Now we’re a health hazard, too,

“However, the reflex to invoke security measures to contain a health hazard — especially in the West Bank — should make us wary. Israel’s drastic measures, both for its own society and for the occupied territories, are made possible because of its thorough know-how of population management, an expertise it has developed over decades, especially in the West Bank and Gaza. Its current management of the coronavirus is linked to its management of the occupied territories. Shutting down checkpoints is not a novel measure, nor is sifting through workers to identify those who come from Bethlehem, or creating a distinction between good and bad Palestinian bodies. Confining Palestinians, monitoring their mobility, and surveilling their actions is, arguably, a crucial part of the occupation. For Palestinians, the current closure on Bethlehem is neither a far-off dystopia nor a twenty-minutes-into-the-future fictional government. If anything, it is a blast from the past. The political uprising of twenty years ago and the health crisis of today are dealt with in familiar ways, using similar tools. These strategies are part of the very fabric of the occupation. The measures that seem unprecedented, terrifying, or confusing to the world are, for Palestinians, business as usual — just slightly worse.”

Israeli Elections

Gantz Vows 'A Broad Government Within Days' After Receiving Mandate,

“Rivlin officially tasked Gantz with forming a government after he received a narrow majority of recommendations from Knesset lawmakers Sunday. Gantz will have 28 days to try and form a coalition, after which he may ask for a 14-day extension, in his attempt to end Israel’s ongoing political deadlock after the third election in under a year. Rivlin urged Gantz ‘and all elected officials’ to move swifly to form a government, arguing ‘a fourth election is impossible at this time of crisis.’ Gantz spoke with Labor-Gesher-Meretz Chairman Amir Peretz and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and told them he “intends to work for the formation of as broad a government as possible,” and agreed to hold meetings with the two leaders in the coming days‏.” See Also “Benny Gantz, With Thin Majority, Wins Chance to Form Israeli Government” (New York Times)

Entire Joint List backs Gantz as PM, heralding possible center-left government,

“After the Likud party, as expected, recommended Benjamin Netanyahu to continue as premier and Blue and White recommended party leader Benny Gantz, the Joint List alliance of Arab and Arab-majority parties told Rivlin that all its 15 lawmakers would back Gantz as the next prime minister, a move that could potentially pave the way for a center-left government. But while giving Gantz its support, the Joint List specified that it would only back his efforts to form a center-left government that would replace Netanyahu, and not any moves toward a unity government. Party leader Ayman Odeh said if Gantz and Netanyahu decided to try and form a unity government, ‘we will be its biggest opponents.'” See Also “Joint List unanimously backs Gantz to form next government” (Ynet)

Israel Faces a Defining Question: How Much Democracy Should Arabs Get?,

“The roiling debate, which has set back the effort to depose Mr. Netanyahu and could force Israel to hold a record fourth election, turns on a question at the heart of the country’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state: Are the votes of Arab citizens worth as much as those of Jews? Arab citizens make up a fifth of Israel’s population and for the first time have come close to proportional representation in Parliament. The predominantly Arab Joint List won nearly 582,000 votes and a record 15 parliamentary seats, enough to be decisive in an election in which neither Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc nor Mr. Gantz’s won a majority. But Mr. Netanyahu declared those votes ‘not part of the equation.’ The Joint List, he said, ‘attacks our soldiers and opposes the State of Israel.’”

Netanyahu’s criminal trial delayed due to emergency coronavirus measures,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial will be postponed until May due to emergency measures taken to combat the coronavirus. The trial was originally scheduled to open on Tuesday in front of a three-judge panel of the Jerusalem District Court. The new trial date has been set for May 24.”

Gantz Bloc Seeks Legislation Aimed at Making Netanyahu Irrelevant,

“Sources in the bloc that supports Benny Gantz, who will get the mandate to form a new government from the president on Monday, are working to advance the following plan: If no unity government is formed, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud is replaced by a vote of the new Knesset, an arrangements committee, to be controlled by Kahol Lavan as long as Gantz retains the mandate, will swiftly draw up two bills of dramatic significance. The first would prevent anyone charged with crimes from serving as prime minister, while the second would revisit the direct election of the prime minister, similar to the law that prevailed in Israel during the 1990s.”

Gantz asks to meet party heads to form government, but rightist chairs refuse,

“Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz phoned the leaders of most parties in the Knesset on Monday as he sought to hit the ground running upon receiving the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to form the government. However, he was given a cold shoulder from the three religious and right-wing parties, whose chairmen refused to meet him.”