Covid-19 in Palestine: An Update


Shuhada Street

Contagion Under Occupation

By David Kattenburg

Hungry for news on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic in Israeli-occupied/colonized Palestine, I reached out by Skype to Rania Muhareb, a researcher with Ramallah-based Al-Haq, one of Palestine’s most prominent and respected human rights organizations. Rania spoke with me from her home in East Jerusalem.

Listen to our conversation here:


Easy to hunger for information. News from Palestine is as rare as hens’ teeth in the mainstream media. Aside from sources such as Mondoweiss, 972mag, Ha’aretz or Electronic Intifada, media organizations like Canada’s CBC require a huge and acute bout of conflict, with many deaths, or an Israeli election (several of these over the past year), to rouse their interest, or to muster the courage to face the tsunami of protests from Israel’s domestic allies and agents.

Israeli soldiers tell Bedouin shepherd she has to leave.

Routine reporting on Israel’s half-century military occupation — its imposition of military rule in the two hundred-odd enclaves where three million Palestinians live; colonizing the remaining two-thirds with 600,000 of its own people; two peoples living under different laws, depending on their ethnicity (there’s a name for that) — is certainly something to be avoided.

Insofar as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned, in the context of systematic racial discrimination, here are the latest figures:

On the date of this post (April 5, 2020), according to Worldometer, 8,018 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in “Israel,” and 48 deaths. No indication in this data (not surprisingly) whether all cases have been inside the Green Line, or whether these numbers include Jewish colonists in the West Bank. Nor any figures here about the OPT.

According to the WHO, as of April 3, 159 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the West Bank, and one death; a dozen cases in Gaza, with no deaths.

Israeli activist Guy Butavia dragged to the pavement by Israeli border cop.

In our conversation this morning, Al-Haq’s Rania Muhareb says 214 cases have now been reported in the West Bank, by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Another dozen have been reported in East Jerusalem, Rania says, although more may lurk in communities beyond the Annexation Wall (as Rania calls it), formally within the city of Jerusalem, but where Israeli authorities don’t go and the PA has been attempting to provide care.

Hazardous to tease out a trend based on numbers this small, certainly in the absence of wide-scale testing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That said — compared with March 28 data from the WHO and UN indicating 3300 cases in Israel and 80 in the OPT, Worldometer’s figures a week later reveal a two-fold increase in Palestinian cases, compared to 2.4-fold for Israel ‘proper’.

Amidst epidemiological uncertainty, one thing is crystal clear: Israeli military authorities haven’t missed a beat imposing their rule in the West Bank. In occupied East Jerusalem, police violence and arrests in neighborhoods like Issawiya continue to be a daily and nightly routine.

Settler youth water their cattle on Palestinian property.

In this audio post, I ask Rania Muhareb to comment on reports about harassment and arrest of volunteer Palestinian health workers, confiscation of food supplies, the demolition and confiscation of a health clinic tent in the Jordan Valley, and about reports that Jewish settlers and soldiers have been spitting on Palestinian cars and doors.

Notwithstanding reports that Israeli and Palestinian authorities have been coordinating their work in “excellent” fashion!

Gaza, of course, is a different story. Alternatively referred to as an “open air prison,” concentration camp or ghetto, the 140 square-mile enclave is home to almost two million Palestinians who long for nothing more than to return to the lands Israel drove them from, and who dearly hope to stay healthy after thirteen years of Israeli siege, unable to freely come and go, provision themselves or access clean water — much less deal with a pandemic under severely challenged health care conditions.

Whatever the “international community” is saying to the Israelis in private, they tend to be upbeat when speaking publicly about Covid-19 in Gaza. If an outbreak erupts there, they will have much to account for — as will Israel.

Something for the mainstream media to report on, or not.

Listen to my conversation with Rania Muhareb here:

All images by David Kattenburg.