Tony Greenstein | 26 April 2020 | Post Views:

Israeli Treatment of the Palestinians During Coronavirus Demonstrates Why It is an Apartheid State

Israel’s attack on Palestinian health facilities demonstrates that ethnic cleansing comes first

As I wrote at the end of March, Israel’s contribution to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the Occupied Territories was limited to demolishing a Quarantine Tent that Palestinians had set up in the Jordan Valley. Even at a time of national emergency, ethnic cleansing and house demolition must take priority. The tent didn’t have a permit and as we know Palestinians don’t receive permits.

Below I have summarised information from a number of different reports and articles. Some information may be duplicated or at variance with each other.

No Communication about COVID-19 in Arabic

Up until the middle of March the official website, Facebook page, and messenger group of Israel’s Health Ministry barely contained a single word in Arabic on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus across the country. MK Sami Abu Shehadeh (Joint List) sent a letter to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on March 8, demanding that all information on the outbreak be made readily available to Israel’s Arab citizens.

Abu Shehadeh said that Arab leaders worked with Adalah, a Haifa-based legal center that focuses on the rights of Palestinian citizens, to send letters to all the ministries and began the process of petitioning the High Court of Justice.

Aiah Haj Odeh from Adalah said she was surprised that it took only two days for every single ministry to respond to her urgent letters. “The websites of the ministries had no option for Arabic — only French or English,” she said. “I wondered how many French speakers there are in Israel while Arabic is the mother-tongue of 21 percent of the population.’

Odeh attributes the speed of the response to the government’s fear of legal action.

“This epidemic does not differentiate between an Arab and Jew, everyone can get sick. Failure to provide the information will cost [the ministries] dearly in human life. ”

[Israel didn’t publish coronavirus guidance in Arabic — so Palestinians stepped in] +972 Magazine, March 17, 2020

When Israel first began to take measures to protect its own population from COVID-19 it ‘forgot’ to translate its health warnings into Arabic. Because its own people, being a Jewish state are Jewish. And why should it? The Jewish Nation State Law removed the obligation to inform Arabs as Arabic is no longer an official language.

Ever since the early days of this crisis, many officials, from the prime minister himself to the mostly lowly bureaucrat, have avoided addressing the Arab community in Israel directly.

Little was published in Arabic. At the same time, the majority of coronavirus tests were given to the Jewish public. This led to uproar, among the Arab population. After all, most Arab citizens wanted to protect themselves from the virus. The problem was that they were never told how. It was as if they simply didn’t exist.

It was only when it dawned on the Zionist functionaries that Coronavirus has no nationality and respects no religion and if Israel’s Palestinian population became infected so too would Israelis that the protection of Israel’s Arab population began to be taken seriously.

Umm al Fahm

Out of almost 9,000 cases in Israel on April 7 just 200 were in predominantly Arab localities. Yet Arabs constitute 20% of Israel’s total population. This wasn’t because of some natural immunity that Arabs possess but because there had been virtually no testing in Arab areas. Knesset member Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said that

“It is incredible that as Knesset members, we had to pressure the Health Ministry to get what any Jewish citizen can take for granted in Israel.”

According to Jabareen, it took enormous effort and pressure by Joint List leaders and the heads of Arab local authorities to set up two drive-thru testing facilities, at Wadi Ara, in the north, and in Arara, in the south. The two stations helped increase the number of tests performed in Arab communities to around 10,000.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency service, doesn’t even have an Arabic-language copy of the questionnaire at their call centre with which to conduct coronavirus testing. Finding solutions to such problems has been driven by local organizing. Dr. Zahi Said, a Health Ministry spokesman to the Arab population, said

That is why we launched an intense information campaign in traditional and social media, and we added Arabic-speaking staff to the Magen David Adom call center. The biggest change, however, came from the health insurance providers. This was the result of a decision to provide family physicians with the option of deciding on their own whether a coronavirus test was necessary and to provide these tests at their clinics, instead of referring patients to Magen David Adom.’

