Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 25, 2020

What We’re Reading


In the Midst of Coronavirus Crisis, Multiple Attacks on Palestinian Farmers by Settlers,

Twitter thread (with pix): “In the Midst of Coronavirus Crisis, @YeshDin field researchers report: Multiple Attacks on Palestinian Farmers by Settlers. Today, at 11:00, 2 farmers were attacked on land in Umm Safa by 8 settlers coming from the direction of Halamish settlement, holding axes and batons. One farmer was being treated at the time of the report, while the other farmer was injured in the head after being hit by the a part of a rifle…Today at around 1:20 pm, a group of 11 settlers descended from the direction of the former settlement of Homesh. The settlers, some of whom were armed, entered a private plot of land belonging to farmers from Burqa and proceeded to destroy the fence and damage the plot itself….”

Several incidents of settler, Palestinian violence reported in West Bank,

“Incidents of Israeli and Palestinian violence were reported in a number of locations throughout the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday, with perpetrators evidently refusing to heed government guidelines to stay inside due to the coronavirus outbreak.“ Also see: Middle East Eye, Israeli settlers storm West Bank village, beat residents with sticks and sharp objects

Israeli Domestic Politics

Defying judges, Knesset speaker has plunged Israel into constitutional anarchy,

“I’d like to think that these lines will be overtaken by developments, for the better, before you’ve even had the chance to read them. But at this moment, early on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 25, Israeli democracy appears to have fallen off a cliff. In the middle of the worst global health crisis in memory. In an unprecedented act of defiance, the speaker of the Knesset, Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, has opted to resign rather than obey a ruling from the High Court of Justice that he must hold a vote Wednesday on who is to fill his speaker’s post in the wake of the March 2 elections. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has the support of 61 of the Knesset’s 120 MKs who want to elect Blue and White MK Meir Cohen to the position, and thence to gain control of the parliamentary agenda and proceedings from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and its allies. Rather than allow this to happen, Edelstein shuttered the Knesset on March 18, then rebuffed a High Court directive issued midday Monday to hold the vote by today, and has now rejected a subsequent binding High Court ruling that he must do so. Not only has Edelstein resigned in a flurry of aggrieved criticism of the judiciary for its ostensible dangerous and undemocratic intervention in matters of parliamentary procedure, but he has also noted that his resignation only takes effect in 48 hours and has meantime again shuttered the Knesset plenum. New petitions to the High Court argue that he is thus acting in contempt, since he has refused to comply with its ruling and is preventing anybody else from complying with it either…”

Edelstein quits and refuses to hold vote on successor defying High Court,

“Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein defied a High Court of Justice ruling to convene the Knesset plenum for a vote on his replacement by Wednesday and instead announced that he is quitting his post while launching a fierce attack against Israel’s highest court…Edelstein, who became the first Knesset speaker ever to quit, then closed Wednesday’s session of the Knesset plenum and said it would only reconvene on Monday. The 61 MKs in Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s bloc had intended to initiate a vote to elect Blue and White MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) as Edelstein’s replacement, but it is unclear when that vote will be able to take place. Cohen served as deputy Knesset speaker in the last functional Knesset until the April 2019 election.” Also see Haaretz: Knesset Speaker Resigns, Subverts High Court Ruling to Hold Vote on His Replacement, Times of Israel: In defiance of High Court order, Edelstein refuses to hold vote for new speaker

Nearly 1,000 Protesters in Jerusalem Demand Election of Knesset Speaker Today,

“A convoy of hundreds of cars and some 1,000 protestors reached the Knesset in Jerusalem on Wednesday. The protestors are demanding that the Knesset elect a new speaker today to replace of Yuli Edelstein, who resigned from his post earlier in the day. Edelstein resigned rather than comply with a High Court ruling, ordering him to convene the Knesset and allow the Gantz-led majority bloc to elect a new speaker by Wednesday. Edelstein’s resignation will take 48 hours to go into effect, delaying the Knesset vote.

[Race-baiting continues] Arab List now heading committee that handles victims of terror ,

“In recent years, the committee – in its permanent configuration – has overseen the regulation of compensation for wounded IDF soldiers and veterans; as well as medical and income benefits for IDF soldiers, members of the Israel Police, and the Israeli Prison Service. The committee also oversees pension funds and savings plans for government institutions into which pension money for everyone who serves in the IDF and Israel’s other security branches is deposited. The committee also has the authority to revoke national insurance benefits and other stipends from convicted terrorists and their families. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision to entrust the work of the committee to representatives of the Joint Arab List a ‘disgrace.’”

