Are Palestinians on the cusp of a coronavirus outbreak?

Are Palestinians on the cusp of a coronavirus outbreak?
4 min read
08 April, 2020
Confirmed cases among Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank are proportionally very low, but here’s why that will change.
Experts believe the likelihood of an outbreak is inevitable [Getty]
While reported rates of the novel coronavirus remain low among Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank, the situation facing marginalised and oppressed communities across the world is fluid and ever-changing.

The impact of Israeli authorities' negligence on one-fifth of its population has slowly but steadily reared its head in different places.

Palestinian hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem are now anticipating the worst, with Israel's ''army'' of Arab healthcare workers at high risk of exposure. 

Delayed information campaigns rooted in state-endorsed discrimination have proven to be another obstacle, while infection and transmission threaten vulnerable sub-sections of the community. 

This includes labourers from the Occupied Territories, as well as Negev Bedouin in southern Israel.

A difficult, unexpected question now poses itself: are Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank on the cusp of a coronavirus outbreak? 


Jerusalem's Mayor Moshe Leon on Tuesday warned that Palestinian hospitals in the Israeli occupied east of the holy city were on the verge of collapse, according to report in Haaretz.

In a letter addressed to the health ministry, Leon accused the government agency of negligence in allocating resources, relaying doctors' warnings of severe shortages of medical equipment - particularly personal protective gear and testing equipment.

Read more: Israeli police 'using coronavirus lockdown rules' to beat Palestinians in Jaffa

Financial problems - which now impact on their ability to procure the equipment they desperately need - are deep-rooted and precede the pandemic, Leon added.

According to Haaretz, no more than two of East Jerusalem's six Palestinian hospitals have special coronavirus units.

Jerusalem has the highest number of infections of any city in Israel/Palestine, with the rate increasingly considerable since the initial outbreak.

Some 1068 out of 1442 confirmed cases are of individuals who live in the city’s ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods, where Israeli authorities first imposed a lockdown.

The wider Palestinian community in Israel

Palestinians constitute one fifth of Israel's population, and while at present coronavirus cases among them remain low, experts believe an outbreak could be imminent.

Palestinians make up a significant proportion of Israel’s healthcare workers, leaving them vulnerable to exposure. More generally, however, when measures are relaxed, Arab citizens will once again encounter Israeli Jewish citizens - who have a much higher rate of corona - as they go about their daily lives, inevitably increasing the rates of transmission.

Information about coronavirus was mostly issued in Hebrew early on in the crisis, until the health ministry finally came around to translating guidelines into Arabic.

Israeli authorities' scant regard for health awareness among the Palestinian community is linked to more general discrimination towards the minority group.

Enshrined in the 2018 Nation State Law - which defines Israel as the nation state of Jewish people - Palestinians are essentially downgraded to second tier citizens, creating a breeding ground for unequal treatment.

Read more: Negligence in crisis Palestinian citizens of Israel 'not being tested for coronavirus'

In urbanised Arab centres in Israel - such as those in Nazareth - there are no public hospitals. This places a healthcare burden on poorer ranks of the community, who are forced to rely on private clinics.

After enormous efforts and pressure by Palestinian Members of Knesset, only two drive-thru testing facilities have been set up in Palestinian areas - one in Wadi Ara in the north and another in Arara, located south, Al-Monitor report.

Israel’s most vulnerable

A notably vulnerable sub-section of society are the masses of Palestinian labourers from the West Bank who work in Israel.

Following an announcement last week by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh that 41 workers had been tested positive with Covid-19 on their return from a chicken factory in Jerusalem, Israel on Tuesday finally caved in to demands for tests of Palestinian labourers.

Ramadan will see a return of 35,000 Palestinian workers to the West Bank, according to a report by Israel’s national coronavirus command centre.

This is likely to lead to an increase in rates of infection in West Bank cities, including Hebron and Bethlehem where cases are already widespread.

The only death from coronavirus recorded in the West Bank has been a woman whose son worked as a labourer within Israel.

Israeli negligence is particularly acute in Negev.

Myssan Morany, an attorney for Palestinian-Israeli rights group Adalah who spoke to The New Arab, said that Israeli ambulances do not enter regions inhabited by the Bedouin population.

Some 80,000 residents unrecognised by Israel already suffer from poor access to water, electricity and phone coverage.

Quarantine: The cover-up for police brutality

Last week, Israeli police violently cracked down on Palestinians in Jaffa, who were protesting selective enforcement of coronavirus containment measures.

The week before, two local Palestinian youth required hospitalisation after being beaten by Israeli police on their way to a kiosk to collect supplies.

Palestinians then took to the streets in response, accusing the authorities of using the quarantine as a cover up for their systematic exercise of brutality against the marginalised group.

Police stormed Jaffa with reinforcements and helicopters after protesters burned tires and skips and attempted to deter security forces from entering.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay connected