The National / April 2, 2020
Israel’s continued oppression is hindering Palestinian attempts to stop coronavirus in the Occupied Territories, but that won’t stifle Palestine’s determination to protect its people
With scarce resources, the Palestinian government has been confronting Covid-19, which represents a threat against all of humanity. We can be proud of what has been done so far. But it does not change the daily reality faced by the people of Palestine, who live under Israel’s occupation. In fact, this reality is only serving to undermine our efforts.
The threat of coronavirus has not stopped Israel’s illegal colonial project, as it continues to demolish Palestinian homes and to confiscate Palestinian properties. Through its officials, Israel continues to make public statements about annexation and its plans to expand existing settlements, mainly in and around occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinians, therefore, are confronting more than one threat.
Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and chief Palestinian negotiator, talks to reporters about the recent Israeli elections in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 3, 2020. AFP
It is a tragic paradox that Palestine is facing these grave circumstances just as it marked Land Day, which honours the Palestinian people’s struggle for our rights over our ancestral land, which has long been falsely referred to by some as “a land without a people.” This idea seems to be driving the alliance between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, which has led to the treatment of Palestinians as foreigners in their own homeland.
I would not be surprised if those in the Trump administration have never even heard of Land Day. If they have heard of it, they would know of the resilience of the Palestinian people, who are capable of subverting their attempts to legitimise the system of apartheid imposed on them, just as they will defeat the coronavirus.
As the Palestinian public sector was mobilising to protect our people from this fearsome pandemic, Israeli raids on Palestinian areas have continued, including a recent, particularly vicious one on the Al-Issawiya neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. And as usual, Israeli settlers have continued their terror attacks against Palestinians and their properties under the protection of Israeli armed forces.
Less than two weeks ago, occupying forces killed Sufyan al-Khawaja, a man from Ni’lin, by firing a shot into his head as he sat in his car. Of course, there was no accountability for this crime. We have also seen Palestinian workers dumped at Israeli military checkpoints, accused of being infected with coronavirus, although they received no medical treatment through their Israeli employers. One grotesque image shows a Palestinian worker, who did not have coronavirus, thrown to the ground at the Beit Sira checkpoint. In the Jordan Valley, Israeli forces even confiscated tents that were being prepared by Palestinians to deal with Covid-19 cases. All these violations and the ongoing siege of 1.8 million Gazans illustrate the Israeli authorities’ utter disregard for Palestinian lives.
When Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem were closing, their headmasters received calls from Israeli authorities demanding that they re-open. And when Palestinian youths began the process of sterilising buildings in the city, Israeli authorities arrested them. They also dismantled the barriers erected by citizens in Hebron governorate to examine Palestinian workers coming from Israel in an effort to prevent further transmission of the virus.
The situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails is equally alarming. Occupation authorities have prevented the entry of several food items, sterilisers, and cleaning tools to more than 5000 Palestinians held in their prisons. They have refused our calls to release them, including the sick, elderly, women, children and administrative detainees. I have personally met with representatives of the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation, demanding that they visit the jails to see the conditions. According to our information, our prisoners are in a state of high risk.
Covid-19 is a threat against everyone and doesn’t distinguish between nations or religions. We have made efforts to have a joint operations room to coordinate on the health situation with Israel, even though it continues to disregard its international legal obligations as an occupying power. Notwithstanding the challenges imposed by the Israeli occupation, we are proud that we have been able to obtain support from international parties, including by bringing Covid-19 testing strips from abroad through our intelligence services.
The upcoming Israeli government is not only tasked to fight the coronavirus in Israel, but also to prepare for further annexation of Palestine. This is heavily linked to the green light provided by the Trump administration through its annexation plan, which, ironically, it refers to as a “vision of peace.” That is, in fact, the mission of the American-Israeli Joint Committee, a body comprised mainly of hard-core extremists. They are committed to the further denial of inalienable Palestinian rights.
Regardless of some governments’ shameful lobbying efforts at both the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council, we in Palestine continue to state that it is not only our right to seek justice through these international organisations, but it is also our duty. Day after day, documentation continues with more information about Israeli crimes and the complicity of international companies. Therefore, we will continue making use of all available tools, international law and the rules-based global system in order to protect our rights.
Blackmail tactics will not make Palestinians accept a reality of apartheid. In spite of Israel’s continued blocking of our tax revenues, as well as US decisions to de-fund Palestinian hospitals and UNRWA, the Palestinian government continues its contacts with international partners, including the United Nations and Arab and European nations, among others, to gather the resources required to combat the coronavirus pandemic. As announced by PM Mohammad Shtayyeh, Palestine urgently needs $120 million to continue its successful efforts as described by the World Health Organisation.
The Palestinian people have reaffirmed that no matter the challenge, we will prevail. Even with all the barriers imposed by the Israeli occupation, we are going to defeat coronavirus. Our resilience and co-operation with those who believe in a rules-based world order will also lead us, sooner than later, towards freedom, dignity, security and peace.
Saeb Erekat is Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)