APN COVID Report #3: The situation in East Jerusalem

Experts have been warning for the past couple of weeks about the health situation in East Jerusalem. Healthcare in the area is the responsibility of the Israeli government. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is not allowed to operate in any capacity in East Jerusalem. It is currently estimated that 83 people in East Jerusalem have tested positive for COVID-19. This figure is likely to be very inaccurate as it is both an estimate and a metric that is only as good as the testing that facilitates it. Testing in East Jerusalem has been very sparse and for Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhood that are on the eastern side of the separation barrier, but even in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods on the "Israeli" side of the wall, there was no access to testing until this week.  

The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) submitted a petition to the High Court of Israel on the issue of testing in East Jerusalem neighborhoods that are located behind the separation barrier. Adalah argued that in these densely populated areas (such as Shuafat refugee camp and Kufr Akeb) the risk of rapid Coronavirus transmission is very high. On Tuesday, April 14, Israeli authorities agreed to open two testing centers in these neighborhoods. This was a step in the right direction. Although there is room for further improvement, this step could save many lives. It gave some hope that Israeli authorities were starting to appreciate the importance of providing care for all Palestinians who are either citizens or residents of the state.  

However, this hope was short-lived. On the night of Tuesday, April 14, Israeli police raided a coronavirus testing center in the neighborhood of Silwan, East Jerusalem. The reason given for this was that the clinic was being operated in collaboration with the PA, which is not allowed to operate in East Jerusalem. Four of the organizers of the clinic were arrested by police for alleged links with the PA. These were individuals putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives and slow the spread of the virus for both Palestinians and Israelis – Silwan is only a stone’s throw away from the Old City of Jerusalem and from West Jerusalem.

Politics should not be playing a role in decisions regarding healthcare; any assistance with the fight against the virus should be welcomed.

East Jerusalem is in a unique position, it has a large Palestinian population under the complete control of Israeli authorities. One might expect to see a more forceful response, coordinated by a government with much larger resources than the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which respectively rule the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

So far, this is not what we have seen; East Jerusalem has been mostly neglected. The opening of test centers in response to Adalah’s petition was encouraging but any professional party trying to help in responding to this pandemic should be embraced, including the PA. If Israeli authorities coordinate with the PA, not only will it aid in the fight against COVID-19 but it could also open channels of communication to help strengthen future Israeli-Palestinian relations in other fields, including, hopefully, future diplomacy that could lead to peace negotiations.   

Written by APN Intern Thomas Sweeney

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