Part 2 of an investigation into how anti-Israel activists have hijacked the coronavirus crisis to use against Israel.
In April 2020, we published an in-depth investigation: How Anti-Israel Activists Are Hijacking The Coronavirus Crisis And Turning It Against Israel. Our research demonstrated how proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic: namely, blaming the Jewish state and its supporters for as many aspects of the outbreak as possible.
Now, we’ve taken a closer look at how international Arab, Muslim, and especially Palestinian sources have rhetorically weaponized the virus against Israel. And it’s clear that the BDS campaign’s appropriation of COVID-19 is only part of a larger effort to fold the pandemic into pre-existing anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish ideology.
Table of Contents
A. Introduction: Historical Accusations of Jewish Disease
- Jews and Disease in Antiquity
- Jews and Disease in Modernity
B. Conspiratorial COVID Claims in the Islamic World
1. Terrorists, Governments, and Media
b. Governments and Media
2. Palestinian Sources Manufacture a COVID-Israel Connection
a. Israel and Coronavirus as a Geopolitical Boogeyman
b. Israel as Disease Vector: Infecting Palestinians with COVID-19
i. Perpetual Palestinian Victims
ii. Media Manipulation
iii. Palestinians Repeating Propaganda
c. The Jewish State is “COVID-48”
C. Western Anti-Zionists Echo Arab- and Muslim-World Propaganda
1. Coronavirus as an Israeli Weapon Against Palestinians
a. Claims of Concern and Compliance
i. Coming Palestinian Catastrophe
D. The Reality on the Ground
- Palestinians Defying Stay-at-Home for Pallywood
- Palestinians Defying Stay-at-Home for Fun
- Misallocation of Resources
- Israeli-Palestinian Healthcare Cooperation Continues
- COVID by the Numbers: Statistics, Projection, and Deflection
A. Introduction: Historical Accusations of Jews and Disease
The exploitation of COVID-19 as a propaganda tool against Israel is not a unique phenomenon. For hundreds of years, civilizations all over the world have invented false claims about Jews facilitating the spread of sickness; lies about Jews as disease vectors have long been used as a justification for their persecution.
Contemporary allegations about Zionist connections to the coronavirus outbreak are simply the newest iteration of a well-worn conspiracy theory.
1. Jews and Disease in Antiquity
In a March 6 piece in JTA, historian Henry Abramson summarized the history of Jewish disease myths, beginning with ancient Egypt:
Manetho, an Egyptian priest who lived 2,300 years ago, was probably the first to level this charge against Jews. He retold the Exodus with rather creative flair, arguing that the Jews weren’t redeemed from slavery with signs and wonders — they were, he claimed, expelled by the Egyptians because they were a source of contagion. Not unlike the Nazis, who justified the walling off of the ghettos as a prophylactic against the spread of typhus, Manetho sought to associate Jews with the silent spread of the dreaded plague, as invisible as it is unstoppable.
The myth persisted in later Antiquity, as well. In the March 2020 issue of Fathom, writer Lev Topol noted,
The eastern Roman Emperors Theodosius II and Justinian described Jews with words such as ‘perversity,’ ‘contagion,’ ‘pollution,’ ‘a plague’, and ‘contamination’.
Then, Abramson continued, as the world entered the Medieval period and the Black Death swept through Europe,
…unhinged conspiracy theories circulated widely, building on centuries-old charges that Jews were poisoning wells out of a deep-seated misanthropy.The intellectual roots of the slander of poisoning stretched back centuries, given the Jews’ unusually prominent role as medical professionals: a risky business, especially whenever one’s patient expired. As late as 1610, the medical school in Vienna had no compunction making the bizarre assertion that Jewish law required physicians to poison one patient in 10….But as late as 1401, a half-century after the Black Death, Jews in Freiburg were accused of “poisoning the air.”
2. Jews and Disease in Modernity
Even in the last several hundred years, the popularity of these themes has not waned. For example, in a March 19 piece in Ha’aretz, Brooklyn College professor Louis Fishman explained that the “endlessly influential Czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” promoted similar ideas.
And, as Topor observed,
The Nazi ideology framed all Jews as a bio-threat. After the establishment of Israel, some hostile Arab officials blamed Israel and the Jews for spreading AIDS among Arab leaders and officials. Terror organisations such as Hamas have spread the lie that the Zionists use AIDS-infected women to lure Arab leaders to their doom.
In recent years, Islamist autocrats have spread similar ideas. Examples include the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the current Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who have often referred to Israel as a “cancerous tumor” before declaring that it should be destroyed.
Unfortunately, such analogies and conspiracies often resonate among laypeople in the Islamic world. In one disturbing case, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published a March 16, 2020 translation from a public conversation in Turkey:
A video recently appeared on social media showing a Turkish bus driver saying that all the epidemics in recent history, from AIDS to Ebola, had been created by pharmaceutical companies. The bus driver then asked: “And to whom do most of the pharmaceutical companies belong? To the Jews.” A passenger said: “[The Jews] will do anything to end the lineage of the Turks.” Another said: “Not only Turks, sister, they will do anything to bring the world to its knees.” The bus driver then said: “Anyway the Jews are a cursed race.”
Correspondingly, the long tradition of comparing Jews to (or blaming Jews for) disease has found enthusiastic practitioners in anti-Israel circles. In 2004, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Islamist co-founder of radical anti-Israel group Al-Awda Right of Return Coalition, gave a speech at the Palestinian Solidarity Movement conference at Duke University; in the speech, he reportedly referred to Zionism as a “disease”. In 2012, a U.K.-based Islamist group called Innovative Minds organized a march for its “Boycott Israel Campaign” where demonstrators held signs that read, “Israel is a disease, We are the cure”. And in 2018, a tweet by the Palestine Information Center also referred to Israel “a disease”.
Most recently, in November 2019, the anti-Israel organization American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) held its annual conference devoted to Israel’s destruction. The conference featured a panel whose description declared, “Zionism has come in like a disease to destroy the purity of Al-Quds [Jerusalem].” (For more on this conference and how I was kicked out for ‘sitting quietly while Zionist’, check out our post: Fearing Negative Coverage, ‘American Muslims for Palestine’ Conference Ejects Legal Insurrection Reporter.)
Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread and the global economy has come grinding to a halt, Islamist regimes and BDS propagandists alike have continued to adapt this ancient theme to fit the times, grafting the current crisis onto existing myths and ideological frameworks.
B. Conspiratorial COVID Claims in the Islamic World
1. Terrorists, Governments, and Media
Across the Muslim world, radical groups and repressive regimes have capitalized on COVID-19. By circulating coronavirus propaganda among their own people, these entities can incite violence, inspire religious fervor, boost recruitment, and deflect attention from their substandard leadership.
a. Terrorist Groups
radical Islamist groups have aggressively exploited the pandemic, largely through the same means used in other crises.
Al-Qaeda’s central media outlet issued a statement in English and Arabic last month that claimed the pandemic was a sign of God’s fury toward humanity for its sins and failure to adhere to God’s rules. It urged Muslims to repent and fight against “the Crusader Enemy,” and condemned “the tyranny” of Muslim leaders and the “obscenity and moral corruption” sweeping majority-Muslim countries.In an editorial in an online magazine last month, the Islamic State urged “lone-wolf” attacks to capitalize on the paralysis and fear.
“In our research, we have found online chatter in which participants state that they are infected and seek to become biological weapons,” said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). “Sites for spreading infection are discussed, among them supermarkets, hospitals and power stations. Also discussed is visiting synagogues and coughing in the faces of rabbis.”
…I suspect that when we examine carefully her claims, it will turn out that many of her accusations against Israel are projections of the [Middle Eastern] culture she does not discuss, a pattern very common in antisemitic charges past and present…The reason so many enthusiasts for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from the Nazis and Communists of the 20th century, to the global Jihadis of the 21st, found that forged document so exciting, was because it allowed them to accuse Jews of precisely the criminal ambitions they themselves embraced.
…MEMRI and [SITE Intelligence Group] found that Shiite groups — including Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen — and their supporters on social media platforms have accused the U.S. government of deploying the coronavirus as a bioweapon.
b. Governments and Media
Hezbollah is not the only entity projecting terrorist ambitions onto their enemies. Lev Topor observed that some powerful Iranian figures allege that COVID-19 was created as a Zionist biological weapon against Iranians:
In Iran, Professor Ali Karami from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-run Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences appeared on Iranian television and described COVID-19 as a ‘biological ethnic weapon,’ created by the ‘Americans and Zionist regime’ to target Iranian DNA. It was this Zionist plot, Professor Karami suggested, that explained the high mortality rate in Iran. When it was pointed out that Italy had also suffered a high death rate the Professor replied, ‘the genetics of the Italian people are very similar to the Iranian people.’
And in a March 17, 2020 op-ed in Algemeiner, the Egyptian writer Hany Ghoraba noted that Iranian mullahs have issued similar statements, which are often broadcast by the regime-run PressTV:
Iranian mullah Nasser Makarem Shirazi declared it is prohibited to take any Israeli medication for the virus unless there is no alternative…“I’d rather take my chances with the virus than consume an Israeli vaccine,” wrote Roshan M. Salih, an Iranian Press TV journalist and editor of the British Muslim news site Five Pillars. When people reacted angrily, he wrote that he “activated the Israel lobby.”
Press TV, meanwhile, published an article by American conspiracy theorist Kevin Barrett to back the claim that the coronavirus is a US-Israeli conspiracy using biological warfare to hurt Iran. “US, Israel waging biological warfare on massive scale,” was the March 7 story’s headline.
Iranian conspiracy theorists are not alone in this. Topor described the related ideas circulating in Turkey:
In March 2020, Turkish officials and other public figures accused Israel of population dilution – ‘This virus serves Zionism’s goals of decreasing the number of people and preventing it from increasing,’ the head of Turkey’s Refah party said. He cited approvingly the words of his father Necmettin Erbakan, the Islamist politician and former prime minister of Turkey: ‘Zionism is a five-thousand-year-old bacteria that has caused the suffering of people.’ On Turkish television, Abdullah Bozkurt drew attention to a guest who appeared on A-Haber TV station, which is owned by Turkish President Erdogan, saying that ‘Jews, Zionists have organised & engineered #Corona virus as biological weapon just like bird flu & Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF). They want to design the world, seize countries, neuter the world’s population.’
Topor also pointed out Algerian media’s spread of anti-Zionist COVID conspiracies:
Algerian news outlet Al Masdar published a conspiracy theory under the headline, “A Zionist organization is behind the coronavirus and the Zionist entity (Israel) claims to have found the vaccine.”
Likewise, a Yemeni scholar delivered a sermon in which he alleged that COVID-19 is part of a Jewish plot to “Judaize” sacred Muslim cities.
Friday Sermon by Yemeni Scholar Ibrahim Al-Ubeidi: Coronavirus Is Part of a Plan by the Jews, Israel, U.S. to Control Mecca, Medina; The Saud Clan Is a Jewish Family Brought into Power in Order to Judaize These Cities pic.twitter.com/YXzAaJ4P0s
— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) March 29, 2020
For terrorist groups and repressive theocracies, projecting their own desires to weaponize COVID-19 onto Zionists—or alleging that Zionists created the virus in the first place—can help deflect focus from their own botched handling of the outbreak.
Indeed, evidence suggests that Iran is a “regional epicenter” of the pandemic, and that the government has so bungled its response to the threat that it was forced to begin digging enormous mass graves in which to bury Iranians who have succumbed to the virus. Nevertheless, the Iranian regime continues to devote resources to obscuring facts—and using Israel or Zionists as a scapegoat upon which to foist its own failures.
2. Palestinian Sources Manufacture a COVID-Israel Connection
By the same token, Palestinian government officials, terror groups, and media outlets have exploited the pandemic by attributing the outbreak and any current or potential repercussions to Israel.
a. Israel and Coronavirus as a Geopolitical Boogeyman
Jews and Israel have long been accused of warmongering and scheming to conquer the lands of others. The Nazi publication Der Sturmer claimed as early as 1938 that Jews were the ones inciting world war. And, as Columbia University journalism professor Samuel Freedman wrote in 2005, more recent manifestations of “the Jew as warmonger, of course, [take] the form of the Israeli army, vilified as Goliath oppressing the Davids of Palestine.”
