Pandemics, Palestinian incitement and peace

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A few weeks ago, officials in Israel’s Health Ministry were calling for Israel to “medically annex Judea and Samaria” for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. The notion was that while Israel and the Palestinian Authority are separate political entities, from a public health perspective, they are indivisible.

On a practical level, the call was superfluous. From the moment the virus arrived in Israel, the PA’s Health Ministry began cooperating in an unprecedented manner with its Israeli counterpart. The Palestinians followed Israel’s lead on virtually all aspects of the coronavirus fight. Palestinian medical teams received training in Israeli hospitals. Israel provided the PA with testing kits, protective gear, respirators and other vital equipment for fighting the pandemic. Even the Hamas regime in Gaza viewed Israel as the authority for dealing with the virus.

But with all due respect to “medical annexation,” the collaboration between medical professionals didn’t indicate any change of heart on the part of the Palestinian leadership. Both the PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria and the Hamas regime in Gaza are fully capable of simultaneously taking advantage of Israel’s help in fighting the pandemic and using the pandemic as a means to harm Israel. And that is precisely what they are doing.

PA Prime Minister Mohamad Shtayyeh has long been considered a moderate. He was a member of the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel. He is a Western educated academic and a favorite of the European Union. Many viewed PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to appoint Shtayyeh prime minister last year as a sign of moderation.

Alas, the optimism was misplaced.

At a press conference in Ramallah in late March, Shtayyeh propagated multiple blood libels against Israel.

Against IDF soldiers, Shtayyeh alleged, “We have heard testimony that some soldiers are trying to spread the virus through the door handles of cars. It is a case of racism and hatred by people who hope for the death of the other. We will add this to the list of crimes they’ve committed.”

As for Israel as a whole, Shtayyeh accused Israel of using Palestinian workers in Israel as a biological weapon against the Palestinians as a whole. He said Israel wants the thirty thousand Palestinians working for Israeli employers to keep working so that they can get infected with coronavirus and then go home and infect their fellow Palestinians. He added that a resident of his village who worked in Israel returned to the village infected and proceeded to infect twenty of his neighbors with the pandemic.

In the spirit of cooperation with the PA, and in the hope of preventing mass infection among Palestinians, Israel took the unprecedented – and risky — step of permitting PA security forces to operate in Arab villages in Jerusalem and in Palestinian villages in Area C despite the fact in accordance with the bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has sole security authority in those areas.

Rather than thank Israel for acting as it did, Shtayyeh claimed that Israel refuses to help the Palestinians handle the coronavirus epidemic and indeed, is deliberately endangering the Palestinians.

Moreover, Palestinian security forces in Area C are not being deployed to prevent businesses from operating per se. They are blocking Palestinians from doing business with Israelis and preventing Palestinians from working for Israelis. In other words, they are not being deployed to fight the coronavirus but to prevent peaceful ties between Palestinians and Israelis.

Over the past several weeks, Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli NGO which monitors the PA’s media outlets has published multiple reports of harsh, anti-Semitic incitement in official PA media and social media outlets. For instance, the Facebook page of the PLO’s Commission on Prisoners Affairs ran a special video clip to mark “Palestinian Children’s Day,” earlier in the month accusing Israel of infecting Palestinian minors in Israeli detention centers. In the “dramatization,” small children in handcuffs were being attacked by a plastic model of the coronavirus.

The PA’s official television network regularly hosts PA spokesmen who accuse Israeli civilians in Judea and Samaria of deliberately infecting Palestinians with the virus by spitting on them and touching ATM machines in Palestinian villages.

Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the PA’s official newspaper ran a cartoon depicting an IDF soldier as a coronavirus waging biological warfare against innocent Palestinians.

While it wages a Nazi-like campaign of incitement against Israelis in its media and physically blocks peaceful ties between Israelis and Palestinians, the PA asks Israel for handouts. Shtayyeh requested and received a half billion shekel loan from Israel.

And what will the money be used for?

While Shtayyeh the blood libel proliferator claims that the money will be used to save the PA economy from the ravages of the coronavirus, the PA officially announced that terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails and their families will receive money before impoverished Palestinians.

The PA’s lack of concern for its people’s welfare is all the more apparent when Shtayyeh’s fundraising for the poor is seen in the context of his actual employment policies. The security forces in Area C blocking Palestinians from selling to or working with Israelis are following Shtayyeh’s orders. Shtayyeh has barred Palestinians from working in Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and so has doomed tens of thousands of Palestinian families to destitution.

The PA is also using this period when Israelis are under coronavirus quarantines to massively expand their illegal building activities around the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. For instance, extensive construction activities are being carried out around the city of Efrat in Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem. The illegal construction has two focal points.

