Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 26, 2020

What We’re Reading

The Israeli Political Crisis

Israeli parliament to choose new speaker amid double crisis,

“The Israeli parliament will select a new speaker on Thursday after the Supreme Court forced the vote amid an unprecedented challenge to Israeli democracy unfolding amid the country’s battle against the rapid spread of coronavirus. Outgoing Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein resigned in protest Wednesday. A close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Edelstein had refused to comply with a high court order to convene the plenum for a vote on his successor the same day, angrily accusing the court of an “arrogant intervention” in the legislative branch. Even in stepping down, Edelstein tried to stall the vote for several days, as his resignation would take effect 48 hours later. The court responded by stripping Edelstein of his authorities even before his resignation took effect, and ruled overnight that the Knesset’s longest-serving member can act as interim speaker to carry out the vote. In her ruling, Chief Justice Esther Hayut lambasted Edelstein for his ‘unprecedented violation of the rule of law,’ warning that it posed a dire threat to the rule of law.” See also: “High Court Appoints Temporary Knesset Speaker to Elect Replacement on Thursday” (Haaretz)

Set on Succeeding Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Adopts PM's Destructive Doctrine,

“With a series of miserable decisions that peaked Wednesday, Yuli Edelstein turned from a respected, statesmanlike political figure into one of the symbols of the constitutional and democratic abyss that Israel is sliding toward at a worrying pace. He may think he’s a greater democrat than the High Court of Justice, but when historians examine the “processes” of which Yair Golan so presciently warned, the time when the Knesset speaker scornfully spat in the face of the judiciary will be remembered as one of the milestones of the apocalypse.”

Netanyahu and Gantz Discuss Emergency Unity Government in Rare Phone Call,

“A’gainst the backdrop of the worsening coronavirus epidemic and the president’s appeal [for unity], the two ordered negotiation teams to return to talks tomorrow (Thursday) to examine the possibility of forming an emergency national unity government,’ the statement said…Several proposals for an emeregency government have been laid out, some with Gantz temporarily joining it or staying out of it altogether. After a specified amount of time, which the parties would agree on, Gantz should get back the mandate to form a coalition, which he currently holds.”

Arab legislators at last to head major Knesset committees,

“Wild incitement against Arab Knesset members must be greeted with actions on the ground, not words. Even right-wing voters will quickly discover that the “terrorist in the suit” appointed to head the Labor and Welfare Committee is actually an experienced legislator, responsible and committed, who aspires to prove to those who voted for him as well as those who opposed him that he has but one goal: to serve all Israeli citizens during routine, normal days, but mainly during the coronavirus era.”

Netanyahu allies slam High Court for ordering Thursday vote on new speaker,

“On Wednesday night, President Reuven Rivlin, in an address to the nation, said it was ‘unthinkable”’for a lawmaker to ignore the courts. ‘I know that the vast majority of Israel’s leadership, from left and from right, knows that it is the duty of every one of us to obey the rulings of the courts, and that it is unthinkable that anyone would not do so,’ he said. ‘And even if someone is of the opinion that the court is wrong in its conduct, whatever the disagreement between us, we must always ensure that the rules of democracy, without which we are destroyed, are upheld,’ he added.”

COVID-19 & Palestine/Palestinians

PA warns virus outbreak nearing ‘dangerous’ level as cases in village grow,

“Palestinian Authority government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem announced on Thursday 13 new cases of coronavirus in the central West Bank village of Biddu. He made the announcement at a press conference in Ramallah a day after a woman in Biddu died after testing positive for the virus. Palestinian authorities have so far said 84 people in the West Bank and Gaza had tested positive for the virus, including 16 who have recovered and the deceased woman. Nine of the cases have been in Gaza and the remainder in the West Bank…Milhem also warned that the Palestinians were ‘passing through a decisive phase,’ contending that the spread of the virus had started to approach “a dangerous level. We need to act with the maximum level of caution,’ he said.”

Afraid to Call Authorities, East Jerusalem May Be Staying at Home With the Coronavirus,

“Health officials in East Jerusalem are warning that many residents of the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods have been infected with the coronavirus, but have avoided seeking medical help because of the stigma involved. Officially, there is a very small number of coronavirus patients in East Jerusalem – no more than five. Three of them are members of the same family from the Beit Safafa neighborhood in southern Jerusalem…Another worrying problem concerning the spread of the virus in East Jerusalem is the migration of thousands of families from the neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier into Jerusalem, he said. In the past few days, police officers at the Shoafat and Qalandiya checkpoints told those who are crossing that the checkpoints will be closed soon, and that only essential workers will be allowed through. As a result, many families have begun moving to the homes of their elderly parents inside Jerusalem, for fear that after the closure the situation in the neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier will greatly deteriorate. People fear the absence of authorities and that they will be unable to make a living. ‘People took their children and moved to their parents’ homes. There will be an explosion of infection. I think thousands have done it, it’s a very large migration,’ said a government official.”