Now, Palestinian sources have adapted the “warmonger” analogy by painting Israel—and even Judaism—as a geopolitical boogeyman using the coronavirus to wage war.
In one infamous image, a Gaza-based newspaper neatly illustrated this view. Writing in Fathom, Cary Nelson republished and discussed the drawing:
As Gaza was acquiring its first two cases of the coronavirus in March 2020, the world’s longest hatred inevitably found local expression. A Palestinian newspaper in Gaza published a cartoon Star of David adapted to mimic the virus, at once combining malice and contempt. The star is blue; it bristles with a score of the protein extensions or spikes characteristic of COVID-19 graphic representations. Judaism, not simply Zionism, the text declares, is ‘the most dangerous virus for humanity.’
But this was just the beginning. In a March analysis, MEMRI explained,
The coronavirus outbreak has been accompanied by the circulation of many conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, which were published, inter alia, in the Arab media and especially in the Palestinian media. While Palestinian Authority (PA) government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said that the PA is taking measures against the virus in coordination and collaboration with Israel, some in the Palestinian media accused Israel and the U.S. of spreading the coronavirus in the world for various reasons: in order to weaken China and Iran, to help Trump’s reelection campaign and/or to facilitate Israel’s takeover of the region.
The research group Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) described similar messaging within a March 16 political cartoon published in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. The drawing features an
Israeli tank with spikes protruding from its turret shaped like the peplomers on the Coronavirus viral envelope. The tank’s main gun, which is also in the shape of a peplomer, is pointed at a Palestinian holding a baby and walking away from the tank.
The illustration casts the Palestinians, fearful and held at gunpoint, as innocent and defenseless. By contrast, Israel and the virus are merged into one entity, and depicted as dwarfing the Palestinians—whose path forward it controls.
Other examples include the particularly vicious claims of “As’ad Al-Zouni, a Jordanian journalist of Palestinian origin who frequently writes antisemitic and conspiratorial articles”. Coronavirus conspiracies align neatly with his usual blather—as he demonstrated in a recent editorial published on the Palestinian news website Dunya Al-Watan. MEMRI translated the essay, which argues (emphasis added) that Jews and the CIA have spread the virus as a tool of vengeance and imperialism:
“[The emergence of] the coronavirus, which is spreading throughout the world…and which appeared in China the very same day the contractor President Trump signed a trade agreement with this giant country, cannot be regarded as a completely random event. This is especially since the American media machine, which is directed by the Zionists, treats the whole affair as a deal…
This virus is surely an outcome of the Jews’ concealed hatred for the entire world, and its spread in the U.S. is meant to demonstrate this and to serve as a weapon for the contractor Trump in the upcoming election, so as to ensure his reelection in return for the [favors] he bestowed upon the colony of Israel, the Khazar, Zionist, Jewish terrorist [entity].
Chief of [these favors] were the Deal of the Century, [and measures and statements regarding] Jerusalem, the Golan and the settlements. When the Jews ignited the conflagration of World War I, they won the Balfour Declaration, and when they started the conflagration of World War II, they won the establishment of their Khazar colony in Palestine. [Now] they want to start the conflagration of a third [world] war, in order to declare the establishment of the greater Jewish kingdom of Israel – and here we are, living in an atmosphere of a third world war, in which the military and political horizons of the regional and domestic conflicts are sealed, while the economic stagnation grows worse by the day due to rising prices and the political stagnation.”
“Not long ago, the Jews tried to ignite a war between Iran and the U.S. by causing severe tension in the Gulf, which, in one of its forms, reached the point of assassinating the commander of the [Qods Force] in [Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force, Qassem Soleimani. This was preceded by several other clashes that almost started [World] War III, but the rationality of the decision-makers in Iran and the U.S. prevented this. Following this failure, the Israeli Mossad, in collaboration with the CIA, sent the coronavirus to China, to mitigate the Americans’ anger with Trump and prevent it from causing him to lose the [upcoming presidential elections]… I reveal no secret when I say that the virus was spread in Italy as an act of revenge against it, for recently signing trade agreements and understandings with China…”
In another (particularly bizarre) instance, the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida published an article on April 2 called, “Israeli suicide attacks with hidden bombs”. The piece accused that (emphasis added):
The racist settler colonialist occupiers have proven their extraordinary capabilities to carry out quality suicide bombing attacks from afar, in other words, without explosives or explosive belts. This is because they are using the Coronavirus as the most modern biological weapon…
It is enough for them that the disease transfer to a Palestinian laborer or citizen who passes between the cities and villages in historical and natural Palestine (i.e., Israel) in order for this Palestinian to become their mobile suicide bomb, whose direct effects are greater than any weapon, even a nuclear bomb.
Incredibly, these accusations of an Israeli master plan to use COVID-19 as a “suicide bomb” were printed without any hint of irony—despite the fact that it is Islamist terrorists such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad that have been conducting suicide bombings against Israeli targets for decades (since Hezbollah utilized the tactic during the first Lebanon war).
Then there’s Rasem ‘Abidat (reportedly an “activist” with the Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), who also accused Israel of using COVID-19 as a biological weapon. In a column in the eastern-Jerusalem-based Palestinian daily Al-Quds, ‘Abidat posited (emphasis added):
“Faced with these dangers – an American loss of global military and economic hegemony and a threat to Israel’s existence – Israel and the U.S. had no choice… but to resort to biological weapons, for the economic solutions and military options were unable to halt China’s advance and its economic takeover of the world. The sanctions on Iran likewise failed to prevent its consolidation as a regional power. This begs the question: Did the U.S. and Israel choose the option of [waging] biological warfare by spreading the coronavirus, which can deliver a decisive blow to China and Iran, on the assumption that this would lead to China’s economic retreat and collapse and also undermine Iran while destabilizing its domestic economy and security, enabling to defeat it from within?…”
Such contentions exemplify the utility of projection propaganda for today’s anti-Israel ideologues. Indeed, it was Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization—not Israel—that (noting the repeated Arab failures to demolish Israel through conventional warfare) first resolved to wage ‘war by other means’ against its enemy instead.
b. Israel as Disease Vector: Infecting Palestinians with COVID-19
Some Palestinian sources have preferred a narrower focus for their coronavirus-centered anti-Israel political warfare. Popular tactics include subsuming coronavirus within pre-existing charges of Israeli bullying and mass murder of Palestinians.
i. Perpetual Palestinian Victims
For example, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has translated Palestinian Authority allegations that Israel seeks to intentionally infect Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails with the coronavirus.
