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PA, Israel in Corona Power Struggle over East Jerusalem
People returning from abroad are met by volunteers wearing protective outfits, before the start of their mandatory 14-day lockdown at the Saint George hotel in east Jerusalem, turned into a quarantine center during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis, on April 21, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

PA, Israel in Corona Power Struggle over East Jerusalem

Palestinian officials say Israel marginalized the area to ‘Judaize’ the city and pressure Arab families to leave

The Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem Governorate has launched a campaign titled “Jerusalem calls upon you to win against the coronavirus” in an effort to support residents of East Jerusalem, amid what was described as “deliberate Israeli neglect” of that part of the city.

Several Palestinian official and private bodies together announced the initiative on Wednesday, including the PA’s Jerusalem Governorate, the Jerusalem Endowment Fund, the Regional Network for Social Responsibility, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and Al Quds University. They all highlighted the need to “strengthen the steadfastness” of the people there, “who face the Israeli occupation and have been directly affected by the global coronavirus pandemic.”

During a press conference at the main campus of Al Quds University in Ramallah, Deputy Governor of Jerusalem Abdullah Siyam warned of Israeli efforts to exploit the COVID-19 outbreak to “Judaize” Jerusalem. Empowering residents and institutions there would help to preserve the Arab and Islamic character of Jerusalem, he said.

Siyam, who represented Governor Adnan Gheith at the event, told The Media Line that the latter’s movements were restricted by Israeli authorities due to his activities in the city. “The whole world has unified in order to face the coronavirus crisis, except for the [Israeli] occupation, which insists on practicing its role as an occupier even during such a time,” he said.

Israel says that according to the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority is forbidden to conduct political activities in Jerusalem.

Siyam indicated that the power struggle in Jerusalem had deepened the gap between the level of medical treatment provided in the eastern and western sections of Jerusalem, “as well as the gap between the two parts in terms of economic and social conditions.”

He added, “East Jerusalem is outside the area covered by our budget. That is why we launched this campaign: to minimize the gaps and to help Palestinian citizens and institutions survive in their city.”

Siyam said that “international legitimacy” held Israel fully accountable for people and institutions under its rule “as an occupying power, including providing full medical care to all of those citizens in East Jerusalem, and also to ensure the continuity of workflow among organizations there.” He said, however, that this was not happening, as Arab “Jerusalemites are facing this [coronavirus] crisis alone, without the required medical care and treatment.”

Therefore, he stressed that the Palestinian health establishment was monitoring infection cases in East Jerusalem, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Here we see that the matter of sovereignty is the magic key to solving political, economical and social issues, in addition to medical issues. And because we [Palestinians] currently have no sovereignty over Jerusalem, it is a big issue for citizens in Jerusalem who are suffering during this crisis,” he said.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, told The Media Line that the population of East Jerusalem was not expecting anything from the PA, as the latter had never helped them but rather had only applied political pressure on the Arab residents there. “Over the last 10 years, there’s been a change in mentality in the Arab community in Jerusalem, after they realized that salvation was not coming from the PA. And that’s why, more than ever, we see that Arab residents of East Jerusalem are residents the same as the rest of us here in Jerusalem,” she said.

Hassan-Nahoum said that all of the accusations made at the conference against Israeli authorities were lies, “and I even doubt that the money they are collecting will end up going to East Jerusalem. They’re going to continue lining their own pockets or doing something else with it like they always do.”

She added, “The Arab population in East Jerusalem is being taken care of by the Jerusalem municipality and I’ll give you many examples. Let’s start with the corona, the actual disease. At the moment we have massive drive-in test centers for the Arab residents in Jerusalem; one in [the] Jabel Mukaber [neighborhood], and the other one at the entrance to [the] Isawiya [neighborhood].” Hassan-Nahoum stressed that all Arab neighborhoods had testing available at walk-in clinics as well.

“Testing is going very well among the Arab residents in Jerusalem; we’ve had 150 patients sick with the coronavirus,” Hassan-Nahoum said.

She explained that the municipality’s policy was to separate infected patients from the healthy population, and therefore a command center was established to follow up on people in home quarantine. “We have had 150 Arabs from East Jerusalem sick; 40 of them got better [so far].”

She said it was not easy, especially for old people, to leave home and family, and so the Jerusalem Municipality had put them in two places: “We’ve set up a [dedicated quarantine] hotel for the Arab residents of Jerusalem, near the Bethlehem checkpoint, which is a lovely hotel that we’ve turned into a corona hotel,” Hassan-Nahoum continued. “[Also], just so you know, we have one for the Jewish Orthodox, [and] we have [another] one in the western part of the city.”

Hassan-Nahoum said that during the month of Ramadan, which began a week ago, “the municipality had distributed about 7.5 million shekels [some $2.2 million] to 50,000 Arab residents who were registered with welfare authorities, and provided 2,500 hot meals to elderly persons in the Arab community. In addition to the ready-made hot food, we have 3,500 elderly persons who get food packages.” She added that “4,000 [Arab] families were also receiving food packages, families that became impoverished because of the coronavirus crisis.”

Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, told The Media Line that the Palestinians “have the right to Jerusalem and the right to secure the citizens of the city and that, therefore, supporting Jerusalem is a Palestinian duty, an Arab duty, an Islamic duty, and an international duty, because Jerusalem is under occupation.

“Jerusalem (as a whole) is under occupation; thus the approved protocols implemented in Palestinian-controlled land should be [implemented] in East Jerusalem as well,” Hussein added. “Palestinian citizens of East Jerusalem can get treatment if they go to Israeli hospitals. However, that is not enough, and it doesn’t mean that the case is settled; citizens need more in terms of medical care and economic as well as social services.”

Palestinian officials said that donations would be directed toward health, economic empowerment, education and the provision of relief and medical supplies for Palestinians in Jerusalem, and that the “Jerusalem calls upon you to win against the coronavirus” campaign had adopted an electronic donation system in eight languages to facilitate the process of “supporting Jerusalemites and their steadfastness to remain in the front line to protect the civilization and history of the holy city.”

Nasser Abu Baker, the head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told The Media Line that the goal of the campaign was to “support the Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem, especially during the global pandemic of COVID-19, after Israel abandoned its responsibility as an occupying government of providing treatment and services for citizens in East Jerusalem.”

Such charitable initiatives, and others, came to reinforce education in Jerusalem as well as health and medical services, in addition to providing people there with food, he said. “We want our people there to survive this crisis and we aim to continue with this campaign and assistance to the city of Jerusalem, which has a special status,” Abu Baker added.

“Israel wants to Judaize the city and remove the original families of Jerusalem, by imposing extreme restrictions on them, in addition to taxing them without providing services, in order to pressure them to leave the city,” Abu Baker said.

Archbishop Atallah Hanna, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, confirmed during the press conference that unemployment had jumped in the city during the COVID-19 crisis, as all hotels, shops and workplaces had been closed. Therefore, Palestinians had to work together to stand by the people there, “and not leave them to contend with the coronavirus and the occupation on their own.”

Food shops and pharmacies remained opened, and most others have since reopened.

Imad Abu Kishek, the president of Al-Quds University, told The Media Line that Jerusalem was different from all other Palestinian cities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as it had been left on its own to face difficult conditions, “because of the Israeli occupation’s existence and control in the city.” He said that due to the inability of the majority of institutions based in Jerusalem to help the families there, other institutions had come together to stand by the city’s people.

“Because of the Israeli neglect of Jerusalem, the number of cases infected with the coronavirus there constitutes half of the total cases in the West Bank and Gaza,” Abu Kishek said.

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