Coronavirus Unites Palestinians, Israelis
Palestinians cross into Israel from the southern West Bank on Wednesday, carrying clothing and blankets for a stay of at least a month under new coronavirus regulations. (Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images)

Coronavirus Unites Palestinians, Israelis

Israel, PA working together – for now – to counter pandemic 

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have joined forces to fight a common enemy, the former providing its neighbor with testing kits, protective gear and training as the number of COVID-19 cases rises for both.

Ameer Mulla, an Israeli official for West Bank affairs, said on Thursday that the two sides were working together closely.

“We are in contact with the Palestinian side at all levels, around the clock, to counter coronavirus, said Mulla, head of the Israeli Civil Administration’s Coordination and Registry Department for the West Bank.

“While the relationship has been always there, today it’s stronger than ever, with positive results,” he stated. “One can only wish that the relationship stays this way in terms of other matters.”

He was speaking during an online briefing for the media.

As of Thursday, Israel had 529 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, the World Health Organization’s official name for the illness caused by coronavirus, while the number in the Palestinian territories reached 49. In the previous 24 hours, 96 new cases had been discovered in Israel, and four in the West Bank.

Israel’s head of state, Reuven Rivlin, called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday to discuss cooperation between the two peoples.

“Our ability to work together in times of crisis is… a testament to our ability to work together in the future for the benefit of all of us,” Rivlin said.

Alon Pinkas, an Israeli political adviser and former diplomat, told The Media Line that while coordination between Israel and the PA was critical for preventing and minimizing the spread of COVID-19, “this also presents an opportunity to build trust, good will and confidence through cooperation.”

Pinkas noted that the general area is densely populated, and coronavirus knows no borders.

“Israel will assist in securing and delivering test kits to the Palestinian population,” he added.

The health coordinator for COGAT, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, facilitated the transfer to the West Bank of about 400 coronavirus testing kits and more than 500 protective kits at the request of the World Health Organization. A similar shipment entered the Gaza Strip last week.

At the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, Israeli and Palestinian teams received joint COVID-19 training on how to protect medical staff examining patients suspected of carrying the virus.

Israel has almost entirely closed its land-border crossings. Palestinians with Israeli work permits are being allowed to enter, but since Tuesday have been told they cannot go home at the end of the day and must be given a place to stay by their employer. Construction workers are entitled to at least two months’ accommodation, while those in agriculture, industry and services are to be given housing for at least one month.

The Palestinian Authority spokesperson was not available for comment.

PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday that Palestinians working in Israel would have three days to leave the West Bank and arrange their accommodations in coordination with their place of work. Those employed in Israeli settlements have been asked not to go to work.

Bashar Azzeh, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s National Council, told The Media Line that coronavirus coordination with Israel was important.

“Israel controls the borders and had a major role in transferring tourists from Palestinian areas through its airport,” he said.

He was referring to COGAT, which earlier this month, after an outbreak of coronavirus in the West Bank, helped dozens of tourist groups leave the Palestinian territories and fly out of Ben-Gurion Airport.

“But [Israel] also controls almost 60% of the Palestinian lands, called Area C, as an occupying force,” Azzeh went on. “It’s responsible for the situation there.”

He explained that the Palestinian leadership made its own decisions regarding safety in the territories.

“The PA’s precautionary measures [on coronavirus] were ahead of those of Israel and many neighboring countries,” he claimed. “I believe Israel should hand authority in Area C to the PA. The virus doesn’t know borders or distance. These areas are very close to Palestinian villages and towns.”

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