According to these claims, Israel even
This is despite the fact that, as of this writing, there has only been one confirmed case of coronavirus among Palestinian prisoners incarcerated by Israel; the inmate contracted the virus before his arrest, and was immediately quarantined in a hospital. He reportedly had no contact with other inmates, and staff members with whom he had contact were also quarantined.
particularly refrains from protecting the younger prisoners, causing “a holocaust” in the prisons, as one op-ed in the official PA daily [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida] called it.
Even anti-Israel sources such as the blog Electronic Intifada and Al-Monitor have only managed to find a single case in which a Palestinian may have contracted the disease in prison. Noureddin Sarsour was reportedly released from Ofer prison on or around March 31, 2020 after an approximately 12-day detention for throwing Molotov cocktails at Israelis. After his release, he tested positive for COVID at Ramallah Hospital (according to the Palestinian Committee for Detainees and Ex-Detainees). But, since English-, Hebrew-, and Arabic-language media reports on his case show multiple discrepancies (including the number of days he spent in jail, the exact date of his release, and the exact date of his positive COVID test), the exact origin of his infection is not clear—even for anti-Israel groups. Still, as even ‘pro-Palestinian’ publications have grudgingly admitted, the Israeli prison service quarantined inmates with whom he interacted.
This is not to mention the fact that, by mid-March, Israeli authorities had already decided to release 500 Palestinian inmates to house arrest from prison in order to reduce their risk of infection.
Still, anti-Israel sources have repeatedly accused the Israeli prison service of systematically exacerbating Palestinian prisoner vulnerability. Palestinian Media Watch described,
These libels have been reinforced by two videos published by the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs using cardboard models of a street and prison cells. One video shows a tank aiming its cannon at a child standing in the street while Coronavirus particles outside the barred window of a prison cell are threatening a child prisoner inside. Coronavirus particles also rub against the handcuffed hands of a real child standing with his hands chained inside the cardboard model, while a child’s voice is heard singing.
You can watch this video below or here.
In the second video, the PLO repeats the libel that Israel purposefully endangers the lives of the Palestinian terrorist prisoners, neglecting to protect them from the Coronavirus. In the cardboard model of a prison, huge Coronavirus particles are banging on the doors and a hand dressed as a Coronavirus particle is trying to force open a prison cell window. The voice of PA Prime Minister has been added, stating that the PA “consider the occupation responsible for protecting the prisoners and demand the immediate release of all of them, and particularly the sick, the children, and the women.” Posting the video on Facebook, the PLO commission wrote:
“Between the violence of the prisons and the fangs of the Coronavirus
You can see that video below or here.
Furthermore, as PMW showed, the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida—the same outlet that published the two above political cartoons—
also used the term “between the fangs of Israel and the Coronavirus” to demonize Israel when reporting on statements by Fatah’s Commission of Martyrs, Prisoners, and Wounded in Gaza, which claimed Israel “exploits the Coronavirus to annihilate the Palestinian prisoners”:
Headline: “The bodies and lives of the Palestinian prisoners are being burned between the fangs of Israel and the Coronavirus”
“The Commission of Martyrs, Prisoners, and Wounded in the Fatah Movement’s Supreme Leadership Council in the Gaza Strip emphasized that danger is encircling the Palestinian prisoners from all sides, due to the violations and crimes in the occupation prison and the spread of the Corona pandemic.
Commission Spokesman Nashat Al-Wahidi said that the occupation government is going too far and specializing in torturing the prisoners and negating their elementary human rights given the epidemic’s spread…
He warned against the occupation’s exploitation of the Coronavirus in order to annihilate the Palestinian prisoners, on the pretext that the virus spread and got out of control. He noted that there is a stream of racist statements being made by the decision making elite in the occupation government, which call to kill the prisoners (sic., PMW found no evidence of such statements).”
ii. Media Manipulation
The myth that Israeli is deliberately infecting Palestinians has extended beyond prisoners in Israeli jails; purposeful Israeli infection of Palestinian civilians is framed as a constant accessory of the “occupation” and a tool of Israeli “settlers” imposing on indigenous populations. Often, evidence for these assertions has been blown out of proportion or fabricated entirely.
In one instance, a Gaza-based news site called Palestine Live tweeted on April 20 that likely-infected Israeli “settlers” had invaded a Palestinian town the night before in order to “defile” “Muslim shrines”.
The tweet (archived here) included a photo of a crowd of Jews gathered at night in Kifl Harit, the West Bank town in question.
The only problem? The infected “settler” “break-in” reported in Palestine Live‘s tweet appears to be a fictional event. A search of other Palestinian news outlets, such as Ma’an, Wattan.net, and even the Gaza-based NGO Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) revealed no other mentions of the episode whatsoever.
Furthermore, Palestine Live‘s photo does not date from April 19th. Instead, it appears to have existed online as early as December 2017, as the image accompanying an article on Wattan.net.
The photo was also used by Al Fajer TV several times in June 2018, and again by Wattan.net in February 2019.
In addition, the “Muslim shrines” Palestine Live claimed as “defiled” by Israelis, which appears in the photo as a small section of wall with Arabic graffiti, is actually a sacred Jewish pilgrimage site—what is believed to be the tomb of Joshua, the biblical Jewish prophet and Moses’ successor as the leader of the Israelites.
Because the tomb is indeed located in Kifl Harit, an area under civil control by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli Jews are not permitted to visit the site but for three times a year in group trips coordinated and accompanied by the Israel Defense Forces.
Nevertheless, in a classic example of Palestinian projection, the site’s status as a Jewish holy place has actually inspired Palestinians to deface it numerous times. On one occasion in 2018, Jewish worshippers on pilgrimage arrived at the site to find the outer walls of the tomb desecrated by spray-painted swastikas and Arabic writing of “#Palestine” and what appears to be “#AhmedJarar” (the name of a Hamas terrorist and suspected murderer who had been been killed only weeks before in a shootout with the IDF).In a similar example of Palestinian COVID media manipulation, on March 27, the Palestinian Quds News Network posted a blurry nine-second clip of three men dressed in military uniforms walking next to a line of parked cars at night. (You can see the clip here or below.)
