Overview April 2020

A cartoon published on 16 March 2020 in Al-Hayat al-Jadida 

In the month of April 2020 Staat van Beleg could list 431 human rights violations (and 146 reports/analyses). (see our archive and the monthly violations reports of the Negotiations Affairs Department). This month we write about Israeli violations during the crisis of the corona virus COVID-19.

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It would have been a good opportunity for Israel to cooperate with occupied Palestine in combating the corona virus COVID-19 and protect both Israeli and Palestinian citizens.

By international law Israel, as an occupying power, has the duty to protect the people it occupies. In the Fourth Geneva Convention under Part III. Status and Treatment of Protected Persons, Article 56 we can read:

To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.

Medical personnel of all categories shall be allowed to carry out their duties.If new hospitals are set up in occupied territory and if the competent organs of the occupied State are not operating there, the occupying authorities shall, if necessary, grant them the recognition provided for in Article 18. In similar circumstances, the occupying authorities shall also grant recognition to hospital personnel and transport vehicles under the provisions of Articles 20 and 21.

In adopting measures of health and hygiene and in their implementation, the Occupying Power shall take into consideration the moral and ethical susceptibilities of the population of the occupied territory.

What we have witnessed since the outbreak of the virus in Israel and the occupied territories is that not only the regular Israeli violations are thriving,  the Israeli Occupation authorities didn’t show any goodwill for an efficient cooperation to combat the virus either and worst of all even prevented Palestinians in many ways in their efforts to protect themselves and in combating the virus. On top of this something unimaginable occurred in the last couple of weeks. Israeli forces and settlers were seen spitting on Palestinians, their houses and streets during daily and nightly raids deliberately trying to infect Palestinians with COVID-19. Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention does not say anything about the need for members of the Occupying Power to stop spitting at occupied and subjugated communities; most likely, because it is a given that such sordid behavior is completely unacceptable and does not require a separate textual reference. However, Article 56, as was recently emphasized by UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory, Michael Lynk, does require Israel, the Occupying Power, to “ensure that all the necessary preventive means available to it are utilized to ‘combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.’

We will now highlight some of the irresponsible lawless acts of the occupying power and settlers we witnessed over the last couple of weeks. Please note that the incidents that are mentioned serve as an indication and most of them are not isolated cases.

Arrests

Despite widespread concern over the corona virus outbreak, Israel in March nevertheless detained 357 Palestinians in raids throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, including 48 children under 18 years of age and four women. We already mentioned that during the raids in different places of the West Bank soldiers were seen deliberately spitting on Palestinians, their streets, cars and houses.

Out of the many Israeli raids and arrest campaigns we chose the following incident as illustration. During the lock down of Bethlehem where the first COVID-19 cases in occupied Palestine were detected Israeli forces violently raided the family home of the journalism student Ramiz Laham (23). They blew up the front door, destroyed furniture and basically touched everything inside the house before they arrested Ramiz. When it was time to leave, the soldiers threw a protective health suit at Ramiz, ordering him to put it on. While Ramiz was putting on the suit, they began laughing and taunting his mother, saying, “how does Ramiz look with corona?”

Neglect and Irresponsible Actions

Palestinian laborers suspected of having corona virus were being dropped off at a West Bank checkpoint with no regard for their health or safety. A video showed footage 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 corona virus. In another case a man was seen stepping out of a taxi at a checkpoint, who said that he needed help and that he might have corona virus. The committee members laid a piece of cardboard on the ground and gave the man water, but did not get close to him. The young man told them he was 32, lives in Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah, and works at a construction site in Israel. He had a fever during work and asked his employer to call an ambulance. The worker said his employer refused, so he called an ambulance himself, but the medics refused to take him to an Israeli hospital. His employer told him to take a cab home, and that’s what he did.

On April 10th Israeli occupation forces opened several wastewater tunnels near the West Bank city of Qalqiliya to smuggle Palestinian workers back into the West Bank. Governor of Qalqiliya, Rafi’ Rawajbeh, said that opening the sewage tunnels was an attempt by Israel to undermine the efforts of the Palestinian government to contain the corona virus pandemic in Palestine, as most of the 266 cases confirmed in Palestine so far came from Israel.

Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem face the prospect of a major coronavirus outbreak, fueled and exacerbated by Israeli neglect. Despite repeated warnings from health professionals and even Israel’s mayor of Jerusalem Moshe Leon, Israel has done little to prevent an outbreak. What makes the situation even worse is no one has an accurate picture of how widespread infections are in Palestinian neighborhoods.

Closing mosques during the corona virus crisis would be a justly measure when Israeli settlers would be prohibited to invade places of worship. When the Israeli authorities closed most of the doors of the al-Aqsa mosque under the pretext of “precautionary measures against the Corona virus,” it allowed dozens of settlers to storm it.

On 12 March Israeli soldiers accompanied dozens of Israeli settlers into the archaeological site in Sebastia Palestinian town, northwest of Nablus, defying a closure by Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Nablus governor in an effort to stop the spread of corona virus disease. The closure was recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to avoid large gatherings.

Israeli neglect for Palestinian prisoners’ lives came to a head when those in Megiddo required that the policemans examination every one of the prisoners for Covid-19 as well as offer them with safety package, such as masks, handwear covers as well as anti-bacterial. The Israel Prison Service’s action was to inform them, “Use your socks to make masks, and your soap to disinfect your cells.” However, socks as well as soap were amongst the things outlawed just recently

Palestinian students in Israel are being disproportionately disadvantaged by the switch to remote online learning in light of the corona virus pandemic, according to a Supreme Court petition that was filed by the Palestinian human rights group Adalah and other NGOs.

Israel fails to provide real-time corona virus updates in Arabic for Palestinian citizens.