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, the heads of Arab local authorities, and Knesset members from the Joint List moved to create emergency teams and a control centre of sorts to work in conjunction with neighborhood committees.

The most deprived area of all is in the Negev/Naqab where most unrecognised Arab villages are. Half all Israel’s Arab villages are unrecognised which means that public services are not provided to these villages as their residents have no legal right to live there. In essence their citizenship is meaningless.

Adham Amarna, a resident of the Bedouin village of Segev Shalom, described how

‘The state ignores us entirely. While Netanyahu and the Ministries of Health, Internal Security and Defense approached the effort to stop the spread of the virus in Jewish localities as if preparing for war, they have abandoned Arab towns and villages.’

Despite there not being enough tests for the Arab population the rate of infection in the Arab community is believed to be lower than among Israeli Jews. By April 7, not one of the 65 people who died were Arab. Reasons include the Purim celebrations in Israel.

The level of compliance in Arab society with Health Ministry instructions is high. As of April 8, there were about 250 cases of coronavirus among the Arab population, after some 10,000 tests were given [about 2.5%]. Furthermore, there are no cases in living facilities for the elderly in the Arab public. This contrasts sharply with the situation in the Jewish public.

Compliance with the Health Ministry’s directives is especially visible in the various houses of worship in the Arab public. Mosques, churches, and khalwats (Druze houses of worship) stand empty. Nevertheless, there are still fears of a very high incidence of the virus in Israeli Arab society. The reason for this is the lifestyle and high population density in Arab towns and villages. The culture and lifestyle of the Arab community often revolves around social gatherings, with people meeting for coffee or to smoke a hookah.

In Jewish Orthodox areas such as the city of Bnei Brak there has been a widespread ignoring of preventative measures resulting in a high incidence of the virus. This has resulted in the army moving in to enforce restrictions.

One-fifth of all doctors in Israel are Arab and one-quarter of all nurses are Arabs, and half of all pharmacists live in Arab localities, not to mention a significant percentage of hospital administrators. But when they come home they can transmit the virus to others. According to Jabareen, there has been an increase in the number of nurses infected with the coronavirus, apparently at their workplaces — hospitals. [Israeli Arabs left to rely on ‘self-help’ for coronavirus testing and In Israel, Arabs feel sidelined in struggle against coronavirus

A Palestinian man walks in al-Fari’ah refugee camp

Under Occupation things are Still Worse

In the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Occupation and Military repression continue unabated by the pandemic. Coronavirus provides the authorities with an additional pretext. Israel refuses to recognise its responsibility as the Occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention on the basis that there is no occupation since god gave the land to the Zionists. Aftr all they can’t occupy their own property! The fact that the army is stationed all over the West Bank, that the settlers are armed and the normal house demolitions, searches, curfews etc. continue is irrelevant in this make believe world.

At nearly 18% officially, and probably higher, the prevalence of diabetes among Palestinian refugees in the West Bank is one of the highest in the world. The official rate in Gaza is 16%. Among adult citizens of Israel, it’s 7.2%. The disease suppresses the immune system, among other complications, and can spiral dangerously out of control when combined with an infection, such as Covid-19. Diabetic patients with Covid-19 in China had a 1 in 14 chance of dying, more than triple that of the general population.

Israeli occupying forces have confiscated building materials for a Palestinian field clinic, shut down a Covid-19 testing facility in East Jerusalem, and intensified the military securitisation of the West Bank, including the complete blockading of Bethlehem following a Covid-19 outbreak in early March.

Palestinians in camps have therefore resorted to community-based responses to protect themselves. Popular Committees and local organisations have taken the lead

[see Underlying Conditions, Bram Wispelwey and Amaya Al-Orzza, LRB April 18 2020]

Community is politically marginalised but makes up one-fifth of doctors and a quarter of nurses

Dr Jameel Mohsen, head of infectious diseases at the Hillel Yeffe Medical Center, is one of many Israeli Arabs leading the fight against coronavirus

Zahi Said was driving to the medical clinic he runs in Haifa when his phone rang —Netanyahu wanted to see him. He had just watched him on television discussing how the government needed to reach out to Arab Israelis and wanted some advice.