Although it is difficult to tell when, where, and in what context the clip was recorded, it appears to show one of the men spitting briefly on the ground. However, the network titled the video, “Israeli soldiers spit at Palestinian vehicles to spread coronavirus”, and captioned it, “#Watch| Israeli soldiers deliberately spit at Palestinians’ vehicles to spread coronavirus among Palestinians during a night raid into occupied Hebron yesterday.”
Soon, the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida elaborated on the Quds Network story, and excoriated the Israeli “occupation soldiers” for deliberately spreading the virus to Palestinians by spitting wantonly all over the place.
Palestinian Media Watch translated excerpts from the daily’s March 30 content:
A few days ago, dozens of occupation soldiers spit on cars of [Palestinian] residents and the door handles of the homes…Soldiers were seen spitting everywhere in a number of Hebron’s neighborhoods. [The story] aroused panic among the citizens due to the concern that the soldiers were sick with the Coronavirus and attempting to transmit the disease to the citizens… the residents [went] to clean the streets and disinfect them with chemicals.
PMW also translated PA claims that Israelis “walked around ATM machines and businesses in a suspicious manner,” prompting the PA Spokesman for the Emergency Committee, Awwad Najm, to add that “the settlers got out of their cars and attempted to break into businesses, and also passed their hands over the ATM machines of the banks in the town.”
In a March 29, Facebook post, the Palestinian Fatah party posted similar claims, again alleging that Israel has “launched a biological war” against Palestinians.
While the origins of the spitting to spread COVID-19 story were tenuous at best, multiple other members of the PA government seized on the accusations and trumpeted their outrage. PA Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem declared:
It is not strange that the settlers and occupation soldiers are doing acts such as these, as they are striving for the epidemic’s spread in Palestine. In addition, they are attempting to approach our laborers and mingle with them in order to transfer the disease to them.
PLO Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat weighed in as well, framing the supposed mass spitting as evidence of Israeli racism.
…when the settler gangs go wild, [of which] the latest example is… the spitting on Palestinian cars and property in order to transfer the Corona disease to them [it is…] the spirit of hate taking root, the spread of the incitement to racism, and the wild desire to get rid of the Palestinian people in any way.
Fatah’s official spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmi concurred:
cases have been documented in which the occupation soldiers and settlers were seen contaminating Palestinian property in many Palestinian areas in order to spread the virus among our people– which clearly proves the scope of the racism that is spreading in Israel.
iii. Palestinians Repeating Propaganda
It is not only Palestinian government or media entities that spread such views. Unfortunately, these attitudes seem to have trickled down to segments of the Palestinian population as well—many of whom have taken to Twitter to publicly blame Israel for coronavirus, or to compare Israel itself to the virus.
Others have echoed the Palestinian Authority focus on inmates in Israeli jails, blaming Israel for cases of prisoner infection and insisting on unconditional prisoner release (archived here)—a policy that would likely prove dangerous for all Israelis, given that many of those incarcerated are convicted terrorists.
Still other users capitalized on that analogy, and compared legal Israeli prison sentences to the virus itself by framing both as equal tools of Israeli oppression between which Palestinians are stuck (archived here and here).
— Aseel Safi official (@AseelSafi6) April 8, 2020
c. The Jewish State is “COVID48”
In my previous COVID-19 post, I examined the trend—popular among BDS supporters—of comparing Israel’s existence itself to a virus (or worse). I cited a tweet by Abbas Hamideh, Al-Awda Right of Return Coalition co-founder (and apparent personal friend of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) in which he declared (archived here), “This is how you fight the Zionavirus <3”.
He accompanied his tweet with a GIF of video footage of himself screaming into a megaphone at his March 1, 2020 Al-Awda rally outside the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference—the same rally we documented in our recent post, VIDEO – Anti-Israel AIPAC protester: “The Jews should be on their knees begging for forgiveness”. He completed the “Zionavirus” sentiment with caption that reads, “F#CK ISRAELI OCCUPATION” [sic].
Hamideh’s charge has proven to be a common one in the last few weeks, not least from self-identified Palestinians and other Twitter users from the Arab and Muslim world. Some in the online anti-Israel community have transformed the common shorthand “COVID-19” into a play on words, launching a viral hashtag campaign called “#COVID48”.
For Arabs and Muslims who subscribe to anti-Israel ideologies, Israel’s rebirth in 1948 as a modern Jewish nation-state (and its subsequent defeat of invading troops from seven Arab states) constitutes the “Naqba” (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic). Fittingly, the #COVID48 campaign, which grafts coronavirus propaganda onto pre-existing “Naqba” tropes, emerged in full force as Israel approached its 72nd birthday (Wednesday, April 29, 2020).
Many have simply begun referring to Israel itself (in a new twist on the popular “Zionist entity” moniker) as “COVID48”, alleging that Israel’s “crimes” mean that there “is no difference” between the Jewish state and a virus (archived here).
Since 1948 till this very moment, countless crimes have been taking place in Palestine because of covid-48 or call it Israel-48, no difference.#Covid48 https://t.co/EayQir5JoJ pic.twitter.com/JGPohK78qJ
— Rakan Al-Sahoory 𓂆 (@RakanSahoory) April 20, 2020
In many of these COVID48 tweets, depictions of Palestinians continue to portray them as uniquely victimized by or stuck between and struggling against two equally oppressive forces: the coronavirus and Israel (archived here and here).
Others have stated that Israel (or Zionism, or the “occupation”) is worse than the coronavirus—despite the the pandemic’s confirmed worldwide death toll of more than 230,000 people, its (likely under-counted) infection of nearly 3.4 million people so far, and the subsequent massive economic devastation the pandemic has wrought (archived here).Like the drawing of the Star-of-David-shaped coronavirus particle above, many of these tweets have also included images of Jewish symbols or the Israeli flag superimposed on drawings of coronavirus specimens (archived here and here).
