Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 19, 2020

What We’re Reading


Number of confirmed virus cases hits 529 as testing ramps up,

“Israeli officials are hoping that strict measures limiting movement will help stem the virus’s spread before it gets worse, but authorities have said Israel may soon see cases in the thousands and its first deaths from the pathogen. Grotto earlier warned the country could be headed to a total lockdown if its required to stop the spread of the contagion, but such a step could still be avoided if the public adheres to instructions to stay inside their homes and avoid venturing out as much as possible.”

Coronavirus: Palestinian workers face difficult choice between livelihood and isolation,

“‘Israel cannot survive this [pandemic] without the Palestinian workers,’ Kareem told MEE. ‘Their economy is far too dependent on us to simply not allow workers in.’ An estimated 120,000 Palestinians, both with and without permits, are believed to work in Israel, making up a significant and cheap workforce mainly in the construction and agricultural sectors. ‘While the Israelis are staying inside their homes, they are putting us to work so that things don’t collapse,’ Kareem continued. Kareem said he believed Israel would “without a question’ risk the health of the Palestinian labour force, ‘for the sake of saving their economy.’ ‘They are allowing Palestinians to go put their lives at risk, while they tell Israelis to stay at home and stay safe.’”

In Jerusalem's Old City, virus 'worse than war',

“Now Jerusalem’s ancient alleyways, typically crammed with tourists visiting sacred sites or wandering through shops and markets, are all but empty. ‘The crisis now is new,’ he told AFP. ‘We are killed with corona. We have zero percent income,’ he added, warning that he may have to lay off two of his four employees.”

'Infringement of Democracy': Knesset Legal Adviser Slams Phone Tracking to Fight Coronavirus,

“The Knesset’s legal adviser said Wednesday the government’s plan to use mobile-phone location technology to track people infected with the coronavirus is ‘a serious infringement of democratic values,’despite the government’s citing of an emergency situation. Attorney Avital Sompolinsky, representing the legal adviser’s office, said the government must present the Knesset with a bill that would provide a legal basis for use of the technology by the Shin Bet security service and the police. This would happen once the Knesset Arrangements Committee and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are formed. “

Four Palestinians in Israeli prison have contracted coronavirus,

“Israeli authorities have informed Palestinians held at the Megiddo prison in Israel that four cases of the novel coronavirus have been detected inside the facility, according to a Palestinian group. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS), an organisation advocating for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, said on Thursday that four Palestinian prisoners in Megiddo Sections 5, 6 and 10 were confirmed to have contracted the virus through one Israeli investigator. According to the organisation, the infections started with one inmate who recently came into contact with an Israeli officer during interrogations in the city of Petah Tikva.”

As coronavirus spreads, asylum seekers in Israel are on the brink of catastrophe,

“Asylum seekers are facing difficult conditions, including furloughs, inability to receive assistance from the state, a lack of information, and poor housing in extraordinary circumstances. The closure of businesses and institutions that regularly employ asylum seekers is leaving many families worried they will soon be thrown into the street with nothing to eat. Approximately 35,000 asylum seekers live in Israel today, most of whom are from Eritrea, as well as a small Sudanese community. For years, Israel has refused to check their asylum requests, leaving them in legal limbo. Over the past decade, only 13 Eritreans and one Sudanese citizen have been recognized by the Israeli government as refugees.”

High Court to hear petitions against Shin Bet's coronavirus surveillance,

“The High Court of Justice will hear three petitions on Thursday early afternoon to freeze the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) surveillance of citizens infected with the coronavirus until Knesset oversight is put in place. The surveillance went into effect on Tuesday based on a government decision, but without a Knesset sign-off, when the Knesset Intelligence Subcommittee headed by top Blue and White official Gabi Ashkenazi demanded further clarifications.”

