image Photo: COGAT Spokesperson's Office

Israel does utmost to help Palestinians combat COVID-19

Israel has undertaken a series of sweeping measures aimed at aiding the Palestinians to battle the coronavirus outbreak.

The assistance comes as 5 new cases of the disease were confirmed in the West Bank and Gaza, bringing the total number of infected Palestinians to 91. There was one reported death of a woman in her sixties from the village of Bidu northwest of Jerusalem, who is believed to have been exposed to the virus by her 41-year-old daughter and 46-year-old son-in-law, both of whom are reportedly in stable condition.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas by telephone over a week ago on 18 March by telephone, to discuss the pandemic and its effects on the region. “The world is dealing with a crisis that does not distinguish between people or where they live,” stressed Rivlin, adding “the cooperation between us is vital to ensure the health of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Rivlin reassured Abbas that he is constantly updated on the issue, and is ready to help with any coordination required. “Our ability to work together in times of crisis is also testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all,” said the Israeli leader. Rivlin has been engaged in discussions with relevant authorities at the Ministry of Finance and the security establishment about Israeli efforts to help the Palestinians in the fields of health, medical training and transfer of equipment.

Toward that end, the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has announced that Israel has coordinated the passage of more than 3,000 coronavirus detection kits and 50,000 protective masks donated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to the PA’s health system. The equipment was brought from Jordan into the PA through the Allenby Bridge Crossing.

The latest shipment comes in addition to the delivery of approximately 1,000 protection kits and over 100 test kits for detection of the virus that were transferred to the PA in coordination with the Civil Administration last week.

In a statement sent to TV7, COGAT chief, General Major Kamil Abu Rukun, said: “Once more COGAT is cooperating closely with the World Health Organization to make assistance possible in the Palestinian Authority’s struggle against the coronavirus outbreak. I commend the teamwork of the international organizations in this important shared endeavor, I wish steady good health to all the residents of the region, and I hope that we will continue to work together in the fight to halt the spread of this dangerous virus.”

The Ministry of Defense unit stressed in a later statement sent to TV7 that “COGAT is working, and will continue to work, together with the Palestinian Authority and with international organizations to give all possible assistance in stopping the coronavirus from spreading further.”

In addition to the extensive action COGAT is directing to stop the spread of the coronavirus, a professional training session was held on Sunday for Palestinian medical teams in Jericho, under the leadership of the Civil Administration’s Health Coordinator, Dalia Basa, together with Prof. Elhanan Bar-On, Director of the Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at Sheba Medical Center.

Israel’s medical professionals advised the Palestinian physicians on self-protection guidelines, patient examination methods and the management of hospital quarantine facilities including “recommended efficient methods for prevention of infection of the medical teams working in these facilities.”

The Civil Administration’s Health Coordinator, Dalia Basa, underscored that “During the last few weeks, the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories has been working hard to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip to protect the health and welfare of the public in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Our unit will continue to work in full cooperation with the Israeli Health Ministry and the Sheba Medical Center in conjunction with the Palestinian authorities with the purpose of eliminating the spread of the coronavirus.”

Prof. Elhanan Bar-On, Director of the Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at Sheba Medical Center added, “The coronavirus does not recognize geographic boundaries, and, therefore, we are all in the same boat with a common goal – defeating the virus. At Sheba, we believe that the public health is of paramount importance, and, therefore, I welcome the opportunity that is afforded to me to give of the knowledge and experience that we have accumulated during the last month, and I commend the fruitful discussion and common work with the Palestinian medical teams.”

Meanwhile, Gaza began to build facilities on 25 March for residents who test positive for COVID-19 to be quarantined. Authorities said construction would be completed by next week, and able to house 1,000 total patients in the cities of Rafah and Beit Lahia.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) issued an appeal for international intervention “before it is too late to prevent a healthcare system collapse” in the Strip, which it said is “already on the verge of collapse due to the Israeli-imposed closure on the Gaza Strip for the last 13 years, exacerbated by the repercussions of the Palestinian internal division and political bickering.”

Gaza is home to nearly two million people. Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt have imposed movement restrictions, as well as land, sea and air blockades on the territory, since the Hamas terror group seized control of the enclave from its Fatah rival in a bloody 2007 Palestinian civil war.

In other developments, the Palestinian stock exchange shut down on 22 March 22 until further notice to protect staff and prevent market volatility amid the spread of the coronavirus. The West Bank-based Palestine Exchange lists 48 companies, with a total market capitalization of about $3.8 billion.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has instructed West Bank residents to remain at home and ordered the closure of schools, as well as crossings with Israel and Jordan.

The PA’s self-isolation order  was nevertheless reportedly violated at an en masse gathering in the West Bank city of Jenin on 24 March to welcome home Nidal Naghnaghiya Turkeman, a convicted Palestinian terrorist who served 17 years in prison for a series of attacks including the murders of 6 Israelis in a shooting and hand grenade assault at a Likud primary polling station in Beit Shean on 28 November 2002.

According to the Palestinian Media Watch organization, “in what was probably the largest gathering this week anywhere in the world, since self-isolation is the key to defeating the coronavirus, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Movement organized a celebration with ‘thousands’ of Palestinians crammed together to honor a terrorist released from prison. Fatah’s message to its own people is that honoring a terrorist involved in the murder of 6 Israelis takes priority over their own health.”

It must be noted that in a welcome if not paradoxical offshoot of the coronavirus outbreak, Israel’s defense establishment revealed yesterday that there has been a 50% reduction in the number of terror-related incidents in the West Bank over the past week – which has been attributed to the epidemic.