— Alaa Alkurdi (@3la2Alkurdi) April 20, 2020
— ra'd _ qadoumi (@QadoumiD) April 20, 2020
Some have even co-opted the iconic Tank Man image from the violently suppressed 1989 pro-democracy student protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, and substituted the international BDS mascot—a caricature of poor Palestinian child in threadbare clothing with his back turned to the viewer—for the figure of Tank Man. Added to the tank in the graphic is an enormous blue COVID-19 virus with a Star of David in its center (archived here and here).
— Raghad Hijazi (@RaghadHijazi99) April 20, 2020
— Ahmad Ramadan (@AhmadRa38075295) April 20, 2020
One COVID48 illustration even features two viral ‘cells’, one of which is labeled “COVID19”, the other of which is labeled “COVID48”. Each features a mouth full of sharp teeth, and the one representing Israel holds a large rifle. Above them is a heroic human figure, wearing a Palestinian flag-emblazoned shawl and a ‘Yasser Arafat keffiyeh‘ wrapped around his face in the same style used by Palestinians during violent activities. The figure holds what appears to be a glowing water hose, and is in the midst of washing Israel and coronavirus away (archived here).
— Ahmad Ghabashneh (@AhmadGhabashne2) April 20, 2020
C. Western Anti-Zionists Echo Arab- and Muslim-World Propaganda
With the abundance of COVID-themed anti-Israel propaganda emanating from the Arab and Muslim world, it is not difficult for Western anti-Israel agitators to find and spread claims of Israeli barbarism.
1. Coronavirus as an Israeli Weapon Against Palestinians
In my last COVID post, I cited a cartoon by Brazil-based anti-Israel cartoonist Carlos Latuff (whose cartoons have compared Palestinian violence against Israelis to life-saving heroics by benevolent comic-book characters and won him second prize in the Iranian regime’s Holocaust cartoon contest). He has published several illustrations of his take on Israel and COVID in the anti-Israel blog, Mondoweiss. A cartoon I previously discussed depicts an Israeli soldier perched along the concrete portion of Israel’s security barrier, forcing a harmless, old Palestinian woman at gunpoint to limp forward into a wall of giant COVID-19 viruses.
The image implies that Israel is using the virus to ‘do its dirty work’, so to speak; Latuff seems to operate on the assumption that Israel’s goal is to exterminate Palestinians and views the pandemic as just tool to use in accomplishing this goal. The cartoon also ironically insinuates that Israel is free of COVID cases, whereas it has relegated to Palestinians to areas that are completely saturated with the disease.
Another of his drawings was recently used on a flyer advertising a Twitter hashtag campaign calling legal Israel’s naval blockade on the territory an “epidemic” “siege”, demanding the blockade’s end, and implying that if Israel were to comply, it would “SaveGazaFromCorona”.
The featured cartoon depicts the same old Palestinian woman in his other cartoon, though this time she is trapped alongside multiple massive coronavirus molecules within a tiny, roofless enclosure made of brick. She lifts her arms and appeals to the heavens for “HELP!”
Her prison (Gaza is frequently referred to as an “open-air prison” in anti-Israel agitprop) includes barbed wire lining the tops of its walls, guard towers at the corners, and approximates the geographical shape of the Gaza Strip. It is also equipped with one closed door, secured from the outside by a padlock bearing the Israeli flag. The word ‘Gaza’ is written above the door.
Beyond the enclosure stands a mean-looking Israeli soldier, fully equipped with a facemask, though no viruses approach him. He holds a military rifle and ensures the Palestinian woman does not escape.
The cartoon portrays Israel as brutal, unfeeling military entity, that purposefully subjects already vulnerable Palestinians to inevitable infection and imprisonment. It also erroneously implies, as does the Latuff piece above, that Israel is not threatened by the coronavirus.
As Latuff’s work demonstrates, the pandemic has infused the pre-existing portrayal of Israelis as uniformly, animalistically unjust with new life. One American anti-Israel Twitter user recently asserted that “killing innocents…is just what ZioJews do. They can’t help it. Zionism is a mind disease” (archived here).
Israel is using #COVID19 to kill as many caged Palestinians as possible. Killing innocents out of the way, and massive land theft is just what ZioJews do. They can't help it. Zionism is a mind disease https://t.co/1qyrAzc0eQ
— David R. Evans (@wisermann) April 24, 2020
Champion of victims of Israel, a murderous, racist apartheid abomination Costs US $Trils Formr Sgt USMC & Vets 4 Peace Member,Palestine & M.East Working Group.
2. Claims of Concern and Compliance
All this purposeful Israeli cruelty and negligence has apparently inspired increased levels of world-wide fear for Palestinian health and safety. Sources from all over the globe have warned of an impending Palestinian COVID-pocalypse—engineered (or, at the very least, caused) by Israel.
In my last post, I cited some of these dire predictions about the inevitable tragic fate of Palestinians, should Israel refuse to finally acquiesce to the dangerous demands on it made by the BDS campaign and Arab and Muslim governments alike.
For example, in late March, American Islamist BDS advocate Linda Sarsour cautioned that the coronavirus could exterminate all of Gaza:
This COVID virus could potentially be an entire death sentence for over two million people, and that blood will be on the hands of the American people and the American government, who continues to support and uplift the government in Israel that continues to keep people in an open-air prison.
This could become one of the worst outbreaks of #coronavirus in the world. If the Israeli Government does not immediately lift its own military blockade of Gaza and deliver medical supplies like masks and ventilators, thousands of Palestinians could die.
On March 23, the NGO B’tselem accused Israel of “creat[ing]” the COVID-19 crisis in Gaza, and threatened that Israel won’t be able to “deflect blame” for the coming “nightmare scenario”.
And, as Cary Nelson noted in Fathom,
…the Independent Voices Canada website in March announced an ongoing series of dispatches: ‘The brutal siege of Gaza, and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, are tinderboxes for the Coronavirus.’
Over and over again, the world has been regaled with similar claims of Israeli-wrought and exceptional Palestinian vulnerability to the coronavirus. Not only that, but many of those promulgating this narrative have also insisted that the Palestinians are responding to subsequent alarm by obediently adhering to stay-at-home and social-distancing norms, even in the face of Israeli brutality (tweet archived here).
For instance, on April 9, Al Jazeera English published a photo essay entitled, “People in Gaza take no chances as virus threat looms”, which purports to show how
Authorities and residents in Gaza behave as if coronavirus is already a threat to prevent potential catastrophe.