The measures Israel is taking to combat corona virus are not being implemented for the Bedouin population.

Restrictions

The spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Sami Imsha’sha’, said that the occupation state restricts the agency’s crews, working to fight the novel corona virus in refugee camps in Jerusalem. Imsha’sha’ added that the Israeli restrictions are an extension of the occupation state’s continuous attacks on UNRWA.

Mid-March the occupation authorities chased and prevented the Palestinian Medical Relief Society from distributing awareness brochures about “Corona virus prevention methods, symptoms, and home quarantine.”

On 23 March Israeli police detained four Palestinians for disinfecting public facilities to combat the spread of the corona virus near the Lions’ Gate in the occupied city of Jerusalem and seized their equipment. 

On 26 March officials from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank arrived with a military jeep escort, a bulldozer and two flatbed trucks with cranes at the Palestinian community of Khirbet Ibziq in the northern Jordan Valley. They confiscated poles and sheeting that were meant to form eight tents, two for a field clinic, and four for emergency housing for residents evacuated from their homes, and two as makeshift mosques.

The confiscated building blocks for a field clinic in Khirbet Ibziq. Photo by ‘Aref Daraghmeh, B’Tselem – 26 March 2020

On 31 March Israeli occupation forces stormed the Sur Baher village, south of Jerusalem, and confiscated dozens of food parcels for distribution to the villagers in light of the corona crisis.

Settler Violence

In the beginning of April the United Nations reported that settler and Jewish extremist violence against West Bank Palestinians has spiked by 78% during the last two weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to the rest of this year.

The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) warned that dumping colonial Israeli settlements wastewater onto Palestinian vineyards in the town of Beit Ummar, north of Hebron city, exposes Palestinians to the novel coronavirus risk. PWA said that several researches conducted in the US, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as a recent study conducted by the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and Environment, prove the presence of the new COVID-19 virus in wastewater, and therefore, Israeli settlement wastewater exposes Palestinians to the risk of contracting the disease, especially in light of the high number of cases in Israel and its illegal settlements.

In the shadow of the spread of corona virus across Israel-Palestine, over 250 Israeli settlers took part in the annual parade to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim in the center of occupied Hebron on Tuesday. The settlers, who marched from the neighborhood of Tel Rumeida to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, were accompanied by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police officers who prevented Palestinian onlookers from approaching.

Israeli settlers dance during the annual Purim parade in the West Bank city of Hebron. Palestinians, who were forbidden from leaving their homes during the march, can be seen looking on from their balcony, March 10, 2020. Oren Ziv

Three Palestinians employed as street cleaners by the Jerusalem Municipality were attacked with a knife and tear gas in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol on 5 April by Israeli’s.  

On 13 April a group of radical settler youth who had been put in a military-run corona virus quarantine facility attacked Palestinian campers and torched their cars near the Dead Sea. The group of settlers, all from the area of the infamous settlement of Yitzhar, south of Nablus, were placed in a secluded tent after they came in contact with a confirmed corona virus patient. 

Gaza

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.

As such, Gaza’s healthcare system is not equipped for a COVID-19 breakout. It has a total number of 2,895 hospital beds, or 1.3 beds per thousand people. It has just 50 to 60 ventilators for adults. According to the head of the WHO’s sub-office in Gaza, Abdelnasser Soboh, Gaza is only prepared to handle the first hundred cases of the virus; “After that, it will need further support.”

The health system is further aggravated by the emigration of many Palestinian health professionals due to Gaza’s economic crisis.

Another feature of Gaza’s existence could fuel a mass spread of the virus: population density. According to scientists, “crowded conditions can increase the likelihood of people transmitting infectious diseases” — and with an average of 6,028 persons per square kilometer, Gaza has one of the highest population densities in the world. While Israel has degraded the capacity of Gaza’s health care system to respond to a public health crisis like COVID-19, it has no publicly declared plan to prevent the spread of the virus to one of the most densely populated and vulnerable territories in the world.

General view of Palestinian homes and buildings in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 9, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

On 8 April The Palestinian health ministry said that the central laboratory in the Gaza Strip ran out of supplies to process corona virus (COVID-19) tests, leading to a large backlog of pending tests.

Final Word

With all the information we gathered we may conclude that Israel is not only uncooperative in their efforts to combat the corona virus it also hinders the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian citizens in their efforts. It is even evident that Israeli violations that took place during the corona crisis were deliberately acts to undermine the health security of Palestinians. Therefor we were highly surprised that the United Nations has showered praise on Israel for its “excellent” cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in fighting the corona virus. Not only is the UN applauding the so-called security coordination between the Israeli military and the PA, it is also providing a fig leaf for Israel to cover up its continued attacks on the Palestinians’ right to health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided guidelines for combating the corona virus worldwide. We could see that countries were free to adopt different approaches in their efforts to combat the virus. But what about occupied territories? Even in the areas that are officially under Palestinian control coping with a delicate health matter like a pandemic did not fall within the framework of self-determination. If the occupying power neglects article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention wouldn’t it be logic and in the case of a global health alert required to give full self-determination to the Palestinian Authorities in times of a pandemic? At the same time Israeli counteracts to undermine the health security for Palestinians should be internationally monitored and recorded as war crimes. Why otherwise we have international laws? However, we do not expect much support from the WHO on the latter given the significant fact it places Israel under the “European Region” in its daily situation updates. You could compare that with the UN praising Israel for the excellent cooperation with Palestine, also a falsehood!

Once again Palestinians are being pushed in a vacuum, a vulnerable position. And the world will watch the developments from a safe distance and will praise the Palestinians once again for their patience, their persistence and for their way they deal with the impossible.

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