Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 24, 2020

What We’re Reading


Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip: Hamas takes additional steps to contain spread of virus,

“The Hamas government has imposed additional restrictions, including the closure of all restaurants and cafes, as well as wedding halls, the suspension of Friday prayers and calling worshipers to pray in their homes, but without a complete closure of mosques. The authorities are also preventing weekly markets in all cities.”

Can Gaza cope with Covid-19 after years under lockdown?,

“While the blockade may have cut off Gaza from the pandemic, or at best delayed its entry, it is also blamed for what could be a catastrophic outbreak if the virus spreads. On Monday, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accused Israel of turning the strip into the ‘biggest open-air prison in the world’, one that is uniquely unsuited to deal with the pandemic. ‘Israel will not be able to deflect the blame if this nightmare scenario turns into a reality that it created and made no effort to prevent,’ it said. Years of tight restrictions on people and goods have not only destroyed the economy but damaged almost every aspect of life. Meanwhile, three devastating wars between Israel and Hamas, a militant group that rules inside the strip, have entrenched the crisis, as have often-violent rivalries between competing Palestinian factions. More recently, a bloody Israeli crackdown on protests near the frontier has left thousands with bullet wounds, putting significant stress on hospitals.”

West Bank’s only mask factory overnight,

“Two days after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Bethlehem, Amjad Zaghir, a shoe factory owner from the Palestinian city of Hebron, realized the West Bank will soon run out of face masks. Less than three weeks later, he is now the only mask manufacturer there. Zaghir’s factory, which he started overnight, now produces thousands of masks a day, and has made him a national hero for helping Palestinians protect themselves from the virus…’I started receiving requests from Jordan, Kuwait, the Gulf countries, and Canada,’ he said. ‘Even Israeli sellers have reached out to me to buy my masks, but I don’t have enough workers. I wish I could supply everyone.’ The material Zaghir has been using will soon run out, however. He has already ordered more, but countries have been closing off their borders to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has also reached Turkey, where the material is set to be exported from. But Zaghir is unperturbed. ‘I am confident I will be able to bring in the materials. I contacted the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, and they in turn appealed to the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, which then contacted customs and other authorities on this issue,’ he said. ‘This is a health crisis, a global pandemic, a state of emergency. It’s not business as usual, which is why I am quite confident they will let me import the goods’.”

'They dumped him like trash': Palestinian with suspected coronavirus symptoms thrown out of Israel,

“The man lying on the ground was a Palestinian labourer who works in Israel. He told Abu Safiya that he had been showing signs of the coronavirus over the past four days, and was recently tested for the virus. That test later came back negative. But before the man, allegedly a resident of Nablus, could receive his test results, his Israeli employer reportedly called the authorities, who picked him up and dropped him on the other side of the Beit Sira checkpoint, which connects central Israel and the occupied West Bank. ‘He told us that they just threw him here on the ground and left him,’ Abu Safiya recounted. ‘How could they do this to someone?” he asked. “It shouldn’t matter if he’s Palestinian, Israeli, or whatever. He’s a human being.'” See Also: “Israel Abandons Suspected Palestinian Coronavirus Patient at West Bank Checkpoint” (Haaretz)

