Israel Closes Palestinian COVID-19 Testing Clinic in East Jerusalem

Israeli police raided a coronavirus testing clinic in the occupied East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan and arrested its organizers on Tuesday night, April 14, because the clinic was being run in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

"Police have halted coronavirus testing in Silwan."

“Police have halted coronavirus testing in Silwan.”

According to the clinic’s managers, there is a shortage of coronavirus tests in Silwan, where doctors said on Monday, April 14, that 40 cases of the disease had already been confirmed and where overcrowded living conditions could lead to a rapid spread of the virus. The Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan warned that the incidence of infection is indeed on the rise and that by Tuesday, April 15 there were at least 45 confirmed cases of the virus, while the number of patients in the East Jerusalem neighborhood had been 19 early Sunday morning. Palestinian Deputy Governor of occupied Jerusalem Abdallah Siam announced that Silwan recorded nine new coronavirus cases on Monday, April 14, alone, a dangerous indicator about the rapid spread of the disease in a neighborhood that now faces the virus alone following the closure there of the PA supported clinic by Israel, as they are not receiving any help from the occupation authorities.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said in a statement that the closing of the Palestinian health center in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan set up specifically to test for corona cases in the neighborhood after dozens of cases and were discovered and its detaining those involved in setting up the clinic under political pretexts have raised serious concern among the city’s vulnerable Palestinian population of not being able to prevent spread of the deadly disease. Hadash MK Ofer Cassif (Joint List) called the police raid “stupid and a crime.”

The Situation throughout Occupied East Jerusalem

Medical personnel are warning of a rapid rise in coronavirus infections throughout occupied East Jerusalem with a population of 350,000, of which Silwan is only one neighborhood of about 30,000 residents. The Palestinian Jerusalem-based daily newspaper Al-Quds reported that while East Jerusalem residents have heeded the call to stay at home, this may not last if greater food supplies are not brought to the area.

Doctors estimate that total number of coronavirus patients among Palestinians in East Jerusalem is likely already 100, but exact figures a impossible to determine as Israeli authorities are deliberately obscuring information on the spread of the disease in the occupied city.

Deputy Governor Abdallah Siam told the paper that Palestinians in the occupied city of Jerusalem are fully aware of the situation; those diagnosed with the virus are isolating themselves away from their families. However, he went on to say, the Old City is considered one of most overpopulated areas in the city and there are no places of quarantine there for those who have been in contact with the COVID-19 patients.

In addition to its criminal closing of the Silwan clinic and its obfuscation of the situation on the ground in East Jerusalem, Israeli occupation authorities are actively impeding efforts by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in occupied Jerusalem and its refugee camps, said UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha. In a telephone interview with the Palestinian news agency Wafa, the UN spokesman explained that the restrictions Israel is currently imposing on UNRWA’s activities in occupied East Jerusalem are a continuation of those it introduced two years ago following US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel and the moving of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These include the prevention of UNRWA and the Palestinian Ministry of Health from providing health services for Jerusalem’s Old City, the urban area’s other neighborhoods (like Silwan) and refugee camps. By UN mandate, UNRWA is responsible for providing health, educational and social services to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Mshasha also told Wafa that as a result of Israel’s restrictions on travel throughout the greater Jerusalem area in its efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus, there is real difficulty in entering and leaving the Palestinian refugee camps in the area, in particular the Shuafat camp in northeast Jerusalem. The quarantine is invariably impacting the economic situation of all East Jerusalem residents, but especially those who are now no longer benefiting from UNRWA services due the measures Israel introduced two years ago, to say nothing of the ongoing detentions, incursions and everyday restrictions on movement due to the occupation.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates condemned Israel’s blocking efforts by Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus, warning that Israel’s measures endanger lives. The ministry called on the World Health Organization and international human rights organization to intervene and pressure Israel to stop its violations in the occupied city and allow Palestinians to manage the corona crisis there as well in light of Israel’s failure to care for the city’s 350,000 Palestinian residents.

The ministry also noted that, compared to Israel, the Palestinian Authority had succeeded in controlling the disease since early March. With less than 300 cases of coronavirus confirmed in the Palestinian-run areas and two deaths, Israel has over 12,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 130 deaths despite the big gap in their health systems, facilities and financial capabilities.

Israel Prevents Setting Up of Clinic in Jordan Valley for 10th Time

On Tuesday, April 16, for the tenth time in the last few weeks, Israeli soldiers barred Palestinian volunteers from manning a checkpoint in two northern occupied Jordan Valley villages set up to restrict movement in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Mutaz Bisharat, a local Palestinian official in charge of the Israeli settlements portfolio in the Tubas governorate, reported how occupation soldiers took down a Palestinian flag and forced the volunteers to leave the area.

Fatah secretary general in Tubas, Mahmoud Sawafta, said volunteers from the Palestinian movement were attempting to assist local councils maintain order in their villages to prevent the spread of the deadly disease when the Israeli soldiers ordered them to leave the area. Bisharat said this was the tenth time Israeli soldiers dismantled the Palestinian checkpoint since the outbreak of the disease in the occupied Palestinian territories more than a month ago.

On March 26, officials from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank arrived at the Palestinian community of Khirbet Ibziq in the northern occupied Jordan Valley, with a military jeep escort, a bulldozer and two flatbed trucks with cranes. They confiscated poles and sheeting that were to be used to erect eight tents: two for a field clinic, four for emergency housing for residents evacuated from their homes, and two as makeshift mosques. The soldiers also confiscated a tin shack in place for more than two years, as well as a power generator and sacks of sand and cement. Four pallets of cinder blocks intended for the tent floors were taken away and four others demolished.

Related: Israel Confiscates Tents Allotted for Corona Clinic in Occupied W. Bank