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Stricter lockdowns in Israel met by anti-Netanyahu protests

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The Latest:

  • 217,899 tested positive for COVID-19 in Israel; 1,412 deaths
  • 48,282 Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19; 327 Palestinian deaths
  • Breakdown of Palestinian cases: 35,305 in the West Bank; 10,319 in East Jerusalem; 2,658 in Gaza
  • 86% increase in the new cases per day over the last month in Gaza this month 
  • Israel’s hospitals are overwhelmed, patients wait hours in ambulances for beds

In last week’s newsletter we focused on Israel’s return to lockdown, a three-week closure ordered by health officials and backed by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. This week those measures are tightening and will go into effect today.

The new regulations shut down all non-essential businesses and limit prayer groups just before the Yom Kippur holiday that begins Sunday night. Depending on the severity of the virus in the city, Israelis will be limited to praying in “capsules” of up to 20 people outdoors, with space between each group of people who do not live together. Indoor prayers are allowed, and the number of people allowed is determined by a complex system of space, local infection rates, and the number of doors on the synagogue. Under the most restrictive circumstances, only ten will be allowed inside a synagogue.

Netanyahu, the lockdown, and the protesters

While we’ve touched on it previously in this newsletter, we haven’t dived into the wave of protests against Netanyahu that sprouted in the spring and continue throughout this latest lockdown. The most recent protest was last night with 2,000 demonstrators.

Weekly, demonstrators gather outside of Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem and call for his resignation. In April over 30,000 surrounded his house as he headed to bed. In August the demonstrations escalated to clashes with police.  

Netanyahu has consistently written off demonstrators as a combination of COVID-lockdown violators, rabble-rousers, and anarchists. On Thursday, Haaretz’s Jonathan Lis reported that much is still consistent. 

“These bizarre protests against me not only don’t harm me, they aid me politically,” Netanyahu said. ”It eats away at the public’s discipline; it’s a coronavirus and anarchy incubator. It’s the worse infringement against the public.” 

The “notion that everyone can violate the lockdown, travel everywhere and claim they are protesters is one of the most destructive things in Israel. This phenomenon, on this scale, hasn’t been seen anywhere else in the world.”

What exactly are people protesting?

There’s a real mélange of issues on Netanyahu’s front lawn. Scan posters over the past few months and you’ll see everything from anti-maskers, to the newly jobless, to anti-corruption marchers who say Netanyahu is too sidetracked by his ongoing case to adequately lead the country. (Two weeks ago Netanyahu ordered an inquiry into the investigators that are investigating him.) 

“It is clear that the police and prosecution are making political decisions against justice and law in order to topple a right-wing prime minister,” Netanyahu said earlier this month. 

Of recent, many demonstrators are incensed over economic perils brought on by the pandemic. In the last week alone 109,378 lost their jobs, of whom 100,000 are on unpaid leave, reported the Times of Israel from new data released by the National Employment Service. On Wednesday alone 28,000 newly unemployed were registered. 

The Israeli economy is due to take a $10 billion hit, according to N12, a publication of Israel’s ministry of finance. In the OECD’s latest Economic Survey on Israel, the GDP fell by 6%. While recovery is expected in 2021, the group projects that unemployment won’t come down until the end of 2021. 

On Tuesday 6,950 tested positive for COVID-19, the largest single day record since the pandemic began. 

Hadash supporters protest Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Haifa, September 15, 2020. (Photo: Hadash/Facebook)

Hadash supporters protest Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Haifa, September 15, 2020. (Photo: Hadash/Facebook)

This dismal prognosis is shared across the country. In Haifa, a hub for Palestinian-led protests against Netanyahu, more accused him of neglecting the economy. 

Hadash, an Arab-Jewish communist party and part of the Joint List representative bloc in the Knesset, have been active on the streets. Clad in red shirts, Hadash organized demonstrations over the summer calling for a safety-net plan during lockdown and social distancing measures. 

On social media this month, Joint List Knesset member from Hadash, Aida Touma-Sliman, declared, “Closure without an economic-social plan is a disaster.”

Of course, not all of the complaints are solely over Netanyahu’s handling of the economy and the coronavirus. Indeed, many protesters want him out because of his administration’s treatment of Palestinians. 

Adalah, the Arab legal rights group, have submitted over 20 petitions to Israel’s supreme court since the pandemic began, often lobbying for Palestinians in the occupied territory who are impacted by Israeli decisions. Palestinians in Israeli prisons and jails are not afforded the “right” to practice social distancing and home demolitions continue in the West Bank despite a respite for a few weeks after the pandemic began. Even basic services are disrupted. Fuel entering energy-strapped Gaza is still severely limited.

Shortages Hit the West Bank

A Palestinian medical professional wearing protective gear takes a swab sample from a man during a COVID-19 screening campaign in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on September 24, 2020. Photo by Ashraf Amra

A Palestinian medical professional wearing protective gear takes a swab sample from a man during a COVID-19 screening campaign in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on September 24, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

In the Tuesday edition of this newsletter our correspondent Yumna Patel reported the Palestinian ministry of health does not have enough coronavirus testing kits to meet the current need. This month there is a 37% increase in daily COVID-19 cases in the West Bank, or an average of 745 new cases per day, according to the World Health Organization

These same figures are more stark in Gaza where there is a lower daily average of new cases in the last month, 94, but overall an 86% increase in new cases each day. 

In the West Bank 42 patients are intensive care units.

One positive development this week is the Palestinian Authority confirmed that it will be eligible for GAVI support when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. GAVI is a vaccine alliance program from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that vaccinates children living in poverty.