Palestinians launch initiatives to fight COVID-19 outbreak,

“According to Hebrew Channel 13, the Israeli government will release 120 million shekels ($33.5 million) from the tax revenues that it collects on the PA’s behalf. The decision was made based upon the recommendation of Israeli security leaders. They fear the coronavirus could spread uncontrollably if the PA is unable to contain it, which could lead to the PA’s collapse. At the local level, dozens of Palestinian individuals and institutions launched initiatives to help the government and infected persons in the Palestinian governorates. Most notably, Nablus governorate institutions launched a fundraising campaign March 17 for the National Solidarity Fund to confront the coronavirus. Donations will be allocated to ensure the treatment of those infected and help poor families…An e-learning platform, Iteacher, offered its services free of charge to students during the first days of the state of emergency. This is after getting the Ministry of Education’s approval…Dozens of teachers launched individual initiatives to offer lessons via social media to students. Internet service provider Mada launched a community initiative March 8 to offer free internet service for three months to schools, university students and teachers. Mada also provided them with routers. On March 14, the Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel announced it would soon launch an initiative to increase internet speed for subscribers free of charge to support e-learning. Birzeit University launched an e-learning initiative March 9 through a group of academics and the university’s information technology department. Initiatives were not limited to the educational level. Hebron Chamber of Commerce and Industry sent a convoy of food and medical aid to Bethlehem on March 7. Another convoy was dispatched from the Aghwar Shamaliyah, loaded with vegetables and legumes March 9. On March 12, the governorate of Jericho and al-Aghwar also dispatched a food and medical aid convoy, which included water, food items, preventive medical supplies and sterilization pumps. On March 15, the Nablus governorate sent 15 tons of fruits and vegetables. This was not limited to the governorates. The dairy company Hamoda Group also sent food items and sterile materials to Bethlehem on March 12. Meanwhile, businessmen in Hebron launched a campaign in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Hebron to collect 200,000 face masks to be sent to Bethlehem.”

Coronavirus: As Israel shuts down, authorities destroy Bedouin crops,

“Israeli authorities destroyed hundreds of hectares of agricultural land in two Bedouin communities in the Negev desert this week while most other government activities were curtailed to contain the spread of coronavirus. As Israelis were banned from meeting in groups of more than 10 and those flying in from abroad were quarantined, departments overseeing land use in the Negev continued to order evictions and clear land, a move that activists say violated the government’s own ban against large gatherings.”

Israeli Elections & Domestic Affairs

Chaos in Israel’s Knesset as speaker defies top court,

“Israel’s Knesset witnessed unprecedented political and legal drama the evening of March 23 as Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein refused to heed the directive set by the High Court to hold by March 25 a vote for his replacement. Edelstein rebuffed the court, arguing that any intervention by the judicial authorities in the operation of the Knesset would be tainted as politically motivated. ‘I think that any intervention by the court with the judgment of the Knesset speaker on fixing the agenda of the plenum and setting up for vote for his replacement constitutes an unprecedented interference in the parliament’s agenda,’ said Edelstein, declining to commit to a date for convening the Knesset plenum and holding the vote. Faced with Edelstein’s refusal, the High Court must decide whether or not to take an extra step of ordering the speaker to proceed with the vote. To this point, the court has directed Edelstein to allow the Knesset to discuss electing a new speaker by March 25 in order to avoid a ruling on the issue. The Likud and the right-wing bloc argue that this constitutes a legal coup, and some Likud senior officials even called on Edelstein to reject any instructions by the court. Edelstein, a Likud member, has been speaker since 2013.” See Also: “Israel on brink of constitutional crisis as parliament speaker blocks vote that could replace him” (Washington Post)

Likud members urge speaker to defy Israeli high court order,

“Israel appeared on the verge of a constitutional crisis Tuesday as top members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud urged their party colleague and parliament speaker to defy a Supreme Court order to hold an election for his successor. After suspending parliamentary activities last week, citing procedural issues and restrictions on large gatherings due to the spread of the coronavirus, Yuli Edelstein on Monday dismissed the court’s call to explain his delay in convening the Israeli Knesset, or parliament. It sparked an unprecedented judicial rebuttal, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut ordering him to hold a vote by Wednesday and ruling that ‘the continued refusal to allow the vote in the Knesset plenum on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process.’ Even after that, at least two Likud Cabinet ministers, including Netanyahu’s surrogate interim justice minister, called on Edelstein to defy the order, deeming it a judicial ‘coup’ against Israel’s elected officials. Cabinet Minister Yariv Levin led the charge, accusing the court of trampling the principle of separation of powers. He said it was creating ‘anarchy’ and acting as if it ‘owned the country.’”