And only a few days ago, New York-based performance artist and anti-Israel activist Remi Kanazi echoed Al Jazeera‘s claims.
Medical professionals: "Stay home and stay safe!"
Palestinians: "Sounds like a plan!"
*The Israeli army invades their homes anyway*
— Remi Kanazi (@Remroum) April 27, 2020
The Palestinian regimes have also touted their own effectiveness and appropriate action in fighting the virus, even as Israel attempts to stymie their efforts. As Palestinian Media Watch posted, a regular columnist for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Bassem Barhoum, published an April 1 editorial in which he stated,
Until this moment, Palestine – with its president, government, institutions, and forces – is managing the crisis well, despite the enemy neighbor [Israel] exporting to us its worsening crisis with the spread of the epidemic there.
Likewise, some Palestinian residents have been professing fear of the coming COVID “catastrophe,” often in English and in terms that resonate with Western, human rights-oriented sensibilities—as well as portraying themselves as compliant with preventative measures (archived here).
New 7 Coronavirus has been registered rerecently by the ministry of health in Gaza Strip
Our strip is in a real catastrophe!
Hope we be safe 🙏#StayAtHome
— Aseel Safi official (@AseelSafi6) March 26, 2020
In one peculiar example of this phenomenon, a Gaza-based NGO claimed that ancient artifacts in Gaza’s museums were being “sanitized.”
We are told that Gaza is a tinderbox ready to explode with coronavirus and that Gazans are desperately in need of aid to stave off a medical emergency.
Meanwhile, the authorities in Gaza are using resources to sanitize ancient artifacts! Why??? The museums should be closed. https://t.co/ONtXHVqrL2
— kweansmom (@kweansmom) April 17, 2020
At the same time, Palestinian activists involved in the #SaveGazaFromCorona campaign cautioned that because of Israel, “the situation could be disastrous in Gaza more than in any place else and it can be ‘uninhabitable'” (archived here).
Raise you voice for Palestine ..
On Thursday, 26 March, 2020 at 7 pm Jerusalem time pic.twitter.com/bWUNaxWmEP
— Aseel Safi official (@AseelSafi6) March 25, 2020
In other words, if Palestinians are infected or suffering, it must be exclusively Israel’s fault. Indeed, Cary Nelson reported that:
By March 27, the IVC [Independent Voices Canada] website was highlighting a dispatch from Khalil Abu Yahia, a 24 year-old English teacher in Gaza City: ‘The sad thing that we are thinking here in Gaza is that Israel is going to get away with this: they will not be held accountable for our health. Because if you ask yourself why we’re suffering, and why we’re not getting proper treatment for the virus, it’s because we weren’t born to Jewish mothers.’
C. The Reality on the Ground
1. Palestinians Defying Stay-at-Home for Pallywood
While BDS proponents, Palestinian subjects, and even the Palestinian regimes have proclaimed their anxiety over the supposed extra risk of Palestinian infection—and touted their own sensible behavior in the face of a potential Palestinian COVID cataclysm—that anxiety and sense seems to disappear in the face of opportunities to fabricate anti-Israel propaganda or foment anti-Israel fervor.
We have repeatedly covered “Pallywood“—the cottage industry dedicated to exactly that—because it is such a pervasive part of anti-Israel messaging all over the world. Pallywood reinforces anti-Israel narratives by concocting and spreading fake images and stories, or presenting facts in misleading contexts that portray Israel and Israelis in the worst possible light.
And though Pallywood emphasizes the ‘Palestinian David versus Israeli Goliath’ theme, creating content in accordance with that theme often demands the deliberate endangerment of and callous disregard for Palestinian lives.
For example, Palestinians in some areas of Gaza, the West Bank, and eastern Jerusalem have staged weekly Friday afternoon protests against Israel for years. Often, those demonstrations are violent and turn into riots, with Palestinians hurling rocks or Molotov cocktails, setting fire to rubber tires or other debris, blockading streets, etc. Israeli soldiers are then forced to use crowd-dispersal methods such as tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live fire. Naturally, there are often Palestinian arrests, injuries, and even casualties—all of which are then exploited as Pallywood headlines portraying Israel as the aggressor and the “peaceful” Palestinians as the victims.
So it’s no surprise that the pandemic has not slowed the Pallywood machinery. Instead it has ground on, ignoring Palestinians’ supposedly exacerbated risk and flouting prophylactic guidelines in favor of continuing to produce anti-Israel content.
For example, in the Palestinian village of Kafr Qaddum in the northern West Bank, weekly protests have reportedly continued despite stay-at-home and social-distancing norms. Palestinian media have documented Friday anti-Israel demonstrations at least on March 20, March 27, April 3, April 10, April 17, April 24, and May 1. (archived here, here, here, here).
In tweeted photos from the Friday, May 1 clash, Palestinians are clearly shown hurling or slingshotting rocks at Israeli soldiers. One of the photos appears to show one holding a tear-gas canister (archived here).
As usual, the demonstrations have been characterized as “peaceful” or righteous, and their participants as non-combatant “civilians”, despite all evidence to the contrary (archived here, here, and here).
Two Palestinian children and four youths were injured today by rubber-coated metal rounds fired by the Israeli occupation forces during the suppression of a peaceful march in Kafr Qaddum town east of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank. #QNA
— Qatar News Agency (@QNAEnglish) May 1, 2020
The Red Crescent: 8 Palestinian civilians were wounded by the fire of the occupation forces during clashes in the village of Kafr Qaddum, east of Qalqilya. pic.twitter.com/K6LaJ8Dc7s
— Palestine Play (@PalestinePlay) May 1, 2020
Accordingly, Israeli soldiers’ crowd-dispersal methods in response to group aggression during the pandemic have been portrayed as criminal, suppressive, or disproportionately violent (archived here and here).
Scenes from the weekly protest against Israeli settlements in the village of of Kafr Qaddum in the occupied West Bank pic.twitter.com/zQHM8mInh8
— Quds News Network (@Qudsn_en) April 3, 2020
Ironically, some of the clashes in Kafr Qaddum over the past weeks have co-opted ‘coronavirus and occupation’ narratives, even as the participants flouted preventative measures by gathering in groups (archived here and here).
