Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 20, 2020

What We’re Reading


Coronavirus: Infected Israelis hit 705 as emergency orders roll out,

“The Health Ministry guidelines to fight the spread of coronavirus will no longer be recommendations or requests. Rather, overnight Thursday the government signed existing restrictions into legally enforceable orders, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a national state of emergency. Going forward, for the next seven days, whoever breaks these orders will be subject to fines.”

Coronavirus in the West Bank: We Palestinians Have Plenty of Experience Surviving Curfews and Lockdowns,

“For most of the people of Bethlehem, this lockdown is hardly their first. Lockdowns and curfews were the status quo in the city during the long years of the second intifada. Whether our Israeli “neighbors” know or care, we have been through some of this before. We have worked from home, we did homeschooling, our sports leagues were frozen, we could not travel, and we were afraid of leaving our houses. All of this may explain the unprecedent cooperation of the Palestinian people with PA calls to stay home, and the success – so far – in controlling the spread. We have been through this before – in different circumstances – but with the same goal: to stay safe, to stay alive.”

Palestinians defy leaders' ban on work in Israeli settlements,

“Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh asked the some 25,000 Palestinians who work in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to stay home from Thursday as part of efforts to reduce transmission. But in the West Bank settlement of Ramat Givat Zeev, Palestinian day labourers dismissed the PA’s order and shrugged off virus fears. ‘You have to adapt, put yourself in a bit of danger so you can provide food for your children,’ said Omar Hamad, a construction supervisor from Ramallah. ‘We have rent, we have expenses, we have lots of things.'”

Israel tightens grip on Palestinian workers to limit COVID-19,

“Despite the political rupture between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, coordination between the two sides is in full swing regarding the means to confront the coronavirus, especially considering that the Palestinian government realized that workers may be a dangerous factor in the transmission of the virus. As he explained to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 10, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in Israel are the biggest problem facing Palestinians to stop the spread of the virus, especially considering that this issue is difficult to deal with.”

How coronavirus outbreak has boosted Palestinian-Israeli cooperation,

“Hussein al-Sheikh, the key Palestinian official in charge of coordination with Israel, told Al-Monitor that the relationship has improved a lot. Sheikh, who is the civil affairs minister in the government of Mohammad Shtayyeh, said a call by Israeli President Reuvlin Rivlin to his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas was an important sign of this cooperation. ‘President Rivlin initiated the call to President Abbas to thank him for the high level of cooperation and coordination,’ Sheikh said. Anees Sweidan, director of the Arab Affairs Department in the PLO, told Al-Monitor that while the focus of the cooperation is on the health crisis, there are many other areas that overlap. ‘There is the issue of Palestinian workers in Israel, the Palestinian funds still held up by the Israelis, the need to end the security incursions into the Palestinians areas and to have older prisoners released.'”

Israeli Democracy + Elections

Gantz Eyes Unity With Netanyahu First as PM, Even at Price of Breaking Up Kahol Lavan,

“Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz is inclined to form a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu serving as prime minister first in a rotation, despite Gantz’s suspicions of his rival and even at the price of breaking up Kahol Lavan, political sources said. Gantz is conditioning the move on the enacting of a law to ensure that the rotation takes place on a set date.”

High Court says virus mass surveillance can’t continue without Knesset oversight,

“In a dramatic decision, the High Court of Justice said Thursday that it would shutter the government’s new mass surveillance program if Israel’s parliament fails to establish parliamentary oversight over it within five days.”

Hundreds of Israelis Protest Netanyahu’s Strict Measures,

“Hundreds of Israelis mounted a protest convoy on a main highway into Jerusalem on Thursday, demonstrating against what they called antidemocratic measures by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies that they said were taking the country down a path to dictatorship. In what appeared to be a concerted effort to stymie the demonstration, the police closed the highway and shut roads surrounding Parliament and the Supreme Court, then arrested some who protested outside Parliament on foot. That Israelis were taking to the streets to protest — with many flying black flags from their cars — despite concerns about the coronavirus, indicated how furious many have become about a series of contentious steps Mr. Netanyahu has taken since his defeat in the March 2 elections.”

Chief justice criticizes Edelstein for preventing Knesset from gathering,

“Supreme Court President Esther Hayut fired a warning shot across the bow of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Thursday, demanding to know, ‘Why can’t the Knesset open today?’ Technically, she was sitting on a panel of justices addressing the constitutionality of the new Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) surveillance of citizens infected with the coronavirus. But the hearing ended up intertwining inextricably with related petitions connected to the fight between the Likud’s Edelstein and Blue and White about forming Knesset committees…Another moment linking the two issues was when Justice Noam Sohlberg appeared to be so perturbed by Edelstein’s halting Knesset business that he entered an interim order pressuring the Knesset speaker mid-hearing, while sitting next to Hayut hearing the surveillance issue. Only hours earlier on Thursday, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel filed a petition to get the High Court of Justice to compel Edelstein to open the Knesset to votes relating to its committees and operations after Edelstein said he would not allow them. Blue and White joined the petition and added to it a request that the court force a vote for Knesset speaker. Sohlberg’s order said Edelstein must explain himself in writing by Sunday at 10:00 a.m., that a hearing is set for Sunday at 4:00 p.m. and that both sides agree to an interim conditional order by the court cutting through procedural niceties so that the court can rule almost immediately.”