Blue and White-led bloc takes control of 6 key Knesset oversight committees,

“After gaining control over a key Knesset committee, the Blue and White-led center and left bloc late Monday pushed ahead with the formation of six special parliamentary committees, including one to oversee Israel’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. The Arrangements Committee, which determines which parliamentary committees will be formed and who will sit on them, was earlier approved 61 to zero, with right-wing and religious lawmakers allied with Prime Minister Netanyahu boycotting the vote. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, was the only lawmaker to abstain.”

State asks High Court to allow use of cellphone locations to enforce quarantines,

“The State Prosecutor’s Office filed a request to the High Court of Justice on Monday to lift an injunction barring police from using Israelis’ cellphone locations to track whether they are breaking coronavirus quarantine. ‘The Health Ministry sees great importance in the existence of this inspection activity as a part of the state’s entire treatment of the epidemic, particularly in light of the apparent existence of widespread violations, both of the quarantine orders and the new limitations on activity,’ read a statement from the State Prosecutor’s office explaining the request, highlighting that extraordinary measures are necessary given the reality in which more than 150 new coronavirus cases are being confirmed each day. In its request, the state told the court that it had made five revisions to the regulations in line with the court’s expressed concerns, and that Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had signed off on the changes. However, the new regulations have not yet been brought before the cabinet for its approval.”

Palestinian Thought Leaders

Radical Futures: When Palestinians Imagine,

Yara Hawari writes, “Moreover, the limitation of Palestine and Palestinians to the West Bank and Gaza Strip continues to marginalize refugees, those in the diaspora, and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, effectively relegating them to issues of minor or no concern. Imaginations of the future within this framework not only exclude the majority of the Palestinian people; they are also contingent on the terms of the settler colonial entity and its imagined eternity. This façade of permanency, common to all colonial and settler colonial projects, sets the future within colonial borders. One of the main arguments supporting this future is that of feasibility. Those in positions of power determine feasibility through what they view as possible, rational, and practical. For example, Palestinians are consistently told that the two-state solution is the only possible outcome and that they must therefore concede on certain rights, including the right of return. Indeed, epistemic violence in the academy, the media, and the political sphere, in which Palestinians are forced to accept certain “truths” that negate the legitimacy of their own voices and rights, is widespread.

The Region

The Regional Stakes of Soured Israeli-Jordanian Relations,

“The deterioration of ties endangers not only Israeli-Jordanian peace but also the Jordanian kingdom’s stability and the two countries’ cooperation in maintaining calm at Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade (Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif), sacred to Jews as the site of the ancient Temples and to Muslims as the place from which Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven; moreover, for Palestinians, it is the most valued site in the occupied territories and the most potent symbol of Palestinian nationalism. Contemporary Zionism, unlike the overtly atheist early Zionism, similarly accords it great importance. The unravelling of the relationship also raises further questions about the future of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, already in dire condition.”

FMEP Spotlight & Podcast

+972 Magazine – Independent Journalism from Israel-Palestine,

“Established in 2010, +972 Magazine is an independent, online, not-for-profit media platform operating from within Israel-Palestine, owned and run by Israeli and Palestinians living and working in Israel-Palestine. Along with its Hebrew-language companion site, Local Call (co-published by Just Vision, another FMEP grantee) +972 Magazine has become a leading source for journalism — in-depth reporting and analysis — that provides a critically important alternative to mainstream Israeli news outlets. +972 Magazine provides a vital corrective to the way other outlets tend to approach the complex realities of Israel-Palestine. While mainstream media traditionally offers an exclusively Israeli point-of-view, defined in a narrow, military-security perspective, +972 Magazine’s journalists work from a different journalistic and analytic framework. +972 Magazine produces substantive, original, and timely on-the-ground investigation and reporting grounded in the centrality of democracy, human rights, and justice. +972’s approach prioritizes the experiences and perspectives of communities which are often ignored in mainstream news, including Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Palestinian citizens of Israel, including especially overlooked groups like Israel’s Bedouin Palestinian citizens . +972 Magazine’s coverage challenges and expands the public debate around issues of occupation and illiberalism in Israel. For more about +972 Magazine, listen to Lara Friedman’s interview with +972 Magazine’s Executive Director Haggai Matar.