A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron
A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron
Photo: AFP
A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron

Israel row leaves PA partially helpless in controlling pandemic

Analysis: Decision to end security coordination with Israel over the currently dormant annexation plan means efforts by the Palestinian Authority to enforce coronavirus regulations are absent in much of the West Bank

The Media Line |
Published: 07.25.20 , 18:41
The Palestinian Authority has been unable to impose COVID-19 containment measures to stop a surge of cases in some West Bank villages since breaking off security cooperation with Israel, Palestinian officials say.
  • Follow Ynetnews on Facebook and Twitter
  • While the PA has enforced strict curfews to slam the brakes on a coronavirus spike in the 40% of the West Bank under its control – primarily urban areas – it can no longer reach areas under Israeli control.
    A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron
    A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron
    (Photo: AFP)
    There has been a sharp rise in cases in Palestinian villages in the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control. This section, known as Area C, includes Israeli settlements and parts of the Jordan Valley.
    The Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords signed in the 1990s divide the West Bank into Areas A, B and C. Area A is under full Palestinian control while B is under Palestinian administrative and Israeli security control.
    Palestinian officials say their security forces have been banned from setting up checkpoints at many crossings and in Area C.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced an end to security coordination with Israel in May in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to annex parts of the West Bank that include Israeli settlements, as well as the Jordan Valley.
    Under the coordination agreement with Israel, PA security forces had been able to enter Area C if they contacted the Israeli military first. After the PA suspended security ties, the PA police withdrew to Area A.
    התפשטות הקורונה בקרב הפלסטיניםהתפשטות הקורונה בקרב הפלסטינים
    A Palestinian health worker disinfecting a house in Bethlehem
    (Photo: AFP)
    The PA Interior Ministry spokesman, Dr. Ghassan Nemer, says that not having Palestinian police on the ground in Area C presented a major challenge to containing the pandemic.
    “There is no doubt that we have a problem in Area C,” he says. “Our emergency crews are not able to impose restrictive measures. Only 10% of the residents there adhere to our preventive measures.”
    Mohammed Ghafary, an administrator in Sinjil, a village west of Ramallah in Area C, says that at the beginning of the pandemic, PA security forces helped enforce health rules.
    “Palestinian security was always present in our town, even if they did not carry out any closings or put up roadblocks,” he said.
    “Just their presence was enough of a deterrence to prevent non-compliance [with sanitary measures, and there was a] complete closure.”
    Ghafary says, however, that the decision to stop security coordination is not the only reason for the virus’ spread.
    מעבדה בבית לחםמעבדה בבית לחם
    A coronavirus testing lab in Bethlehem
    “In the first wave, the Palestinian security forces were replaced by popular emergency committees, composed of village volunteers,” he says. “But the people are physically and financially worn out. They exhausted their savings, and there is no one to compensate them financially for their time.”
    He says that these days, Sinjil residents are keeping their stores open later, socializing in cafes and holding weddings at home.
    “We don’t have either the popular units or the PA police to impose restrictions,” he says.
    “We used to sanitize all cars entering the village, call on merchants to close their shops and distribute food packages to the needy. All that had to end because the Israeli army prevents us from operating within the village, forcing us to stop our volunteer work,” Ghafary says.
    The PA imposed a lockdown for several weeks during the first COVID-19 outbreak in the spring. With the second wave, it has enforced a limited curfew. But now, it cannot coordinate with Israel and send its security forces into Palestinian parts of Area C.
    הטלת עוצר על הבתים בבית לחם בעקבות התפשטות נגיף הקורונההטלת עוצר על הבתים בבית לחם בעקבות התפשטות נגיף הקורונה
    Palestinian police upholding a virus lockdown in Hebron
    Abdul Majeed Swailem, a professor of regional studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, says that these are very difficult times for the PA.
    “The leadership is trying to balance [its efforts] between the coronavirus and how to keep Palestinians safe in the absence of the security coordination,” he explained.
    There are more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases in the Palestinian territories (including Gaza) and 67 total deaths.
    Areej Assi, mayor of Beit Liqya in Area C, says that her village of 12,000 was an example to others during the first wave of coronavirus.
    “We were a model of commitment in Beit Liqya. PA security helped us a lot in implementing the government’s decisions, restrictions and closures,” she says.
    But now, things are different.
    “We are facing a big problem because we have no control over anything,” she says.
    “We can’t force people to obey orders…. In the past, if no one responded, we would call in the security forces, but now we have no one to help enforce closures.”
    A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron
    A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron
    (Photo: AFP )
    Assi says that her village has another problem because it is near the security wall Israel erected to keep Palestinian attackers out.
    “This apartheid wall has a lot of holes that enable many men from my village to cross into Israel to look for work. When they come back, they don’t do the coronavirus test, and that’s another reason for the increase in cases,” she says.
    Assi agrees that things have gotten worse since security coordination with Israel was halted.
    “Security in Palestinian villages in Area C northwest of Jerusalem was coordinated with Israel. If there is security coordination, then the situation is under control,” she says, “and if not, there is chaos.”

    Article written by Mohammad al-Kassim, reprinted with permission from The Media Line


    Talkbacks for this article 0