With draconian clampdown, Netanyahu accused of exploiting coronavirus crisis,

“Amid a wave of sweeping restrictions that have put Israel in near shutdown mode, Netanyahu has managed to postpone his own pending criminal trial, authorize unprecedented electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens and block parliament from pressing ahead with legislation aimed at pushing him from office. The moves, on the heels of the country’s third inconclusive election in less than a year and under the shadow of Netanyahu’s corruption indictment, sparked leading opposition figure Yair Lapid to tell Israeli citizens that they ‘no longer live in a democracy. There is no judicial branch in Israel. There is no legislative branch in Israel. There is only an unelected government that is headed by a person who lost the election. You can call that by a lot of names, it isn’t a democracy,’ he said in a recorded video.”

Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response,

“The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of quarantine or isolation limiting freedom of movement. At the same time, careful attention to human rights such as non-discrimination and human rights principles such as transparency and respect for human dignity can foster an effective response amidst the turmoil and disruption that inevitably results in times of crisis and limit the harms that can come from the imposition of overly broad measures that do not meet the above criteria.”

Occupation & Annexation

Fissures & Cracks ,

“For over a decade, Palestinian residents of the neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh in Silwan have reported damage to their homes. Almost all the complaints come from families living along Wadi Hilweh’s main street which is situation above the archaeological excavation of a central tunnel in an underground network of tunnels, named the “Pilgrims’ Road” by the Elad Foundation. Over time, damage to homes in the neighborhood has amassed and increased. In 2019, Emek Shaveh attempted to map the homes which have shown cracks in the walls or where walls have collapsed, to gauge the scope of the phenomenon, learn of the nature of the damage, and the degree of. proximity between the excavations and the damaged homes.”

Israeli Elections

Blue and White said to demand Justice, Foreign Ministries for unity government,

“Likud and the Blue and White party have been holding talks for days aimed at establishing an emergency national unity government, with Blue and White demanding several top ministries, the Kan news broadcaster reported Wednesday night. Critically, however, there is no agreement on who would serve first as prime minister — Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz — and for how long.”

Knesset legal adviser says speaker can’t keep parliament closed,

“Amid fierce accusations that the speaker of the Knesset is stifling parliamentary oversight of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Knesset’s legal adviser indicated Wednesday evening that Yuli Edelstein would not be able to continue his closure of the plenary into next week. Earlier Wednesday, Edelstein (Likud) ordered the Knesset shut at least until Monday after the Blue and White party refused his proposal of having equal representation in the Knesset’s so-called Arrangements Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the formation and operation of the parliament. Among other things, the Arrangement’s Committee oversees the creation of the Knesset’s other committees, including those that would provide parliamentary oversight of the government’s efforts to contain the pandemic. The committee could also allow the Blue and White party to call for a vote on the Knesset speakership, which would likely result in Edelstein’s ouster from the position that he has held since 2013, leading critics to accuse him of subverting the will of the majority of the country.”

U.S. Politics

House Democrats question whether Israel is violating US aid restrictions,

“More than 60 House Democrats are pushing the Trump administration to investigate whether Israel is using US military equipment to destroy Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank. In a letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the members of Congress hinted that if Israel is doing so, it could trigger military aid restrictions under US law. Democratic House representatives Ro Khanna, Anna Esho and Steve Cohen sent a letter to Pompeo on Monday asking whether Israel was complying with end-use restrictions under the Arms Export Control Act.”

AIPAC vs J Street: Pro-Israel Lobby Loses Ally as Progressives Score Win in Illinois,

“…in the state primary in Illinois, a key congressional primary upset took place and groups like AIPAC lost a reliable vote. Rep. Dan Lipinski, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, lost his seat representing Illinois’s 3rd congressional district to Marie Newman, a progressive challenger who was enthusiastically supported by the progressive pro-Sanders camp. Newman, like Sanders, has spoken in support of basing military and economic aid to Israel on changes in its treatment of the Palestinians. The activist anti-occupation group IfNotNow cheered Newman’s victory over ‘one of AIPAC’s loyal Democrats,’ tweeting that her win represented ‘an enormous win for those of us working towards a future where all people, including Palestinians and Israelis, can thrive.’ Newman, the group said, ‘will be a welcome change’ from Lipinski.”