Jerusalem personalities: the coronavirus pandemic exploited to further Israel's racist policies towards Jerusalemites
Ramallah – 23/9/2020 Jerusalemite personalities have accused Israeli occupation authorities of implementing racist policies towards Palestinian residents of the city through the preventative measures against Covid-19 by employing these measures in the service of the occupation.
The personalities told “Hosted by MIFTAH” that almost every decision taken by the Israeli government negatively reflects on the Palestinians such as the massive deployment of Israeli police and army throughout the city, which did not help to raise awareness about the danger of the virus or the measures needed to prevent its spread. They said this was proof that occupation authorities deal with Jerusalemites as second-class citizens, reflected in the nature of the health, social, educational and judicial services available to them.
Hatem Abdel Qader, former Jerusalem minister and Fateh leader said, “Any decision made by the Israeli government at the public level has negative repercussions on Palestinian society in occupied Jerusalem. For example, when the government makes any decisions pertaining to health, it tries to make it sound as if it were for the public good. However, this decision often has negative repercussions on Jerusalemites. The government employed racist preventative measures to paralyze economic activity in the Old City and to prevent worshippers from entering the Aqsa Mosque while it allowed settlers to break into the compound without them abiding by public health measures in place.
Abdel Qader said that Israeli police are also increasing the number of fines and violations against residents of East Jerusalem for not wearing masks or wearing them improperly. At the same time, he said, Israeli police do nothing towards violators in West Jerusalem where commercial activity is more or less the same. Israelis on that side of the city are not held accountable in the same way, he said.
Abdel Qader continued that Jerusalemites are under the pressure of living in a distressful environment, especially for the hundreds of Palestinian families that include a family member with a West Bank ID. As part of its preventative measures, occupation forces have suspended permits for these relatives to enter and reside in Jerusalem, using the pandemic as an excuse.
Political analyst and journalist, Rasim Obeidat said that based on his daily monitoring of Israeli measures in Jerusalem, there was a clear racist nature to how Jerusalemites are dealt with vis-a-vis the pandemic. He explained that Israeli police and army units had been deployed throughout the city’s streets and alleyways of the Old City but without offering any guidance or awareness about the dangers of Covid-19 and how to mitigate its spread. Instead, he maintained, the police are constantly on the lookout for Jerusalemites not wearing masks or wearing them improperly so they can issue them a NIS500 fine. At the same time, Israeli police deal with the same situation for Israeli Jews in Jerusalem by merely warning them to wear a mask to ensure they do not contract or spread Covid-19.
Obdeidat said the discrepancies in punitive measures based on location clearly shows the stark difference between how Palestinians and Haredi Jews in close proximity are treated, such as in “Mea Sherim” neighborhood where the Jews do not abide by precautionary instructions such as wearing masks, continue to attend temple and hold weddings and funerals. They are given mere warnings while just on the other side, Israeli police raid weddings and mourning houses held by Palestinians and issue fines up to NIS 5000 to the bride and groom and their families and NIS500 to the invitees.
Political activist and expert in Israeli affairs, Ismail Maslamani said Israel’s racist policies have not stopped since 1967, culminating in what he called the ‘soft expulsion” of residents to outside the separation wall. He added, “Israel treats us as if we are third-class citizens; one of the most glaring forms of discrimination is in its health, social, judicial and educational services. In the past year and a half, occupation authorities, through its Knesset members and some ministers, have tried to isolate Jerusalemites and prevent them from going to hospitals to receive treatment. Even Covid-19 testing was not widely available until Arab MKs intervened.”
Maslamani pointed out that Israel’s racial discrimination goes beyond health care and has infiltrated service institutions such as the “Bezeq” phone company. It offers Palestinian Jerusalemites internet services ranging between 25-100 megabytes while offering Israelis in the city 1000 megabytes. This has posed a serious predicament for Jerusalemite students who have been forced into remote learning due to the pandemic.
Attorney Deeba said Israel “spares no effort to invest in and exploit the coronavirus pandemic to implement its racist policies against the Palestinians. Its primary objective of the lockdown was to isolate Jerusalem and empty it of its Arab Palestinian inhabitants, leaving it in the hands of settlers. For example, when Islamic Waqf authorities were prepared to close the Aqsa Mosque to Muslim worshippers at the height of the pandemic, Israeli police refused to close Dung Gate for settler break-ins into the compound. They also tightened the lockdown on Palestinian areas and meted out fines and violations of around NIS1.8 million in the first days of the lockdown.”
