In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon stated that only matters of urgency are being discussed at the institution. Palestine, never high on the agenda in terms of international political action, is now degraded further as the Palestinian people are forced in quarantine under a colonial, apartheid system.
The only attention Palestinians received came from UN officials applauding the efforts to contain the virus spread in light of limited resources. A patronizing attitude that fails to even hint at how precarious the situation is for Palestinians, especially the most deprived segments of the population.
Meanwhile, Israeli colonialism continues uninterrupted. In Khirbet Ibziq, north of the Jordan Valley, the Israeli authorities confiscated equipment for a field clinic that would have served the communities in the area to limit virus contagion. Keeping up with its usual obstructions to Palestinians attempting to live sustainably, Israel also denied permission for farmers in Kherbet Aldeir in the occupied West Bank, to install solar panels and a greenhouse. The area falls under the Israeli plans for annexation.
The high coronavirus risk for Palestinians is encouraging the narrative of “working together” even as Israel maintains its colonial policies.
In the times of coronavirus, it’s business as usual for Israel. Yet the higher risk for Palestinians is encouraging the narrative of “both sides” and “working together” even as Israel maintains its colonial policies and violates Palestinian rights, supported by the international community’s normalization of such violations.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin initiated the rhetoric of cooperation during a phone call in March with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, in which he emphasized the importance of protecting “the health of both Israelis and Palestinians.” However, Rivlin added a political message spelling out the expected subjugation from the Palestinian leadership. “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,” he declared.
Rivlin’s words, later echoed by the UN in its praise of “cooperation” between Israelis and Palestinians, exploit the Palestinian predicament. As an occupying power, Israel is under obligation to ensure the health and safety of Palestinians living under occupation. Yet, the Palestinian Authority, for all its shortcomings and complicity when it comes to politics, now finds itself in a position in which it has to provide medical services within a colonial, apartheid system, all from the dynamics of a shackled pseudo-government that has no authority to demand even the most basic of services in normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic.
Speaking of cooperation has not changed the prospects for Palestinian refugees, prisoners, or those working in Israel.
Speaking of cooperation has not changed the prospects for Palestinian refugees, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, or Palestinians working in Israel. As poverty levels will undoubtedly increase, both colonialism and the coronavirus pandemic will impact the Palestinian economy, thus adding to the already-existing deprivation.
Recently, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) launched an appeal for $14 million USD in funding to set up the necessary measures in case the pandemic reaches the Palestinian refugee camps. The humanitarian appeal needs to be politicized – after all, Palestinians have been forced into refugee status and deprivation as a result of the 1948 Nakba and ensuing displacement.
Asking for financial aid while refusing to look at the culprits perpetuates the humanitarian disaster, now possibly set to exacerbate if the pandemic does break out in the camps. Without guaranteed access to basic necessities in other times, the coronavirus also highlights the futility of humanitarian aid without political responsibility in terms of holding Israel accountable for perpetuating Palestinian deprivation.
The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) has called upon the international community to protect Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, fearing an outbreak of the virus due to closed confinement and overcrowding. Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, reported that a Palestinian prisoner has already been exposed to the virus following an interrogation with an Israeli soldier who tested positive. The PHROC, however, is not speaking from a dissociated context – its appeal points to the earlier medical negligence that has become standard practice applied against Palestinian prisoners, to emphasize Israel’s normalization of violence when it comes to health.
All Palestinians will face – as a result of the coronavirus – restrictions on freedom of movement and its repercussions.
One common feature, which all Palestinians will face as a result of the coronavirus, is the restrictions on freedom of movement and its repercussions, which have been most visible in Gaza. Upon the first announcements that Palestinian individuals in the occupied West Bank exhibited the virus symptoms, Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett imposed quarantine on Bethlehem and closed almost all checkpoints, thus locking down Palestinians. A strategy which is being observed in countries worldwide and which would not have raised any potential for contention had there been no colonial context involved. The closures enforced by Israel, Mondoweiss reported, “reminded Palestinians that Israel is still very much in control.” The coronavirus pandemic is increasing opportunities for Israel to limit Palestinian freedom even further.
Describing the cooperation on lockdown rules as the result of a virus managing “what local and international politicians and activists have been unable to do” is simplistic and diverts attention away from the power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has decided the fate of the Palestinian people prior to the pandemic and it will use this period to implement the next phase of forced displacement and political acquiescence.
Israeli media is already predicting the Palestinian Authority’s downfall as a result of economic decline due to the coronavirus.
Indeed, Israeli media is already predicting the PA’s downfall as a result of economic decline due to the coronavirus. The collapse of existing services, as well as the Palestinian economy’s dependence upon Israel which was in the spotlight during the colonial power’s refusal to transfer tax revenues to the PA in 2019, are expected to contribute to a scenario where the PA loses what remains of its power, according to an unnamed Palestinian senior official.
The pandemic will enhance Israel’s security narrative, this time by exploiting the looming humanitarian catastrophe. For Israel and the UN, there is no urgency, given that the colonial power will rely upon militarization to subdue Palestinians; a tactic that is accepted internationally and raises no questions regarding the inherent violations. There are no “both sides” or achievements in such chaos. Palestinians deserve better than misrepresentation at such a precarious time.