Mr Said, who advises one of Israel’s largest healthcare providers on Arab issues, turned his car round and drove straight to Netanyahu’s official residence. When he was asked if the Arab community in Israel could expect to receive equal access to coronavirus care as the Jewish majority, Mr Said gave a diplomatic answer.

“We know it’s not a secret that the resources in this country are not equally distributed, but I have to look at the glass as half-full,”

he told the Financial Times.”

Netanyahu has denigrated Arab politicians as supporters of terrorism, stripped Arabic of its status as an official language and passed a law that gave Jews alone the right to self-determination in the state of Israel. Now, in the battle against Covid-19, he needs their help.

Some of the nation’s largest hospitals have Arab doctors heading major departments, and the country’s leading virologist is Arab.

Ultraorthodox Jews wearing masks watch as funeral workers prepare the body of former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel Eliahu Bakshi-Doron © Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty

Arabs are disproportionately represented in the medical community because attaining professional qualifications has been one way to push back against political marginalisation. Indeed they behave much as Jews in the Diaspora did faced with oppression. Their capital is in their skills. It was not for nothing that Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi said that ‘Today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis.’

“The Polish [Jewish] mother used to want her son to be a doctor, but now she wants him to get a tech job,” Mr Said joked. “The Arab mother still wants her children to be in medicine.”

Jameel Mohsen, the head of infectious diseases at the Hillel Yeffe Medical Center, was more critical. “As an Arab, other jobs are closed off to us, so we became doctors,” he said.

Israel has a way of celebrating good Arab doctors, while discriminating against all other Arabs Osama Tanous, a 34-year-old Arab paediatrician

Despite claims from Netanyahu and his political allies that Arabs were ignoring health directives, none of the Arab majority cities, even the densely populated neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, have had major outbreaks.

But for Osama Tanous, a 34-year-old paediatrician who cites the Indian leftist Arundhati Roy as an inspiration, the sudden elevation of Arab doctors to national saviours will not usher in new equality for Arab communities.

Israel has a way of celebrating good Arab doctors, while discriminating against all other Arabs, so that doctors become the ambassadors of this beautiful Israeli system of coexistence,” he said, referring to a flurry of recent articles in Israeli newspapers praising Arab medics.

“It makes it appear that now that you have Arab doctors saving Jewish lives, and helping Israel at a time of national crisis, therefore it is time to stop being racist against them — this is a very slippery and dangerous notion.”

It is the equivalent of philo-Semitism that Jews experienced, the other side of the anti-Semitic coin.

For Mr Tanous, interactions between Arabs and Israelis are always political. “It’s just another level of us having to prove ourselves,”

“Prove that we can get into medical school, prove that we can be a part of this national effort to fight the epidemic, just so that we can be granted equality by our occupiers.

The work of Arab medics so far has certainly not brought their communities any immediate benefits, said Hani Daoud, the head of a pharmacist’s association that represents almost 300 pharmacies in Israel’s predominantly Arab north. His colleagues were the first defenders against the virus as people rushed to pharmacies to stock up on medicine, masks and hand sanitiser.

[see The Arab medics battling coronavirus in Israel’s divided society]

Naftali Bennett, far-Right Israeli Minister in mask

COVID-19 in Israeli prisons and detention facilities

At the end of January 2020, 183 Palestinian children were detained in Israeli prisons, according to the Israel Prison Service.

While international law demands that children only be detained as a measure of last resort, pre-trial detention is the norm for Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.

Four Palestinian prisoners detained at Israel’s Megiddo prison, located inside Israel northwest of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, were placed in isolation after they were in contact with a COVID-19 positive Israeli officer, according to Ha’aretz.

Megiddo prison is one of several detention facilities located inside Israel where Palestinian child “security prisoners” are held.

