With every passing day, the situation in the Hebron district of the southern occupied West Bank continues to get worse.
The district, which is the largest in the West Bank, has become the epicenter of a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, with more than 5,300 recorded cases, accounting for 62% of the total cases in Palestine.
For weeks Hebron’s mayor, Tayseer Abu Sneineh, has been trying to find solutions to help his community fight the virus, as the city’s hospitals fill up and health workers are overwhelmed.
So when a local resident of Hebron approached the mayor about donating a plot of land to be used for a local COVID-19 testing clinic, Abu Sneineh immediately got to work.
“We pulled together the funds from local donors and immediately began working on the project,” Abu Sneineh said, adding that the plot of land is located right outside the entrance to Hebron city, near an intersection leading to Route 60, a main settler highway in the West Bank.
“Our hospitals are being overwhelmed by people with COVID-19,” Abu Sneineh said. “We thought the entrance of the city would be perfect, because it’s accessible to people from the city and also from surrounding areas.”
According to Abu Sneineh, the municipality planned on using the clinic as a dedicated COVID-19 testing center. The idea was to have one central place, outside of Hebron’s overwhelmed hospitals, where people from the area could get tested for the virus, and those who needed treatment for COVID-19 symptoms could get emergency medical care.
But earlier this week, just a few days after construction on the clinic began, a number of Israeli military jeeps pulled up beside the hospital’s skeleton frame.
“The soldiers handed the workers a notice, saying that the owner of the land had four days to prove he had building permits, or else we would be forced to demolish the structure,” Abu Sneineh said, adding that it would be nearly impossible to obtain permits from Israel in such a short period of time.
“They told us we were building illegally, even though this is privately owned Palestinian land,” Abu Sneineh said.
“We are in the midst of a global crisis,” he continued. “This is an emergency situation, you would think they would show some empathy, or give people some leeway, but they are not interested in that.”
The order on the clinic in Hebron is not the first time the military has prevented Palestinians from responding to the COVID-19 emergency in the occupied territory.
In March, in the midst of the first wave of the virus, Israeli soldiers dismantled an under-construction field hospital in the Jordan Valley that was set up to deal with the coronavirus.
“This shows clearly that Israel doesn’t care about Palestinian lives,” Abu Sneineh said. “They can’t even give us our basic rights to healthcare so we can treat our people from the coronavirus.”
“Hebron is in crisis right now, and this hospital would have really saved us,” he said. “But the occupation doesn’t care.”
Update 07/24/2020: A previous version of this story identified the COVID-19 testing clinic as a “field hospital.” The language has been corrected to more accurately reflect the nature of the clinic.