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Israel’s crimes increase despite the COVID-19 crisis

In a March 23 appeal, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged warring parties across the world “to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind.” About 70 U.N. member states have signed on to the call to date. However, one country that bills itself as a progressive democracy ib blatantly ignoring the U.N. call: Israel.

But is it surprising when a country that is allowed to practice apartheid during “normal” times—and operates one of the world’s few remaining colonialist enterprises—takes advantage of the pandemic to further entrench its occupation?

As of this writing, the number of COVID-19 in infections have reached 2.3 million worldwide, with 159,747 deaths. Israel is struggling as well: Nearly 13,300 of its residents have tested positive and 164 have died—particularly afflicting nursing homes and the ultra-Orthodox, who often refuse to abide by quarantines so they can observe their religious rituals.

Yet despite the health emergency, including 405 COVID-19 cases next door in the West Bank, Israel is continuing unabated in its assaults against Palestinians. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, this is what has occurred since March 5, when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of medical emergency: Israeli forces killed two Palestinians, injured 33, arrested 238 (including 21 minors), uprooted around 700 olive trees, terrorized farmers by firing into Gaza’s agricultural lands 38 times and threatened the lives of fishermen by shooting at them 18 times (while injuring three).

In the West Bank, demolition of homes and other structures also has continued. Between February 21, when Israel confirmed its first case of COVID-19, and April 15, the U.N. reported that the Israeli Civil Administration demolished 69 structures, including 28 homes and seven water and sanitation facilities. Meanwhile, 63 people were forcibly displaced and otherwise affected 417 others.

Consider just one, six-day period:

April 9 (Thursday): Israeli gunboats chased and opened fire at fishing boats sailing within the allowed fishing area (3 nautical miles) off the Gaza coast. Fishermen Obai Adel Mohammed Jarbou’a, 21, and Ahmed Abdul Fattah Ahmed al-Shurafi, 23, were shot with several rubber bullets. They were transferred to the Indonesian Hospital. The same day, Israeli forces stationed along the border fence fired tear gas cannisters at a group of Palestinian farmers.

In the West Bank, south of occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers raided a number of shops and imposed a fine on the owners, claiming they had violated Israeli government orders related to the coronavirus. When searching the shop owned by Mahmoud Wa’el Abu Tayeh, the soldiers quarreled with and beat him. Dozens of Palestinian youths attempted to protect Abu Tayeh, but the soldiers fired live bullets and sound bombs in the air. They also arrested four of the young men.

April 10: Israeli forces opened fire at Gaza farmland.

April 11: Israeli forces moved into Nahalin village, west of Bethlehem. They raided and searched the home of Mohammed Taha Fannoun, 23, then arrested him. The mayor, Subhi Zaidan, said troops spit on the ground and walls during the raid. Israeli forces also moved into Issaweya, northeast of occupied East Jerusalem, raiding and searching the home of Deya’ Ayman Obaid’s, 24. He too was arrested. Around the same time, soldiers stationed at a military checkpoint by the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron’s Old City arrested Mahdi Mohammed Abu Snaina, 19, claiming he disobeyed their orders. He was released after an hour and a half. Later, Israeli forces raided Aqabat Jabr refugee camp, south of Jericho.

April 12: Israeli forces accelerated to live bullets, shooting at Gaza’s agricultural lands sporadically throughout the day, panicking shepherds and farmers. Meanwhile, Israeli gunboats chased and opened fire at fishing boats sailing within the allowed fishing area. The fishermen were forced to flee, fearing for their lives.

April 13: Israeli gunboats chased and opened fire at fishing boats sailing within the allowed fishing area. They also pumped water at the boats, forcing them to flee for their lives. Later, Israeli forces shot live bullets at agricultural land along the border fence.

April 14: Israeli gunboats chased and opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats sailing within the allowed fishing area of the coast of Gaza. Later, in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers raided Qalqilya, searching the homes of Mo’aweya Abdul Latif Ridwan, 25, and Mahmoud Nidal Salim, 24, then arresting them. Then the soldiers and several military vehicles drove into Beit Ummer, north of Hebron. They raided the home of Baha’ Ra’ed Ekhlaiel, 17, and arrested him as well. Their next target was Wajdi Tawfiq al-Jayyousi, 29, who they arrested at a temporary military checkpoint. By the time the day was done, the soldiers had arrested five more: Ameer Azzam Aziz Mar’i, 22, and his brother Abdulah, 24, who werecharged with working land belonging to the state of Israel; and Karam Hashem Zain al-Deen and Mohammed Ayman Taher, both 22.

“The international community must act to ensure Israel abides by international law and joins the global call to end political conflicts to fight the pandemic, rather than escalate the vulnerability of Palestinians under occupation,” says Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Exploiting medical needs for political gain

Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, blithely ignored this growing pattern when he praised late last month the coordination between the Israeli and Palestine authorities in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Just a few days later, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett hinted that needed medical equipment for Gaza might be conditioned on the return of two soldiers who disappeared when they invaded the Strip during the 2014 war.

“I think that we need to enter a broad dialogue about Gaza’s and our humanitarian needs. It would not be right to disconnect these things,” he said.

Indeed, Israel has only allowed minimal medical supplies to reach the Occupied Palestinian Territories, forcing the Gaza government to demand that more ventilators—crucial for caring for people with COVID-19—be included in any deal to release prisoners.

Mladenov also points to Israel’s agreement to allow thousands of Palestinians working in Israel to remain. Yet reports indicate that these workers have been deprived of proper protective equipment. In addition, Israeli authorities dumped Palestinian workers suspected of having the virus at checkpoints. (Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad ordered all workers home March 25.)

In his call, the U.N.’s Guterres said, “End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.” It’s time for Israel to stop acting and being treated like it is an exception to any demand for universal human rights and peace.

Source: We are not numbers

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