Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 17, 2020

What We’re Reading


Crossings Shut, Empty Mosques: Gaza Prepares for the Spread of Coronavirus,

“Gaza residents told Haaretz that there was palpable fear in the streets as to what lies ahead. ‘As long as it is still outside the Strip, people are watching tensely,’ said Samir Zaqout, an activist at the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. ‘But if infected people are identified, there is no doubt fear will grow. Everyone here is following the developments like the rest of the world is. The irony is that Gaza is almost hermetically sealed, so as of now, there are no cases and that’s encouraging. We hope it will continue. In Gaza there’s no lack of problems and challenges. We certainly don’t need an epidemic,’ Zaqout said.”

Palestinian struggle continues with coronavirus,

“The Palestinian government was caught off guard after the discovery of the pandemic because it lacked enough medical equipment to screen patients and provide adequate quarantine facilities. As a result, all patients are being treated in local hotels because there are not enough hospital beds to cope.  The government of Qatar donated $10m for the Palestinian government to support its containment efforts. Kuwait also followed up with $5.5m in emergency financial assistance. Melhim said Palestinians appreciate all the help they can get from Arab states, and appealed for others to assist in the fight.”

Israel tightens restrictions on Palestinian workers, bars them from commuting,

“In a pre-dawn announcement Tuesday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered that only Palestinian workers in certain ‘essential’ sectors would be allowed entry. These include healthcare, agriculture and construction, and could include other industries on a case-by-case basis. He also said Palestinians would no longer be allowed to travel back and forth from the West Bank to work sites, but would need to sleep in Israel, with the employer providing lodging. The workers were told to expect to remain in Israel for one-to-two months.”

Removing safeguards and oversight, cabinet okays mass surveillance to halt virus,

“The approval of the emergency measure bypassed the Knesset — a move Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said would not be done — after a subcommittee on clandestine services on Monday stopped short of approving the highly controversial surveillance program, pending additional debate. 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, and the prospect of directing them against the entire Israeli population has raised major civil liberties concerns.” See Also: “In Dead of Night, Israel Approves Harsher Coronavirus Tracking Methods Than Gov’t Stated” (Haaretz); “Gantz urges Knesset committees be set up fast, to oversee digital monitoring” (Haaretz)

Arab Israeli Doctors Fight Coronavirus as First-class Physicians but Second-class Citizens,

“’We’ve gotten used to the fact that they say we’re not human beings in this country, it doesn’t surprise us,’ said a female physician who did not want to be identified. ‘If we say something, they could fire us, or view us as troublemakers. We want to do the work we studied so hard for, to save lives and try to forget the racism. In hospitals everyone is equally susceptible to death, and we remember this. Perhaps the coronavirus will remind the Jewish public that we are all equal.’”

‘A hotbed for fake news’: How Palestinians are fighting coronavirus misinformation,

“One message circulating on WhatsApp in Arabic promoted a conspiracy theory that COVID-19 is a form of biological warfare released by China. Another text message warns people to stay home after midnight because helicopters will be spraying disinfectants across different cities. A pharmacy near Jenin ran an online ad for a miracle drug, claiming it can cure coronavirus and malaria. Recognizing the importance of busting myths about the virus, the WHO has partnered with social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok to screen and remove false information.”

International Community

Only the International Criminal Court in The Hague Can Restrain Israel,

“These steps by the government, already at this stage, reveal that what lies at the root of the Israeli opposition here is not a theoretical matter of issues of jurisdiction, but a basic questioning of the values that the ICC is meant to defend – values that Israel wants to continue to trample while continuing to enjoy total immunity regarding its deeds in the territories, as it has become accustomed to doing.”

Palestinians to ICC: We have sole sovereignty over 'State of Palestine',

“The Pretrial Chamber invited Israel and the Palestinians to submit written observations on the ICC prosecutor’s request no later than March 16. In their observations, the Palestinians said: ‘The State of Palestine affirms that it has sole sovereignty over the territory of the State of Palestine, occupied in 1967, which comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and which is also recognized by the international community.’ They said the ‘State of Palestine recognizes that the court plays an important role in bringing justice to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.’”

Israel, PA allies escalate ICC war crimes legal fight,

“In anticipation of that decision, around 40 parties, including countries, NGOs and leading jurists filed legal briefs in February supporting either Israel or the Palestinians. The core issue is whether the ICC Pretrial Chamber will view ‘Palestine’ as a state and what territory it would say it has jurisdiction over since if there is no state of Palestine, the ICC would need to reject the case.”

Annexation/"Deal of the Century" Watch

Even with the country under partial paralysis, INPA engages in development work on private Palestinian land,

“Erasing the boundary between East and West Jerusalem is apparently vital and urgent for the economy. Otherwise it is unclear why when the entire country is in a state of emergency, thousands are quarantined and many have been instructed not to go to their work places, the Nature and Parks Authority has decided that this was the best time to carry out development work, the legality of which is being contested in court.”

Why is Trump's Middle East plan so divisive?,

“The Trump administration and Israel say their offer to Palestinians is the best one yet. In fact, they say it could be the last one they will ever offer Palestine. But the Palestinian leadership says it is a non-starter. So how does US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan stack up against the ones that have failed before? Will Palestine reconsider? And why now?”