Palestinians brace for influx of workers as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

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The Latest:

  • 193 Palestinians so far have tested positive for the coronavirus; 12 live in Gaza and 181 live in the West Bank
  • 1 Palestinian has died from COVID-10 related causes
  • 8,600 Palestinians have been tested for the coronavirus
  • 7,428 Israelis have tested positive for the coronavirus
  • 40 Israelis have died from COVID-19 related causes

Over the last week confirmed cases of coronavirus among Palestinians have doubled with most of the spread occurring in the West Bank. By Thursday afternoon the Palestinian Authority said testing had ramped up across the occupied territory, testing 8,600 patients in the West Bank with plans to test 1,000 more in remote villages. In Gaza, where the shortages of test kits are most acute, 1,500 additional kits would arrive over the next few days by way of the World Health Organization.

Palestinian leaders say they had contained the virus early on and attribute the newest cases to Palestinians day laborers working in Israel. They blame Israel for inadequate testing and returning Palestinians who became ill while Israel to the West Bank. Our correspondent Yumna Patel has been following the story, reporting at first Israel and the Palestinians agreed to let Palestinian workers who usually travel across checkpoints each day sleep at their places of employment. However, after 48 hours reports emerged that the deal fell through.

From Patel: “Palestinians were outraged after a video surfaced of a sickly laborer with a high fever, shortness of breath, and body aches lying on the ground after he was dumped by Israeli forces at the Beit Sira checkpoint West of Ramallah.”

Palestinian leaders are now asking laborers to not enter Israel and Israeli settlements over fear of transmitting the virus, but the real influx of people won’t happen until next week during the Passover holiday. Around 50,000 Palestinian workers are expected to come back to the West Bank. The Palestinian prime minister is asking Israel to administer tests to all of the workers first, but that’s unlikely to happen.

Locked up during lockdown

Meanwhile, in Israel more aggressive measures are taking place to prevent the movement of people as confirmed cases of the coronavirus continue to soar, nearly reaching 7,000 cases this week. The Israeli cabinet announced Thursday the entire city of Bnei Brak would be placed under curfew for a week, deeming it a “restricted zone.” Security officials estimate that over a quarter of the population, around 75,000 people, could have contracted COVID-19. Healthcare workers were also given more license to quarantine patients at home enforceable by police order. Breaking quarantine could result in a fine around $1,400.

All Israelis are now being asked to wear face masks whenever they leave their homes.

An Iranian pandemic, starring Faye Dunaway and Eric Roberts

Screenshot of bodies being unloaded into a garbage dump from the Hallmark mini-series “Pandemic.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently shared to two officials under the impression it was “proof of an Iranian coronavirus cover-up.” 

Michael Arria reports Axios’s Barak Ravid got a scoop that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared a video of bodies being unloaded from a truck into a garbage dump, claiming the footage was of Iran’s response to rising deaths related to COVID-19. The clip, however, was not “proof of an Iranian coronavirus cover-up,” rather it was a clip from the “Pandemic” mini-series released from Hallmark in 2007.

The series has a dynamite cast including Faye Dunaway, Eric Roberts, Tiffani Thiessen and French Stewart.

From Arria, Netanyahu “said that national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat had shown him a video of  Iranian soldiers putting dead bodies in trucks and throwing them into garbage dumps.”

The clip has also circulated on social media falsely attributed as a secret recording filmed in both Italy and Spain.

Leaving the bill

Palestinian United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) employees in Gaza wearing protective masks and gloves due to the COVID-19 pandemic, transport food aid rations to be delivered to refugee family homes rather than distributed at a UN center, on March 31, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/ APA Images)

Members of Congress haven’t forgotten that the Trump administration began withholding U.S. funds to Palestinian refugees in January 2018. Part of that money was earmarked for Palestinian medical clinics run by the UN. Our correspondent Michael Arria reports a group of senators including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to reconsider.

The letter reads: “Given the spread of the coronavirus in the West Bank and Gaza, the extreme vulnerability of the health system in Gaza, and the continued withholding of U.S. aid to the Palestinian people, we are concerned that the Administration is failing to take every reasonable step to help combat this public health emergency in the Palestinian Territories.”

Odds and ends

Palestinians in Gaza are using creativity to spread awareness about practicing safe hygiene at home. We especially like these cakes.

Palestinians put final touches on cakes that portrays a woman wearing a face mask with model of bottel of Dettol, a sterilizing soap, at their shop in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 31, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)
Palestinians put final touches on cakes that portray faces wearing masks with and bottles of Dettol, a sterilizing soap, at a shop in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 31, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Links of interest

  • After weeks of ignoring its Palestinian citizens, Israel to step up testing in Arab towns (Mondoweiss)
  • In the midst of global pandemic, Israeli occupation thrives (Mondoweiss)
  • An Epidemic in a Settler Colony: Coronavirus in Palestine/Israel (Mondoweiss)
  • The Gaza Strip and COVID-19: Preparing for the Worst (International Crisis Group)
  • US Sanctions on Iran Devastate the Health Sector (MERIP)
  • Providing context for COVID-19 numbers in the Arab region (Nature Middle East)