He continued, “Israeli health inspectors even raided law offices and prevented lawyers from receiving clients,” adding that occupation authorities had taken advantage of the pandemic by closing off the Shufat camp in order to raid the youth and sports center building and arrest several of its members, in an attempt to prevent the opening of the biggest sports club in Jerusalem, which the camp residents had funded themselves after the UN provided them with the building.
Director of the youth development department in Jerusalem, Mazen Ja’abari maintained that Jerusalemites “had not expected the coronavirus pandemic to lead to such deterioration in their conditions. Since the Israeli government imposed a lockdown last March, hundreds of tourist shops in the Old City have closed because they did not receive any help.”
He continued, “Israel offered emergency economic aid packages to Israelis, which Palestinian merchants did not benefit from, thus depriving thousands of Palestinian families of a steady income and pushing them into poverty and dependence on social and humanitarian aid.”
Ja’abari said the major blow was when Covid-19 began to spread. Palestinians in Jerusalem found themselves hostage to their lack of knowledge on how to deal with the pandemic, compounded by the fact that occupation authorities did not provide them with the necessary information and methods to combat the virus, especially in terms of testing, health services and awareness campaigns. Then, when the Palestinians took it upon themselves to open a testing center in Silwan, Israeli forces shut it down, confiscated medical equipment and arrested the people in charge. What’s more, Israel did not open testing stations for Palestinian Covid-19 patients in East Jerusalem until the Adalah Center took the case to the Israeli High Court. That was when some primary testing centers opened, he said.
Ja’abari pointed out that international law necessitates that Israel, as the occupying power, must fulfill its role in caring for the residents under its occupation. However, Israel does the opposite in clear violation of human rights, namely health care and medical, social and economic services. This is in addition to the clear discrimination in the distribution of medical assistance between Israelis and Palestinians, which has turned the coronavirus pandemic into multilayered oppression of Palestinians. Not only are they burdened with hefty fines, Palestinian neighborhoods are besieged and its residents constantly being accused of spreading Covid-19.
Director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, Ziad Hamouri, described Israel’s preventative measures in Jerusalem as retaliatory and racist, targeting the rights of Jerusalemites in general. He continued, “Israeli authorities have treated Jerusalemites harshly by employing double standards: the first are employed with a soft hand when it comes to the Israelis and the second are meted out with an iron fist when applied to Palestinian Jerusalemites.”
Hamouri explained that the lockdowns delivered a serious blow to economic activity in Jerusalem, which he said was ‘on its deathbed” while other cities, including the western sector of Jerusalem or Palestinian cities inside the 1948 territories were not affected in the same way. He said economic and labor activity continued to operate to some extent in these areas such as restaurants and shops while in East Jerusalem this was not the case.
He continued that this discriminatory approach affected the tourism sector as well, showing the clear discrepancy in this regard between East Jerusalem and other areas. “Billions of shekels were disbursed to various economic sectors in Israel while the Palestinian economic sector got nothing except some grants, loans or tax cuts.”
Hamouri also said there were other repercussions from Israel’s racist measures that affected Jerusalemite families. “Even before the pandemic, there are always problems pertaining to Jerusalemite rights, whether social, economic or health rights. There is also the issue of family reunification that many families must deal with, coupled with Israel’s continuous pressure on Jerusalemites to leave their city as part of Israel’s demographic battle. Couples who reside in Jerusalem and whose residency rights are under threat are targeted in this policy. This also results in their health, social and economic rights being deprived, in exchange for increased settlement population density in the holy city.”
Member of the coronavirus task force in Jerusalem and director of the Beit Safafa medical Center, Fouad Abu Hamed said the coronavirus epidemic in Jerusalem was linked to political dimensions pertaining to the nature of Israeli measures. “It is all political,” he said. “When we talk about the pandemic, the Jerusalemites who are directly affected are those facing residency and legal status issues because they are the ones deprived of comprehensive medical services. Those who do not have these residency or family reunification problems do not have these same problems.”
Abu Hamed continued that this is not limited to health services but also economic issues. “These families cannot benefit from the economic assistance or stimulus packages offered by the government. That is why these preventative measures have become such a sensitive subject and require special protection and care: this includes imposing measures on the ground against those not wearing a mask or for holding public gatherings or home visits are made to patients to ensure they are isolating. Israeli police do not consistently apply these measures in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem expect to impose heavy fines. Meanwhile, the awareness and guidance campaigns against the pandemic in Arabic for the Palestinian public is completely lacking and insufficient.”