A coronavirus coup in broad daylight,

“The paralysis of the Knesset, therefore, creates a situation in which the government enacts laws that have tremendous implications for our lives and our rights without any parliamentary oversight. True, there is a legal system, and organizations like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah are doing important work in challenging the constitutionality of the regulations. But after years of incitement against the High Court and the success in changing its composition in accordance with the right’s ruling ideology, the oversight mechanism of the judicial branch has also become quite limited. We must not accept Edelstein’s decision and we must openly call it what it is: a government coup against the Knesset executed by its chairman. And lastly, a comment on a concept that was not yet mentioned: democracy. Critics of Edelstein’s shutdown are talking about the damage done to ‘Israeli democracy.’ But Israel was not a democracy even before the coronavirus crisis. For over five decades, Israel has controlled millions of Palestinians who are not represented in the government, the Knesset, or the courts that determine their fate. Digital surveillance and limitations on traveling abroad comprise their everyday reality, even without a special state of emergency. Suspending the Knesset does not make the situation of Palestinians in the occupied territories any worse, since the Knesset was already hardly ever interested in their condition. When it was interested, it was only for the purpose of plundering what was theirs and allocating it to the Israelis who settled on their land. Reopening the Knesset would hardly be enough to protect ‘Israeli democracy.’ But without reopening the Knesset, we will slide toward an autocracy run by Benjamin Netanyahu. Even in a non-democracy, that is something we must prevent from happening.”

The coronavirus pandemic will end. Israel’s extreme surveillance will not,

“As of Wednesday evening, 400 people have been informed by text message that their movements were being traced, stating that they had come into contact with a carrier of the virus and must therefore self-isolate…The controversy is not over the fact that Israel actually employs such techniques, but that it is now turning them on Jewish citizens, says Nadim Nashif, the executive director of 7amleh, a Palestinian digital rights organization. The Shin Bet, he explains, has a long history of using this technology on Palestinian citizens of Israel and on Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. Still, concerns over individual privacy in light of the government’s moves are very real, says Nashif, arguing that controlling a person’s phone amounts to controlling their entire environment. ‘It is not just about geolocation; it is cameras, microphones, the content on that phone, the people around us. Everybody is exposed.’”

PHOTOS: Police arrest pro-democracy demonstrators outside Knesset,

“’Bibi is more dangerous than the coronavirus,’ yelled some of the protesters, many of them active participants in the weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv and outside the attorney general’s home in Petah Tikva, over Netanyahu’s corruption scandals.”

Occupation, Annexation, & Human Rights

Israel must release all Palestinian child detainees amid COVID-19 pandemic,

“Four Palestinian prisoners detained at Israel’s Megiddo prison, located inside Israel northwest of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, were placed in isolation after they were in contact with a COVID-19 positive Israeli officer, according to Ha’aretz. Megiddo prison is one of several detention facilities located inside Israel where Palestinian child “security prisoners” are held. ‘We know the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is for people to avoid being in close proximity to each other,’ said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. ‘There is no way Israeli prison authorities can ensure the health and well-being of Palestinian child detainees as long as they continue to be in a custodial detention setting.'”

Diplomacy at a standstill,

“As Israel continues to be bogged down in swampy politics, things are at a halt on the diplomatic front. No foreign leaders are visiting Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not traveling to any international capitals, partly because of coronavirus. But the most pressing issue is the application of Israeli law in the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, based on the Trump map. The joint US-Israel committee tasked with mapping the areas in which Israeli law will be applied has held its first meeting, in which it agreed that the map attached to the ‘Vision of Peace’ booklet was too general and must be redrawn. In effect, the Americans passed the ball to Israel, and expect us to be the ones to sit down at the drafting table, and they will respond at a later date.”

International Accountability

ICC prosecutor requests more time to weigh jurisdiction over Palestinian areas,

“Due the widening coronavirus crisis the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court this week asked for a one-month delay of her deadline to respond to submissions from states and legal experts on the question of Palestinian statehood and The Hague’s jurisdiction over the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, herself believes the court has jurisdiction to investigate possible war crimes in those regions, but due to the controversial nature of the case she asked for a definitive ruling from a pretrial chamber on the matter. Member states and independent experts were invited to weigh on the matter as well.”

Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Submit Amicus on Territorial Jurisdiction of the State of Palestine, to the Pre Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court,

“…the Palestinian huamn rights organisations reiterate that there is a compelling and urgent need for the opening of a formal investigation into the Situation in Palestine. Should the Pre-Trial Chamber find it appropriate to provide an answer to the Prosecutor’s question then we would conclude that the answer to the questions be 1) that the territory of the State of Palestine is that delimited by the Green Line, and 2) that the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction over the Situation in Palestine is interpreted in line with international practice such as the human rights treaty bodies, to recognise the State of Palestine’s territorial jurisdiction over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”