Opinion

Amid global pandemic, Israel and PA find ways to cooperate

The novel coronavirus doesn’t discriminate based on religion, ethnicity or disputed borders. It affects and harms humans—end of story.

Palestinian Authority security forces patrol the empty streets of Ramallah in the West Bank on March 23, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority security forces patrol the empty streets of Ramallah in the West Bank on March 23, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Ben Stone
Ben Stone

At the time of this writing, Israel has suffered more 8,600 confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and counted 56 deaths, with the Palestinian administered areas of the West Bank and Gaza reporting more than 237 confirmed cases with at least one confirmed death. This region of the world is so densely populated that the spread of the virus is imminent unless extreme precautions are taken.

Israel has sent hundreds of coronavirus testing kits to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and hundreds more to the Gaza strip. Doctors, both Israeli and Palestinian, have been tirelessly working together to help prevent the spread of the virus, and have set up joint operation rooms amid the crisis. Israel has also sent 20 tons of disinfectant material to the Palestinian Health Sector.

Although the P.A. has often been criticized by its citizens for cooperating with Israel in joint projects, this has not stopped them from “working with the Israeli authorities from day one to fight the virus,” according to a Palestinian health official. One of most powerful quotes inspired by this joint cooperation is the following from another health official in Ramallah: “Anyone who opposed cooperation with Israel in the medical field would be acting against the interests of our people. This is the time to lay aside our differences and work together against the pandemic, which does not distinguish between a Jew and Arab.”

Although many Palestinians commute to and from the West Bank to Israel for agricultural and industrial jobs, the spread of COVID-19 has rendered this all but impossible. In coordination with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, Israel and the P.A. have implemented measures to keep as many people employed as possible, while adding restrictions to the borders between Israel and the West Bank. Accordingly, Palestinians employed in the Atarot industrial zone north of Jerusalem can enter Israel, but would have to live and sleep within accommodations close to their jobs for up to two months. These accommodations are up to the employers, and are currently the only way for the Palestinians to safely keep their jobs.

Unfortunately, the cooperation between the Israeli government and the P.A. has not stopped various NGOs and individuals from exploiting the virus for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigns.

For example, IfNotNow tweeted a blatant lie: “Israel’s brutal occupation makes this pandemic especially dangerous for Palestinians: restrictions on Gazans’ movement, a lack of essential supplies (including medicine), and high-density confinement increases the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza,” which obfuscates the reality that Israel and the P.A. have exhibited admirable efforts to contain COVID-19.

Another example of this unfortunate trend is a petition authored by the anti-Zionist organization Jewish Voice for Peace, which urges Americans to “Tell Congress: End the Gaza blockade” because “COVID-19 is uniquely threatening to Palestinians in Gaza.” Even Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has joined the bandwagon of anti-Israel tweets related to COVID-19, urging Israel to “lift its restrictions on humanitarian aid.”

This is absurd: COVID-19 is not “uniquely” threatening to Palestinians in Gaza, as the virus has wreaked havoc all over the world. Secondly, these claims ignore the reality that Israel has sent medical supplies to Gaza to help combat the spread of the virus.

Another disturbing example of anti-Semitism in the wake of COVID-19 reared its head when ex-SJP leader at New York University, Leen Dweik, tweeted “anyway should I paint my nails red or green today” after Israel announced its first death from coronavirus complications: an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor. We must never allow such hateful sentiment to divide us, especially as much of the world unites to halt this disease’s rampage.

Despite these few unfortunate occurrences, it seems as if the pandemic has provided Israel and the Palestinian Authority a good excuse to coordinate and pool resources, without overthinking their differences. Perhaps this was a much-needed wake-up call to demonstrate that coordination between the two parties can and would benefit both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Although some will always find excuses for their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic discourse, we must focus on the positive outcomes that have arisen from this joint Israel-Palestinian campaign to fight COVID-19. One can only hope that this cooperation will help forge a stronger base for a better future.

Ben Stone is a CAMERA fellow at Duke University.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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