One Palestinian adult detainee in Ofer prison, located in the occupied West Bank between Jerusalem and Ramallah, tested positive for coronavirus in the adult section closest to the juvenile block where over 50 Palestinian child detainees are held.

While staff reportedly clean and disinfect the shared prison yard on a daily basis, prison cells and rooms are not being disinfected. Detainees at Ofer prison, including child detainees, are not provided with hygiene products.

As of April 13, 11,235 people in Israel had tested positive for the COVID-19 and 110 had died according to Ha’aretz. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip there were 272 confirmed cases of persons infected with COVID-19. The PA declared a state of emergency across the Palestinian Territories on March 5 and on April 3, it was extended for an additional 30-days.

[See Israel must release all Palestinian child detainees amid COVID-19 pandemic]

According to Ha’aretz of 31 March the director general of Magen David Adom announced that there will be no more testing for the coronavirus in the Arab community if the criteria aren’t changed.

At that time not a single drive-through station for coronavirus tests has been set up in Arab communities. The original plan for the drive-through points included seven Jewish communities, and not a single Arab one. Therefore, information about the drive-through plan was published only in Hebrew. Due to the distance and information delay, only a small number of Arabs asked to be tested in the Jewish communities. The paucity of requests led to a decision not to establish drive-through points in Arab communities. Only after the intervention of Arab members of Knesset was a promise made to set them up.

Clalit Medical Services, to which more than half of the Arabs who are insured belong, prepared only one clinic, compared to 45 in Jewish communities. After the first coronavirus patient was discovered, in February, an emergency team was set up to plan the national emergency program, including steps for diagnosing and treating patients whose condition worsens. It didn’t include one Arab.

[see The Reluctance to Test Israeli Arabs for COVID-19 Is a Ticking Time-bomb]

Hamas security at Rafah

On April 12, Haaretz reported about new negotiations between Israel and Hamas concerning steps toward prisoners’ exchanges. The Palestinians implied that part of the deal is that Israel will supply to the Gaza strip an unspecified number of ventilators to treat corona patients. What is significant is that, according to the same report, Israeli sources denied (out of all the reported details about the planned deal) that ventilators would be allowed into Gaza!

The Mossad soon boasted of bringing in 100,000 virus tests from an unspecified source, only to be rebuked by a Ministry of Health official who commented that these were not the tests that were needed. After the remark was published the official hurried to apologize, and the Mossad promised to check again what is needed and continue the hunt.

It is not surprising that the Mossad, [Israel’s MI6] which specializes in assassinations, espionage and all sorts of under-cover activities, will resort to illegal means in its new role. Israel is used to being above international law for all its war crimes, so why should it fear stealing medical equipment from around the world?

It is also indicative of the nature of the Israeli state that Mossad is playing any role. It’s like having MI6 take over the provision of PPE!

On the receiving end of Shabak

In Israel itself Shin Bet was assigned the task of identifying the routes of people infected by the Corona virus and instructing those who were in their proximity to be in self-isolation. For the first time it became public knowledge that Shabak can follow (now it is officially doing so) the whereabouts of each person, at least as long as people are moving around with their smartphones.

For the Palestinians, both in the West Bank and inside the green line, constant inspection by Shabak is nothing new. Even in Haifa, one of the few mixed cities under Israeli Apartheid, any Palestinian youth may be invited to a “conversation” with Shabak officers for no reason at all. For political activists the military governor (yes, there are military governors on both sides of the green line) may issue an administrative detention order, based on Shabak secret “evidence”

As soon as Shabak started to target Jewish Israelis, admittedly not sending them to prison, only to self-isolation, suddenly the press was full of reports about its errors.

One woman arranged for her husband to be in self isolation in their home after he came from abroad, and stayed with her parents so she could continue to work. But after she passed in the street near her house to wave hello to her husband, who stayed on the balcony at a safe distance, she was sent to self-isolate also. Another women prepared a cake for a neighbor under isolation and left it for him near a closed door. She also fell in the Shabak net.

