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June COVID-19 timeline: race isn’t a risk, racism is a risk

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Welcome to the Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council timeline on the spread of COVID-19 in Israel/Palestine.

This resource will be updated regularly to provide a full picture of the unfolding pandemic and the medical, political and economic ramifications in real time.

Please note that the COVID-19 cases are an underestimate given the lack of testing and asymptomatic carriers.

As of June 26, the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the region are:

Israel: 22,638

West Bank: 1,442  
East Jerusalem: 206
Gaza: 72

Timeline

June 14-20, 2020

Racial disparities seen in the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Why Racism, Not Race, Is a Risk Factor for Dying of COVID-19” Scientific American, June 12. 

In an interview, Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones explains that biological factors do not account for the huge COVID-19 illness and death disparities in Black Americans compared to the white population, but rather conditions imposed by racism. 

When asked why race increases risk, Dr. Jones stated, 

“Race doesn’t put you at higher risk. Racism puts you at higher risk. It does so through two mechanisms: People of color are more infected because we are more exposed and less protected. Then, once infected, we are more likely to die because we carry a greater burden of chronic diseases from living in disinvested communities with poor food options [and] poisoned air and because we have less access to health care.”

The World Economic Forum podcast “Race, Racism and COVID-19” takes a global look at the issues of racism and inequality of COVID-19. Similar to the Scientific American article above, this podcast focuses on how COVID-19 is not the “great equalizer,” as it has been termed. Rather, it is opening up the huge issues of unequal access to resources and systemic aspects of racism, globally.

June 20, World Refugee Day

The Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council spotlights just a few of the many articles that speak of the unique vulnerabilities of refugees and asylum seekers to large scale COVID-19 outbreaks. The baseline conditions of most of the world’s refugees including extreme poverty, crowded and unstable housing, lack of access to nutritious food, chronic hunger, trauma, and a high rate of comorbid conditions makes this an extremely vulnerable population. 

An article published by Johns Hopkins, “How are Refugees Affected by COVID-19?”, is important in raising awareness of the many challenges posed by COVID-19 for refugee populations–from illness exposure and contagion risk, to concerns about adequacy of vaccine distribution to these communities. 

The World Health Organization held a briefing on June 19 discussing the vulnerabilities of the 80 million refugees and internally displaced people internationally. A summary of the WHO briefing can be found at the World Economic Forum.

Back to Israel/Palestine…

June 14 Israel

Israel has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases as schools, businesses, restaurants, bars, tourist attractions and other establishments reopen. Schools throughout the country have closed after cases tied to students and staff members continue to climb. Over 20,000 people in Israel have so far tested positive for the coronavirus; more than 300 people have died, including a 26-year-0ld. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 601 people tested positive; two people have died. In the Gaza Strip, 72 people were diagnosed and one person has died. 

June 16 West Bank

In an opinion piece in Al Jazeera, Ihab Maharmeh of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies believes that the PA’s efforts at “economic disengagement” from Israel have been shattered by the pandemic. Rather than boycotting Israeli goods in an effort to achieve economic independence, he argues that focusing on the racism of the apartheid reality is the best strategy.

June 16 occupied Palestinian territory

Palestinian Minister of Health Mai Alkaila warned that a second and more virulent wave of COVID-19 may be on its way, as many Palestinians are reportedly resuming normal activities and risking spread of infection, necessitating the reinstatement of a lockdown after three weeks of lightened restrictions and little enforcement. The number of virus-free West Bank districts has dropped from nine to four, with people allowed to move freely between districts. Half of the 115 new cases were identified in the West Bank and a quarter each in Gaza and East Jerusalem.

June 16 Israel

The Israeli Health Ministry is pursuing negotiations to invest large sums of public money in unapproved coronavirus vaccines under development by global biotechnology companies, including the U.S. firm Moderna.

The Knesset gave final approval to a bill that will enable those who have been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic to receive both unemployment compensation for the period from March through June and other government allowances for which they were eligible. As a result, more than 50,000 needy recipients, single mothers, the disabled and women between the ages of 62 and 67 who either lost their jobs or were put on unpaid leave following the COVID-19 outbreak, will receive thousands of shekels in retroactive payments. 

June 17 Israel

With experts divided over the significance of the rise in COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps public comments on the virus to a minimum while his social media accounts focus on his trial. Since the last week of May, cases have increased from around 20 new cases a day to over 200. Some of this is explained by increased testing.

A time of crisis, an emergency, a collapsing national economy, a pandemic, a prime minister who is standing trial and meanwhile is annexing territory – these have all pushed performers, performances and events to the end of the line. The message to the protesters is clear: There are more important things on the agenda right now. Two weeks ago, government-supported cultural institutions were able to arrive at a proper plan for compensation. Independent performers, as usual, got the short end of the stick which resulted in protests and clashes. 

While there are borders that need to be strengthened such as those between viruses and humans, world famous historian Yuval Noah Harari says it would be a mistake to reinforce borders between nations. The answer to the coronavirus is greater global cooperation, especially in the joint efforts of the international scientific community – not in a return to atavistic divisions. But Gadi Taub argues for solidarity with the nation state, the only vehicle that he thinks offers people democratic control and “self-sovereignty.”

June 19 occupied Palestinian territory

A new wave of the virus is hitting Palestine, even stronger than the first time around. Dozens of new cases have been traced back to Palestinian laborers who work in Israel. Since the Eid holidays at the end of May, most laborers have returned back to their pre COVID-19 routines, meaning they go and come back between the West Bank and Israel for work every day. This is all made worse by the lack of coordination between Israel and the PA.  In the West Bank, social distancing orders are not being enforced, people are not being fined for not wearing masks or gloves, and there’s little to no police checkpoints in sight. The government’s laid back approach to the virus this time around is a drastic departure from its aggressive containment efforts the first time around.

June 19 Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territory

Widespread reopening in Israel has led to rising cases and new hot spots of the pandemic. As schools have closed again, Netanyahu says he will pause any further reopening. In seeming contradiction, the Knesset has approved cultural events attended by up to 250 people with possible exceptions of up to 500 (with severe penalties for violating guidelines). The Palestinian Authority locked down Hebron and Nablus as cases rise.

June 19 Israel

Israeli media have rallied against the extreme coronavirus-related surveillance of Jewish Israelis as a violation of Israeli democracy. At the same time, they have failed to object to surveillance of Palestinians or the sale of Israeli surveillance technology to repressive regimes.

Israeli women have suffered disproportionately from the economic impact of the pandemic. Among workers recently filing for unemployment, women make up 60.5 percent of the 20 to 24-year-old age group.

An analysis of the state of the pandemic and quandaries posed to leadership in Israel seems eerily similar to the situation in the U.S. The case numbers are rising, but may in part be due to increased testing; the public is uncooperative with precautions and the slow pace of recovery; and Netanyahu seems as if he may have lost interest.