Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 23, 2020

What We’re Reading

COVID-19 Crisis

Israel Considers Cutting Off Parts of East Jerusalem to Stem Coronavirus Spread,

“The Israeli government is considering closing the Shoafat border checkpoint in East Jerusalem as part of its effort to stem the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Such a move would cut off tens of thousands of East Jerusalem Palestinians who are permanent residents of Israel but live on the other side of the security barrier and would be severed from the rest of city…’Fear is like air here. Everybody is breathing fear,’ said A., a teacher who is a camp resident and asked not to be identified by name. ‘There are 100,000 people here, no official clinic, no hospital. Just small clinics. There’s no equipment, no ambulances and no first aid stations. We’re thrown behind the fence here, like people are thrown into the desert without food or water.’…On Saturday, the Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual sent a letter prior to the filing of a High Court petition over the Israeli government’s purported plan to limit access through the checkpoint. ‘The plan to prevent the movement of residents of the country on the eastern side of the security barrier to the western side deeply and unreasonably and disproportionately infringes on several basic rights of the country’s residents in those neighborhoods. The right to freedom of movement, to life with dignity, the right to health and the right to equality are only some of the rights that are compromised. In addition, it is our position that this plan is so wrong and dangerous that it endangers the most important basic right of all, the right to life,’ lawyers Benjamin Agsteribbe and Adi Lustigman wrote.”

Palestinians report 1st cases of coronavirus in Gaza Strip,

“The Palestinian Health Ministry announced early Sunday that two residents who returned recently from Pakistan to the Gaza Strip tested positive for the coronavirus, the first cases to be diagnosed in the Palestinian enclave. The development added to fears of a potential outbreak in crowded Gaza, which has an overstretched health care system after years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, cross-border conflicts with Israel and Palestinian political division. Hundreds of Gazans have returned home in the past two weeks, but only 92 people have been examined, highlighting the territory’s limited tested capacity.” See Also: “Fear, anxiety as besieged Gaza confirms first 2 coronavirus cases” (Al Jazeera)

PA premier declares wide-scale lockdown to head off spread of virus,

“’All citizens are barred from leaving their homes as of 10 p.m. tonight,’ Shtayyeh said in a statement to reporters. The prime minister, however, said that individuals working in health facilities, pharmacies, bakeries and supermarkets would be allowed to go to their workplaces, and people wishing to go to one of those establishments would be permitted to do so. Shtayyeh said the measures would be in effect for two weeks.”

IDF closes crossings between Israel and Palestinian territories,

“Crossings between Israel and the Palestinian territories will be closed as of Sunday, according to a notice posted on the Arabic language Facebook page of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). The edict is aimed at Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinian permit holders, including merchants and workers, will be barred on a daily basis from entering West Bank settlements, industrial zones and sovereign Israel. Exceptions will be made for health workers and those employed in vital factories, as well as humanitarian and medical cases.”

Is there a coronavirus peace dividend for Israelis and Palestinians?,

“‘The coronavirus outbreak has done what local and international politicians and activists have been unable to do,’ writes Daoud Kuttab. Israeli and Palestinian leaders are talking at the highest level and stepping up cooperation through existing official channels to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. On March 18, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, to say that cooperation is ‘vital’ and that ‘our ability to work together in times of crisis is also testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all.'”

Israel’s caging of Gaza is a recipe for coronavirus disaster,

“As the specter of the coronavirus haunts the strip’s 2 million Palestinian residents, half of whom are children, the world needs to face an urgent truth: Gaza, which has long been unlivable under its current conditions, will be even more so now that the virus has reached its people. For years, international NGOs, and even some Israeli officials, have warned that Gaza’s health system is on the verge of collapse, incapacitated by decades of systematic de-development, impoverishment, and siege. All the problems of the Israeli blockade are entangled and heightened in Gaza’s health sector: a severe water crisis, an extreme power shortage, high rates of unemployment, and crumbling infrastructure.

Palestinian prisoners left in the dark by Israel’s coronavirus restrictions,

“New emergency regulations issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to combat the novel coronavirus prohibit Palestinian political prisoners from meeting their lawyers or receiving family visitations. The decision, announced on March 15, determines that political prisoners, who are usually denied the right to use phones in prison, can only consult with their attorneys over the phone in the event of an upcoming court hearing. The order is in effect for a month, but can be renewed as required for month-long intervals at a time. In effect, this decision prevents thousands of inmates, including child prisoners, from receiving legal counsel or filing petitions and complaints against their terms of imprisonment. With family visits also canceled, prisoners are now completely cut off from the outside world. As of February, around 5,000 Palestinians are locked up in Israeli prisons, including 430 in administrative detention.”

