CAMERA Op-Ed: Foreign Policy Magazine Shoulders Israel with Palestinian Coronavirus Woes

“It’s up to Israel,” a Foreign Policy opinion headline blares, “to stop a coronavirus catastrophe among Palestinians.”

The March 30, 2020, commentary — by Zaha Hassan and Hallaamal Keir of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — blames Israel for the decisions of Palestinian leaders. Both writers hold Israel responsible for the threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to Palestinians. And both omit and distort facts in order to do so.

Hassan and Keir begin by congratulating the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entity that controls the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). “Quick action by the PA” is why the “total number of reported coronavirus cases in the occupied Palestinian territories has … been relatively low up to now.”

However, both writers are reluctant to acknowledge the numerous measures that Israel has taken to help Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of whom live under the rule of the PA or Hamas, the US-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip.

Israel has given substantial coronavirus aid to both the PA and Gaza. Israel has delivered hundreds of medical kits and supplies, including coronavirus tests, as well as protective gear, to the PA. Indeed, the PA and Israel have established a “joint operations room to combat the virus,” as The Jerusalem Post reported on March 18.

As one unnamed Palestinian official told reporter Khaled Abu Toameh: “We have been working with the Israeli authorities from day one to fight the virus.” Additionally, “most of the measures we took in the Bethlehem area after the first cases were detected were done in full coordination with the Israeli authorities.”

Further, Toameh noted: “The official pointed out that Israel has delivered 200 coronavirus test kits to the PA Ministry of Health. Before that, he said, the samples were taken from Palestinians suspected of having contracted the virus were sent to an Israeli hospital.”

Indeed, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit of the IDF noted that, as of March 31, as much as “20 tons of disinfectant material” had been transferred from Israel to the PA.

Also supplied by the IDF: hundreds of medical kits that enable observation of the virus, protective personal equipment for security and medical staff, and joint tutorials and professional medical workshops. All of this was detailed in Toameh’s March 18th report. But it’s curiously missing in the March 30th Foreign Policy op-ed that appeared nearly two weeks later.

Instead, Hassan and Keir applaud the PA — and only the PA — for its “quick action.” By contrast, Israel’s extensive assistance, as detailed in numerous previous reports, is ignored. This is outrageous, of course. But it’s the only beginning of what is a very disingenuous argument.

Hassan and Keir fault Israel for its “restrictions on the movement of goods and people to the occupied Palestinian territories.” Seldom has a single sentence been more misleading.

Israel allows the flow of medical supplies and other necessities to both the PA-ruled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. And, as noted above, it has itself donated supplies to both — despite the fact that Hamas calls for Israel’s destruction, and, along with the PA, refuses to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. Indeed, as COGAT announced 10 days before the Foreign Policy op-ed, the IDF transferred hundreds of additional coronavirus testing kits to Gaza.

Further, neither entity is “occupied.” Israel unliterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Not a single Israeli soldier remains. Subsequently, Hamas came to power and immediately began launching rockets at the Jewish state. As a result, Israel instituted a partial blockade that restricts weapons and arms from reaching the Gaza Strip. It does not restrict medical supplies or other goods deemed essential.

Egypt, however, maintains a blockade of Gaza — yet that Arab nation isn’t called an “occupying power,” nor is it held responsible for what happens to Gaza’s inhabitants. Egypt has not sent any test kits, medical gear, or disinfectant. But Hassan and Zeir are mum about Egypt.

Similarly, as part of the 1990s Oslo peace process, Israel withdrew from much of the West Bank and supported — indeed, helped fund — the creation of the PA, the first instance of limited Palestinian Arab self-government in history. In exchange, Palestinian leaders promised to refrain from supporting terrorism and to recognize Israel’s right to exist — promises that they soon broke.

Indeed, the PA pays salaries to those who murder or attacks Jews. In 2019 alone, the PA increased these payments by 11.8% for a total of $65 million in US dollars. As a consequence of these payments — which violate the terms of the Oslo Accords that remain the basis for the PA’s existence — Israeli lawmakers passed legislation in July 2018, which came into effect in February 2019. That legislation stipulates that the Israeli government deducts, on a monthly basis, one-12th of the sum given to support terrorists and their families from the taxes and tariffs Israel collects and transfers to the PA.  

Hassan and Zeir omit this crucial context, arguing that Israel can help fight the coronavirus via “releasing tax revenue belonging to the PA that they have been withholding.” The writers fail to tell Foreign Policy readers exactly why Israel withholds that money. Instead they asserted that Israel was withholding “Palestinian tax revenues over the issue of payments to the families of Palestinian fighters.”

Unsurprisingly they also fail to reflect on the fact that the PA has invested considerable money in rewarding terror and anti-Jewish violence — money that could have been spent on improving healthcare, infrastructure, or scientific research and development. Instead, they blame Israel for withholding funds which, they claim, is why “the Palestinian health care system is strapped.”

It is, to put it mildly, deeply cynical and morally reprehensible, to use a pandemic to attempt to free up money that was used to pay people to murder Jews.

Hassan and Zeir lament that “Palestinians living under occupation have neither military engineers to build hospitals” nor “the ability to staff and equip hospitals.” As Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has documented, however, the amount that the PA is paying terrorists this month alone could buy them 387,143 coronavirus test kits or 465 ventilators.

One imagines that had the PA invested the considerable international aid and assistance that it receives toward the well-being of its people, instead of terror, things might be different.

Indeed, despite Israel’s aid to the PA, the Authority has reacted in a typically Janus-faced fashion, with official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida comparing the Jewish state to the coronavirus. Similarly, the Prime Minister of the PA, Mohammad Shtayyeh, has reportedly accused Israel of spreading the virus — echoing antisemitic blood libels of old.

More evidence of the authors’ bias can be found in their call for Israel to “enact measures to prevent settler gatherings in the West Bank…which increase the risk of contagion among both Palestinians and settlers.” They add that “Israel must release Palestinian prisoners” in order to “prevent the spread of the disease.” 

In fact, Israel has released Palestinian prisoners — only for it to have the opposite effect. On March 24, 2020, Fatah, the movement that controls the PA, held a mass gathering to celebrate the release of prisoner Nidal Turkeman. As PMW documented in a March 26th report, in an event celebrated on Fatah’s Facebook page, thousands of Palestinians violated warnings to self-isolate in order to “honor a terrorist involved in the murder of 6 Israelis.”

Palestinians have been plagued by poor governance for decades. Both Hamas and the PA have chosen to prioritize attacking Israel over investing in their own people. Both have been enabled by the many pundits, analysts and reporters whose default is to blame Israel and deny Palestinians independent agency. The failure to talk honestly and openly about what Palestinian leaders prioritize — and why — has prevented needed reforms. Consequently, tragedy awaits.

(Note: A slightly different version of this op-ed appeared in the Algemeiner on April 3, 2020)