Palestinians have been on lockdown since 1967

Approximately 80,000 live behind the wall in Shuafat, a refugee camp in East Jerusalem © Tim Lezard

Hemmed in by walls, checkpoints and security fences, Palestinians have been on a permanent, militarily enforced, lockdown for over 50 years since the occupation by Israel in 1967.

Unable to travel freely within their country or abroad, with regular curfews are now added the restrictions of isolation measures required because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Any thoughts this might lead to a humanitarian relaxation of the occupation rules or the siege to enable the local authorities and services to deal with the situation were quickly dashed. In Gaza the supply of testing kits was limited to hundreds for a population approaching 2 million. In the West Bank – emergency treatment facilities being established in case they were needed, were bulldozed and demolished.

Most worrying is the situation in illegally annexed East Jerusalem – where nearly 400,000 Palestinians live, as ‘residents’, not citizens. Dr Rawan Al-Dajani, Deputy Director of the Community Action Center has reported that attempts by Palestinian doctors to establish a quarantine facility in an unused hotel were blocked because of the absence of testing. No testing kits were supplied, an offer from the Palestine Authority in the West Bank to supply kits was declined.

Ahmad Al-Budeiri, of the Jerusalem Alliance, trying to co-ordinate self-help services in East Jerusalem, described the attitude of the Israeli authorities as ‘racist’. Whilst barricading the Palestinians in severe lockdown with continuing armed raids in districts such as Issawiya, Israelis and, in particular Orthodox Jews, have been allowed much greater flexibility. Palestinian shops in Old Jerusalem have had to shut whilst similar Israeli shops have been allowed to stay open.

A breakdown of figures by race or status has been declined as this would be ‘racist’, so health organisations and NGOs in East Jerusalem are having to work blind, not knowing how many cases there are or where they are. The suspicion is that there are many more cases than publicly reported, because Palestinians can’t or are intimidated from coming forward for treatment or testing.

Already discriminated against in many ways, the more than 1.5 million Palestinians living within Israel are facing another tier of mistreatment. A catch 22 where the lockdown is weaponised to prevent them from developing their own ways of effectively combatting the pandemic, in the absence of humanitarian support from the Israeli authorities – who, as the occupier, should be providing health services to all of its civilian population. 

(Source : PSC Webinar: Jerusalem & Coronavirus Under Occupation 25 April 20)

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