Adjacent to the northern entrance to the city, the PA is building along the access road to Highway 60. The building physically threatens the residents of the northern neighborhoods of Efrat and transforms the access road into a gauntlet that residents will have to run every time they enter or leave Efrat.

The second focal point is around Eitam Hill. Eitam Hill is both Efrat’s main reserve land for urban development and a strategic topographical point that connects Efrat to eastern Gush Etzion and particularly to the major community of Tekoa. The Palestinians have long engaged in illegal building around the hill to prevent its development and isolate the eastern communities in Gush Etzion. Since the onset of the pandemic, that building too has intensified.

As for Hamas, like its PLO counterpart, the Hamas regime in Gaza has run a similarly poisonous stream of anti-Semitic incitement against Israel, claiming that the Jews are waging biological warfare against the Palestinians.

But as always, Hamas’s central effort is more directly connected to physical warfare than the PLO’s. Last week, optimistic reports began surfacing in the Israeli media claiming that Israel and Hamas were holding secret talks to reach a deal whereby in exchange for assistance in fighting the coronavirus, Hamas would return the bodies of IDF soldiers and the Israeli hostages it has been holding since 2014. Unfortunately, the Israeli officials leaking the optimistic projections forgot who they were dealing with.

Hamas doesn’t care about protecting Gazans from the coronavirus, Israel does. The same terrorists who cynically use Gaza’s children as human shields for missile crews weren’t going to sacrifice any leverage against Israel to protect their people from the coronavirus. But the moment they realized that Israel was committed to protecting Gaza from mass infection, they decided to exploit Israel’s concern.

Hamas insisted that Israel provide assistance in fighting coronavirus for free. And Israel did. Israeli medical professionals trained Gazan medical teams from Shifa Hospital in Gaza on how to treat coronavirus patients. Israel allowed an advanced PCR media device used for the rapid detection of coronavirus to be imported into Gaza last week.

As for the release of Israeli hostages and the remains of IDF soldiers, according to Arab media reports, the terror group’s position hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic. Hamas demands that Israel release 250 terrorists from prison not in exchange for the hostages and bodies of fallen soldiers, but in exchange for “information” about them.

The behavior of leaders of the PLO-PA regime in Judea and Samaria and the Hamas regime in Gaza shows us two things. First, both groups remain obsessively focused on their war against Israel. The second notable aspect of their behavior is that it highlights the difference between authoritarian regimes and the leaders of free societies.

Since the onset of the pandemic, all democratically elected governments have made their share of mistakes in contending with it. But the struggles of the governments of Italy, Israel, Taiwan, the U.S., and all the rest share a common key feature. The top priority of all of these governments is to protect the lives and wellbeing of their citizens.

In contrast, we see that like the Palestinian regimes, authoritarian regimes in China, Iran, and beyond have busied themselves principally with trying to exploit the pandemic for their own benefit. China, the source of the coronavirus, is hiding much of what it knows about the origins of the pandemic and vastly underreporting the infection and death rate from the virus inside of China. The Chinese hide this vital information to present themselves as more competent in handling the virus than the “bungling democracies” struggling to contain it, and to build their conspiracy theory that the U.S. is the source of the pandemic. At the same time, China has ratcheted up its threats against Taiwan and allegedly tested another nuclear weapon.

Iran is also publishing false data about the coronavirus infection and death rate in Iran. Whereas the official numbers claim that 4,700 Iranians have died from the coronavirus, Iranian opposition forces allege that thirty thousand Iranians have died.

Like the Palestinians and the Chinese, the Iranians accuse Israel and the U.S. of inventing and spreading the virus. After they rejected a U.S. offer for humanitarian assistance to fight the coronavirus, the Iranians began using the pandemic as a fundraising tool. They demand assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union and exploit the political cleavages in the U.S. to pressure the Trump administration to cancel U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. All the while, Iran is threatening U.S. forces in Iraq and continuing its uranium enrichment activities.

The Palestinians show through their behavior that peace is a dead issue. Israel has permanent, vital interests in Judea and Samaria. It needs to secure those interests by applying its sovereign laws wherever it deems necessary, and bar the PA from operating in its territory.

More broadly, through their conduct, the Palestinians, like their authoritarian brethren in China, Iran and beyond drive home the difference between democracies and dictatorships. There are good guys and bad guys in this world. In the future, when we get confused about who is on which side, all we will need to do to figure out where justice lies is look back at how the each behaved during the coronavirus pandemic.

Originally published in Israel Hayom. 

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