Netanyahu to Gantz: Differences between us are small, join our unity government,

“Amid controversy over the formation of Knesset committees and voting for a replacement Knesset speaker, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is calling on his rival Blue and White Leader Benny Gantz to form a unity government as ‘gaps’ between both are ‘small.’ ‘Benny Gantz, this is a test for national leadership and responsibility, Netanyahu said in a tweet. ‘Israeli citizens need a unity government to act to save their lives and livelihoods.’ Netanyahu continued: ‘This is not the time for a fourth election. We both know that the gaps between us are small and can be overcome. Let’s meet now and set up a government today. I am waiting for you.’”

Minority government off the table,

“Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz met on Tuesday with MKs from his Israel Resilience Party as well as with several MKs from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, and concluded that there is no chance to form a minority government supported by the predominantly Arab Joint List party.”

Blue and White may pass a law freezing coalition-building for 6 months,

“Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz is considering passing a law that would freeze the political situation in Israel for six months to deal with the coronavirus crisis, a report said Tuesday, after the party was said to be left without a path to a coalition. Gantz was tasked last week with forming a government after 61 lawmakers backed him as prime minister, and he has a week left to do so.”

Israel court freezes prison sentence against Sheikh Raed Salah,

“The Israeli Magistrate’s Court in Haifa has frozen the implementation of a prison sentence against Sheikh Raed Salah who was due to enter prison on Wednesday, Quds Press has reported. The court froze the implementation of the prison sentence after an appeal was filed by Salah’s defence team. Meanwhile, the court gave the public prosecution until next Friday to reply to the appeal.”

COVID-19 & Israel/Israelis

At least 25% of Efrat [settlement] quarantined due to coronavirus,

“Some 25% of the Efrat community [aka, West Bank settlement] has been placed under quarantine to halt the spread of the coronavirus, after 34 of its residents were stricken with the disease.”

Total lockdown begins: Israelis must shelter at home,

“The cabinet approved via a telephone vote early Wednesday morning new, stricter limitations on public life in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, as Israel’s death toll continued to rise. Under the new restrictions, which will come into effect on Wednesday night, people will only be allowed to leave their homes within 100 yards; all leisure activities and sporting events will be barred; public transportation by bus will be suspended and taxis would only be allowed to fare one passenger, and companies still operating would be required to check their employees’ temperature before letting them enter the building. Essential services such as supermarkets, pharmacies, and access to medical care would not be limited, the Prime Minister’s Office explained.” Also see: Haaretz, Explained: New Coronavirus Guidelines Edge Israel Closer to Total Lockdown

High Court lets Shin Bet continue phone tracking now Knesset oversight in place,

“The High Court of Justice on Tuesday lifted an injunction that barred the Shin Bet security service from tracking Israelis to keep tabs on coronavirus outbreak, and that prevented the police from acting on that data to enforce quarantine orders. After rights groups petitioned against the mass surveillance program last week, Israel’s top legal body warned that it would shutter the Shin Bet program if parliamentary oversight was not in place by Tuesday.”

COVID-19 & Palestine/Palestinians

‘The moment a worker is sick, they throw him to the checkpoint like a dog’,

“What happens to Palestinian laborers in Israel who are suspected of contracting the novel coronavirus? Based on two recent stories, it appears the Israeli authorities are simply dropping off sick Palestinian workers at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank without any concern for their health and safety. Palestinian social media was alight on Monday after a video surfaced of a Palestinian worker, Malek Jayousi, laying on the side of a road next to the Beit Sira/Macabbim checkpoint. The 27-year-old Jayousi, from the nearby village of Sura, had been left there by Israeli police after accusing him of having the coronavirus.” Also see: Haaretz, Israel Abandons Suspected Palestinian Coronavirus Patient at West Bank Checkpoint

PA urges Palestinian workers to return to West Bank as Israel’s virus cases grow,

“Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called on Palestinian workers in Israel to return to the West Bank even though Israel agreed last week to allow them to stay in the territory for one to two months. ‘In light of the dangerous, successive developments in Israel and expected measures banning movement, we call on all Palestinian laborers to return to their homes,’ Shtayyeh wrote on Facebook, adding that doing so would ‘protect them and preserve their well-being.’”  Also see: Middle East Monitor, PA orders Palestinians to return to West Bank due to mistreatment in Israel

Palestinian businessman calls for creating Food and Medicine Safety Fund,

“Prominent Palestinian businessman Moneeb Al-Masri has called for the creation of a Food and Medicine Safety Fund to support the government’s efforts to fight coronavirus, Al-Ayyaam reported. Al-Masri has donated $1 million for food and medicine programmes in support of the Palestinians amidst the fight against coronavirus. ‘The situation is very difficult and all of us have to unite against the upcoming disaster,’ Al-Masri said, stressing that every Palestinian bears part of the responsibility for protecting the Palestinian people.”

