Israel’s military control of Gaza and the West Bank has only grown more brutal during the pandemic. Workers are held in quarantine, prisoners have been infected, and Israel is withholding money that could be used to help contain the outbreak.


Story Transcript

Welcome to the Real News, I’m Taya Graham. Israeli Journalist Gideon Levy says that as more and more communities face movement restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus, maybe they will get a taste of what Palestinians experience every day living under Israeli military occupation. But for Palestinians, living under restrictions day to day hasn’t made it easier to cope with the new, intensified measures to contain COVID-19. Instead, Palestinians are realizing that the combination of occupation and coronavirus is torturous. The Gaza Strip’s heavily controlled border offered some protection from the virus until recently.  But the first cases of Covid-19 have been diagnosed in the besieged Gaza Strip, and doctors warn of a humanitarian catastrophe in a small dense area lacking in medicine and health facilities. The Palestinian Authority asked the Israeli government to release 11.5 million dollars which the Israeli government has been withholding. Back in February 2019 the Israeli government started to deduct money the Palestinian Authority gives to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails from the taxes that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. These prisoners do not receive sufficient food and the Palestinian Authority must support them, thereby subsidizing the Israeli occupation, and removing money from the Authority’s budget. The Palestinian Authority is now appealing to Israel to release those funds in order to help them deal with the spread of COVID-19, offer treatment to people who become sick, and establish effective quarantine areas. It is, of course, also in the interest of Israel that the Palestinian Authority contain the virus effectively, but the Israeli government refused and continues to hold on to the stolen money. Abdul Nasser Soboh the Gaza director of the World Health Organization warned about how lack of resources could exacerbate the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Israeli government doesn’t want the coronavirus outbreak to undermine its efforts to deal with its own housing shortage. Businesses are closed all over Israel, but not construction sites, where workers must still show up to work despite the risk of infection and keep on building houses. Most construction workers on those sites are Palestinians coming from the West Bank. Fearing that workers traveling between the West Bank and Israel will accelerate the spread of the disease, Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennet ordered that Palestinian workers must remain in Israel for at least two weeks and be separated from their families and their social circles if they want to keep their jobs. This creates a serious dilemma for workers: should they take on a dangerous job at low pay to help provide for their family who they will not even be allowed to see? Construction worker Ibrahim Abu Safiya had trouble breathing, so his Israeli employer suspected that he was infected with COVID-19. He was physically thrown out of Israel through the checkpoint and left feverish on the ground without medical help or someone to accompany him. He eventually tested negative for COVID-19. Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammed Shtaya made this public announcement: “All citizens who return from abroad should be in quarantine for 14 days in centres in their cities. Fifth, banks will work in emergency an situation, bank employees should show their work cards. Sixth, Palestinian workers are not allowed to go to settlements at all. Seventh, we request Israel to provide human conditions for workers who sleep in their work places (in Israel).” There are still over five thousand Palestinians held as political prisoners in Israeli jails. Four have recently reported symptoms of infection, and the Israeli secret police interrogator who questioned them was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Under these conditions, all Palestinian prisoners are at a very high risk of the disease. Sahar Francis, director of the Addameer Palestinian prisoners right’s organization, spoke to the Real News. For The Real News Network, I’m Taya Graham.

Production: Shir Hever
Post-Production: Oscar León

Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.

Shir Hever

Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.