Palestinian woman being tested

People whose lives were suddenly disrupted for no reason called the Ministry of Health and were answered that they don’t know a thing about it, it is Shabak’s work. They were told that “Shabak never makes mistakes”. Some tried to call the Shabak directly and found that there is no way to reach the secretive organization and no way to appeal its decrees.

One case that was reported in detail is that of a medical doctor who was tested for corona. The test returned negative but apparently the result that was typed into the system was wrong. Soon his relatives, neighbors and medics that worked with him were ordered by SMS to isolate themselves. Only after the media exposed the absurdity of the situation did the MOH admitted the error.

For Israel’s regular police force the declaration of country-wide lockdown was another opportunity to abuse Palestinians.

According to the Jerusalem Post of 4 April settler and Jewish extremist violence against West Bank Palestinians spiked by 78% between March 17 and 30 compared to the rest of the year, the United Nations has reported.

There was a severe attack on Palestinians in Jaffa, which was annexed by Tel Aviv, and is now under intense pressure for “Judaization/Gentrification”, between April 1 and 2.

As the lockdown was declared the Tel Aviv police found an opportunity to make a show of force in Jaffa in a way that wasn’t practiced in any other neighborhood. It provoked two days of widespread clashes that continued late into the night.

On the first day, in what was supposed to be enforcement of the lockdown, police started arresting local youth. What provoked the residents most was the fact that the police themselves didn’t show any intention of following the anti-infection instructions. They moved in dense groups, without masks, and beat people with their bare hands. A woman who tried to protect her son was thrown to the ground, her head hit the pavement and she started bleeding. People all over the neighborhood erupted in anger, not ready to take it anymore.

On the second evening activists initiated a vigil against police violence, trying to keep the social distancing standards. Even though the lockdown order specifically allows demonstrations, the police demanded that the protesters to disperse and soon attacked them.

 [See Apartheid in the time of corona, Mondoweiss, Yoav Haifawi April 13, 2020]

See also If the Coronavirus Devastates Gaza, Israel Will Be to BlameJonathan Cook

A few notes from a Zoom meeting held by Palestine Solidarity Campaign on the situation in Jerusalem.

2 weeks after the Coronavirus situation there were no precautions taken in East Jerusalem by the authorities – no quarantine, no tests and no cleaning. In response to this the Jerusalem Alliance of different Palestinian civil society organisations was formed to do what the occupying power should have been doing. The Palestinians of Jerusalem are in a legal no mans land. They are legal residents of the city, not Israeli citizens. This status can be and has been withdrawn forcing people into exile or to living in the West Bank.

Jerusalem is very dense – the number infected could be very high. Palestinians themselves set up quarantine in hotel. The Health Ministry said it was best in Israel.

Palestinian shops are not allowed to open but Israeli shops are being allowed to. Palestinian workers are not allowed to return to the West Bank. The employer is supposed to provide facilities instead. The WHO and UN did not help. There is no PPE for children. Israel recognizes no responsibility.

It would also seem that the Israeli authorities are taking advantage of the situation to pursue its project of ethnic cleansing. A Palestinian who had been in the United States for only 1 month was deported on the same plane that he arriving in. 4 Palestinians coming from Russia and 2 from the Golan Heights were prevented from boarding a plane in Russia despite having ID cards and documentation. They were told that they didn’t have a permit. Palestinians are not sure yet whether this heralds a new policy or was simply a mistake.

Tony Greenstein

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Tony Greenstein


  1. Gerald Govan on 28/04/2020 at 11:46pm

    Tony, I checked out that Primo Levi quote – apparently it’s an addition by someone else. Have a look at

  2. Tony Greenstein on 29/04/2020 at 5:20am

    I think I used the term ‘ reputed to have said’ or words to that effect. No doubt the Zionists will argue over every last phrase but the phrase was indicative of Primo Levi’s attitude to Israel’s behaviour and sounds like him

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