UN's Palestinian refugee agency suspends Gaza food aid,

“The United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees has temporarily suspended aid to the Gaza Strip after the detection of two coronavirus cases in the territory. ‘Food aid will be temporarily suspended until finding a safer way to deliver aid,’ UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) spokesperson Adnan abu Hasna said in a statement. ‘The suspension is a precautionary measure to maintain the safety of [UNRWA]’s staff and beneficiaries,’ he said.UNRWA said that it would arrange other locations to distribute the food in an orderly and safer manner through other distribution points, which may reportedly include its schools.”

Rights group warns Gaza’s healthcare system will ‘collapse’ in virus outbreak,

“The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has urged intervention “before it is too late” to prevent a healthcare system “collapse” in the Gaza Strip in the case of a coronavirus outbreak. According to PCHR, there is the real risk of “a catastrophic deterioration that would strike the health care sector in the case of a Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak” in the crowded territory. ‘The healthcare facilities in Gaza are already on the verge of collapse due to the Israeli-imposed closure on the Gaza Strip for the last 13 years, exacerbated by the repercussions of the Palestinian internal division and political bickering’, the rights NGO stated. ‘All of this has caused a fragile healthcare system in the Gaza Strip, a perpetual shortage of essential drugs and medical devices and insufficient number of specialized health professionals’, rendering the system ‘unable to meet the basic medical needs of the Gaza Strip population in normal times’.”

On the Brink of Its Own Coronavirus Crisis, Gaza Appeals to Israel and the World for Help,

“Gaza’s Health Ministry issued an urgent appeal to the World Health Organization for critical medical equipment in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, with senior officials warning of catastrophic consequences if the virus manages to spread in the coastal enclave. ‘We are asking the UN and the international community to give us immediate support, including ventilators and intensive care equipment to deal with the epidemic,’ Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Ashraf al-Qudra told a press briefing on Tuesday.”

Hamas closes Gaza mosques in attempt to stop spread of coronavirus,

“The Hamas-run Awqaf and Religious Affairs Ministry decided on Tuesday to close all mosques in the Gaza Strip as authorities intensify efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the coastal enclave. The first confirmed cases of the virus emerged in Gaza late last Saturday when two Palestinian preachers who recently traveled in Pakistan, tested positive for coronavirus.The two were held at a quarantine facility before being diagnosed with the disease and were then transferred to a special field hospital at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. ‘It was decided to shut all mosques in Gaza temporarily and halt Friday and group prayers in them for two weeks starting at dawn on Wednesday,’ the Awqaf Ministry said in statement.”

Palestinians jailed in Israel fear coronavirus outbreak,

“Although there have been no casualties among the prisoners yet, the possibility of the virus infecting them remains high, since they are exposed to military investigators, doctors and Israeli prisoners who may have been in contact with an infected person in Israel, where more than 1,656 cases had been recorded as of March 24. In addition, the virus could spread quickly given inadequate health care and preventive measures in prisons, as well as direct contact due to overcrowding. Since the virus surfaced Feb. 20 in Israel, Palestinians have increased their demands for prisoners to be released, especially the sick and elderly. On March 19, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to release the prisoners and said he would hold it fully responsible for their safety. Just days before, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh also had issued an appeal.”

Palestinian prisoner sets fire to cell in protest at lack of health measures,

“A Palestinian political prisoner has set fire to his cell in Nafha Prison in protest against the Israeli authorities’ failure to protect prisoners’ health during the coronavirus crisis, Wafa news agency has reported. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society had warned earlier that matters will escalate in Ofer, Negev and Nafha Prisons where hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are ‘languishing’ due to alleged medical negligence.”

Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza offer perspective amid pandemic,

“As Western countries reeling from the coronavirus pandemic awaken to a new reality of economic collapse, overwhelmed hospitals, grounded flights and home confinement, it’s tempting to think the end of days is at hand. But for many across the West Bank and Gaza much of this is familiar. The survivors of recent wars, too often dismissed as the pitiable victims of failed states, can offer hard-earned wisdom in times like these.”