Coronavirus: Palestinian workers left in the lurch as Israel reneges on containment plan,

“At least four incidents of Palestinian labourers being dropped at checkpoints by Israeli forces have surfaced in the last few days…According to rights groups, last week’s decision to allow workers to sleep in Israel – a change from usual work permit policy – for an extended period of time in order to prevent further spread of Covid-19 was flawed from the start. Kav LaOved, an Israeli workers’ rights group, said in a statement on Facebook on 18 March that ‘unfortunately, the majority of Israeli operators did not fulfil the commitments they made to provide proper and healthy accommodation for workers’. The group, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Physicians for Human Rights–Israel, demanded that Israeli government – specifically Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, who approved the entry of the labourers – to protect the rights of Palestinian labourers during the pandemic. ‘We contacted the ministries of labour, security, and health to demand government oversight of these workers’ employment and their stay here, and to safeguard their rights. We specifically called for bearable accommodation and health care’ a spokesperson for ACRI told MEE.  But so far, the efforts by such groups seem to be futile.” See Also: “Palestinians Employed in Israel Left Jobless, Without Benefits, by Coronavirus” (Haaretz); “Palestinians leave jobs in Israel, citing coronavirus risk” (Ynet)

Seven new cases of coronavirus emerge in Gaza Strip, bringing total to nine,

“The Hamas-run Health Ministry announced on Wednesday seven new cases of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the enclave to nine. The ministry said the newly infected persons were all ‘security men’ and said they were among those who had come into contact with the two people who tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. The ministry emphasized that the seven new cases have been in a quarantine facility in Gaza and had not come into contact with anyone outside it.”

Under siege, medical advice will do little to fight coronavirus in Gaza,

“For Palestinians in Gaza living under these conditions, basic medical instructions like hand-washing, wearing protective masks, staying at home, and reaching doctors via telemedicine to fight COVID-19, are a dark, cynical joke. Even if individuals could do all these things, blockades and sanctions will always feed an epidemic by hampering the society’s capacity to respond, including by crippling the population, economy, and health sector. It is for this reason, among many others, that progressive voices around the globe are intensifying their call to lift sanctions on Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba. The same must be done for Gaza. Now more than ever, it is urgent to end Israel’s blockade in order to rebuild Gaza’s healthcare services, and to ensure that its two confirmed cases of COVID-19 do not turn Gaza into a pandemic dystopia. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that true historical justice for Gaza — which includes the right to live with good health and healthcare — cannot be solved by humanitarian aid alone. It is achieved by abandoning the “Gaza Strip” as a place of defined and closed borders, and replacing it with a future that revives Gaza as a port city of Palestine — and one that allows its refugees to return to their homes.”

Coronavirus robs Bethlehem of Easter festivities,

“On March 17, Samir Hazboun, head of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was reported by Wafa, the Palestine News Agency, as saying that 92% of all businesses in Bethlehem, not just those in the tourism sector, had closed shop, in the process driving the unemployment rate above 50%. This loss will severely impact the Palestinian economy as a whole of course, as the Bethlehem governorate contributes 16% to 18% of gross domestic product. Bethlehem Mayor Antoine Suleiman told Al-Monitor that it is still too early to be talking exact figures. Amid such an unprecedented crisis, he said, it is difficult to calculate such results until the moment passes. That aside, Suleiman believes that with the crisis bringing major economies to their knees, the consequences for the feeble Palestinian economy will be especially trying and long lasting.”

COVID-19 & Israel/Israelis

Netanyahu: Full lockdown possible within days if virus spread doesn’t slow,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that a full closure of the country could be introduced within days to curb the coronavirus pandemic, hours after further restrictions on Israelis’ movement were put into effect. ‘The number of those infected doubles every three days,’ he said. At that rate, ‘in two weeks we’ll have thousands — many of them in life threatening condition. If we don’t see an immediate improvement in the trend, we will have no choice but to declare a full closure,’ except for purchases of food and medicine, Netanyahu said in an address from his office in Jerusalem.”

Israel Preparing to Use Unapproved Medication to Treat Coronavirus,

“The ministry said the treatment of coronavirus patients in a moderate or more severe condition should be carried out under the instructions of a doctor who is a specialist in infectious diseases, according to the clinical state of the patient. As of now, no treatment is designated for patients in good condition, except to treat their symptoms. The ministry’s instructions say that for patients in moderate condition, it is proposed that physicians use the drug chloroquine, which was originally intended for use in treating malaria. Some evidence exists that it could be effective against the coronavirus – in addition to supportive treatment. ‘At this stage, it is possible to prepare what is needed in the lead up to treatment in the case of the deterioration of the situation – for example to prepare forms for compassionate use,’ the Health Ministry wrote. As for coronavirus patients in serious condition, the ministry proposed – in addition to treating respiratory failure and supportive treatment – using the drug Remdesivir, which was used in the case of Patient 16. The 38-year-old bus driver from East Jerusalem was in serious condition and the drug improved his situation dramatically, so much so that he was in good condition after the treatment.”

Joint List MK sent home from Knesset with fever, amid virus fears,

“Joint List MK Sundus Saleh was sent home from the Knesset after she was found to have a temperature at the parliamentary clinic on Wednesday, sparking concerns that she may have contracted the novel coronavirus. Saleh’s office confirmed that she had a fever in a statement, adding that the lawmaker was told by the Knesset nurse to continue monitoring her temperature for 24 hours…Fellow Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi tweeted that reports claiming Saleh had contracted the virus were false. ‘MK Sundus Saleh wasn’t feeling well and went home. She does not have coronavirus, and there aren’t even any testing kits in the Knesset.'”

Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre closes as Israel ups anti-virus measures,

“The church, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, was closed shortly after 5 p.m. as Israel applied a series of new restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus, including shutting down places of worship. It was not immediately clear if the Western Wall plaza, the holiest place Jews can pray, would be similarly shuttered.”