Palestinian prisoner's commission calls for release of detainees,

“The Commission for Prisoners Affairs at the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) has called on the United Nations to urge Israeli authorities to release Palestinian detainees held in Israeli jail amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus. The head of the commission, Qadri Abu Bakr, was quoted by local media as saying the UN is ‘aware that Israeli jails are among the most crowded in the world. They [Israeli jails] lack the minimum health and safety conditions – creating an environment for the spread of the coronavirus,’ Abu Bakr said.”

Qatar announces $150 mil. aid to Gaza to support UN, coronavirus efforts,

“Qatar announced $150 million in aid to the Gaza Strip over a period of six months, to support United Nations humanitarian programmes in the Palestinian territory and efforts to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, the state-run Qatari Committee to Rebuild Gaza said Monday on Twitter.”

In the end, Holocaust survivor couldn’t outlast virus, becoming Israel’s first COVID-19 fatality,

“Arie Even had a knack for survival. As a youth, with the help of his grandfather, he managed to hide out in a countryside basement from the Nazis who slaughtered more than 500,000 Jews in his native Hungary. At 39, while serving as an Israeli envoy to Brussels, he crammed his family of six into a Renault 8, fleeing a summer holiday in Spain when a cholera outbreak threatened to engulf them. One year later, he survived his first heart attack. But Even’s luck finally ran out in the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.”

Israeli Elections & Politics

High Court: Knesset speaker must schedule vote on his replacement by Wednesday,

“The High Court of Justice on Monday ruled that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party must schedule a parliamentary vote on his replacement by Wednesday, in a victory for the Blue and White party. Edelstein set off a firestorm of criticism last Wednesday after he refused to allow the Knesset plenum to convene to vote on establishing the Arrangements Committee and electing a new speaker. Edelstein at first argued the freeze was linked to safety precautions amid the coronavirus outbreak, but later explained it was meant to force Likud and Blue and White to compromise in unity talks.”

Israeli Supreme Court to Rule on Demand to Reopen Parliament,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political opponents on Sunday asked Israel’s Supreme Court to force parliament to resume its full activities, despite restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak. Parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, last week suspended parliamentary activities, preventing the newly elected legislature from choosing a new speaker and forming committees. Edelstein says the move is merely procedural given the state of emergency in the country and the health ministry guidelines prohibiting large public gatherings. But opponents claim it’s a calculated move aimed at blocking efforts to replace Edelstein and allow the newly elected anti-Netanyahu bloc from pushing through its legislative agenda.”

Hundreds protest in front of Knesset, calling on speaker to resign,

“The demonstrators held up banners, saying ‘Edelstein let go’ chanted ‘Yuli, Yuli resign, we don’t want you anymore,’ and compared the government officials to criminals. The protest, under the banner ‘Loss of Democracy’ began at the Baka-Jatt interchange in northern Israel, where hundreds of vehicles began driving toward the capital all equipped with black and Israeli flags and that read ‘Democracy or Fascism’.”

Occupation, Annexation, & Human Rights

Palestinian man killed by Israeli gunfire in occupied West Bank, ministry says,

“A Palestinian was fatally shot by Israeli army gunfire in the occupied West Bank late Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry announced. The man was shot near the town of Nilin, west of Ramallah, the ministry said, as cited by AFP. The Israeli army said he had been throwing stones at Israeli cars driving on a nearby road.”

FMEP Resources

FMEP Legislative Round-Up: March 20, 2020,

“On 3/16, Reps. Khanna (D-CA), Eshoo (D-CA) and Cohen (D-TN) led a letter, signed by more the 60 House Democrats, to SecState Pompeo, urging the Trump administration to take immediate action to oppose the Israeli government’s acceleration of home demolitions and displacement of Palestinian communities in the West Bank. The letter requests the State Department to examine Israeli compliance with the requirements applied by the Arms Export Control Act in order to ensure that U.S.-supplied equipment is not being used to destroy Palestinian homes. The signers note that the United States ‘should work to prevent unlawful home demolitions and the forcible transfer of civilians everywhere in the world and prevent the use of U.S.-origin equipment in this destructive practice.’ The letter requires Pompeo to respond to a list of specific questions by April 30.”

Settlement Report: March 20, 2020,

“Despite the COVID-19 virtual shutdown of all normal activity in Israel, Ir Amim reports that on March 18th, the Israeli government officially advanced plans for construction of the E-1 settlement to the next step in the approval process, depositing them for public review. Under normal circumstances, after plans are deposited the public has a 60-day period to submit objections/affirmations of the plans. However, Ir Amim states that it is unclear if government closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak will impact the planning process, including the public review period. Assuming the E-1 plan is subject to the normal planning process, at the close of the 60-day public review period (which would be 60 days after March 18th), the planning committee will convene to discuss objections and then decide whether to give final approval to the plan or to require more information or changes to it.”