In the same vein, Gazans reportedly gathered publicly in Gaza City on March 19 to protest in demand of ” coronavirus (COVID-19) protection for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails”. A photo of the demonstration by Turkish news outlet Anadolu Agency shows the participants crowded closely together, with most not wearing protective gear.
These are not the only instance of Palestinians ignoring their own dire warnings about heightened COVID risk when an opportunity to collectively vilify Israel presents itself. Palestinian Media Watch documented a March 24 incident near the city of Jenin in the West Bank, in which “Thousands of Palestinians celebrated a terrorist’s release from prison, ignoring PA instructions to self-quarantine.”
According to PMW, the prisoner—Nidal Naghnaghiya Turkeman—was a
Palestinian terrorist who was involved in a number of terror attacks, including the shooting and hand grenade attack against a Likud primaries polling station in Beit Shean in which 6 were murdered on Nov. 28, 2002. Turkeman served 17 years in prison and was released on March 24, 2020.
Footage of the celebration shows hundreds of people packed tightly into the outdoor space. Music plays and some party-goers even shoot live fire into the air with automatic rifles.
A member the Palestinian militant group al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was released today from an Israeli prison. A large crowd gathered in the Jenin camp to celebrate his return. pic.twitter.com/Og3A4BagqY
— Joe Truzman (@Jtruzmah) March 24, 2020
Further, as I also noted in my previous post, on March 30, an official Palestinian news agency tweeted photos of a crowded “press conference” officially marking “Palestine Land Day” (an annual anti-Israel hate fest, which often includes the Great Return March tradition, in which hundreds of Arabs—frequently members of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or other terror groups—rush Israel’s borders, provoking a violent conflict which can then be blamed on the Israeli military) in Gaza (archived here and here).
بمناسبة الذكرى الـ 44 ليوم الارض.. بالصور: مؤتمر صحفي لهيئة مسيرات العودة ومواجهة الصفقة بمخيم العودة شرق مدينة غزة، وذلك للإعلان عن فعاليات يوم الأرض. pic.twitter.com/zyr0NTAYWX
— وكالة الرأي (@alrayps) March 30, 2020
The photos show dozens of people (including children) standing shoulder-to-shoulder, none of whom are wearing masks of any kind. Two of the photos show a woman in a large leg cast and crutches (apparently not lacking in medical equipment, as anti-Israel forces have claimed) trodding happily on a large Israeli flag laid on the ground.
— وكالة الرأي (@alrayps) March 30, 2020
A few weeks later, on April 16, Palestinians reportedly held a “vigil” outside the Gaza City office of the International Committee of the Red Cross to protest on behalf of Palestinian inmates—even those thousands who have been convicted of terrorist acts against Israel. The Quds Network published photos of dozens of people, again gathered closely together, most not wearing masks (archived here).
Clearly visible on some of the signs are the images of Yasser Arafat, current PA president Mahmoud Abbas, legendary Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti, infamous child ‘soldier-slapper’ Ahed Tamimi, and PLO logo.In yet another instance, hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Ramallah on April 27 for the funeral of the “martyr”, 23-year-old Palestinian prison inmate Nour Jaber al-Barghouti. Barghouti apparently died of unknown causes while serving an eight-year prison sentence for attacking Israelis with Molotov cocktails, but Palestinian media have been quick to blame the Israeli prison service for his death. (This is despite at least one Palestinian official’s report that Barghouti committed suicide and another report that Israeli authorities conducted an autopsy with the assistance and oversight of Palestinian professionals.)
Video of the occasion—which featured huge crowds of closely assembled marchers carrying the body aloft through city streets—circulated widely online. Palestinians can be heard chanting slogans in Arabic, including “Allahu akbar” (God is greater/greatest in Arabic) and “With spirit and blood, we will redeem you, Martyr” and waving PLO flags.
You can see some video with added commentary from the anti-Israel publication Middle East Eye here or below.
Many of the attendees took care to record and live stream footage of the procession and the corpse, which is visible in a less-edited video: here or below.
Unfortunately, almost none of them appear to be wearing masks or protective equipment of any kind (archived here).
2. Palestinians Defying Stay-at-Home for Fun
As if all the above public celebrations of anti-Israel violence were not enough, there are plenty of other indications that Palestinians’ strenuously professed fear of a COVID outbreak may not be as genuine as they and BDS proponents would like the public to believe.
In fact, many Palestinians have attended and broadcast public gatherings convened for all kinds of reasons. For instance, as Muslims all over the world observe the holy month of Ramadan, some Palestinian parents in Gaza and Jerusalem are apparently permitting their children to celebrate in large public groups, rather than keeping them at home where the risk of infection is more limited (archived here and here).
In a separate instance, dozens of Palestinians in Rafah, Gaza convened a public street party on April 10 to celebrate the emergence of a resident from quarantine (archive here).
استقبال بالفدعوس لشاب خرج من الحجر الصحي في مدينة رفح
احنا شعب عايشين على مبدأ النفس المطمئنة لها الجنة
ركزوا علي اللي برشرش تعقيم 😂 pic.twitter.com/hCtApFEvx7
— 🎈AL MASSRI (@almassriiii) April 10, 2020
Footage of the party went viral when Gaza-based so-called “journalist” Hind Khoudary (the same woman on whom we reported a few weeks ago in Gaza-based Amnesty Int’l Consultant Accused of Turning In Other Gazans For Video Chat With Israelis) shared it on her Facebook page.
(The footage has since been marked private, but you can watch our archived copy below.)
3. Misallocation of Resources
Even if these crowded assemblies had not belied fearful Palestinian predictions of an approaching COVID calamity, the Palestinian regimes’ stubborn mis-allocation of resources in the age of coronavirus reveals leadership’s insouciance to Palestinian health.
Hamas’ well-documented habit of placing a target on Gaza’s active hospitals by forcing them to double as weapons storage, rocket launching pads, and military headquarters notwithstanding, the Palestinian regimes continue to prioritize terrorist activity above civilian livelihood.
At a time when Palestinian officials constantly complain about the Israel-imposed shortage of resources and economic downturn, the Palestinian Authority continues to dedicate a substantial chunk of change to its “Pay-to-Slay” program—in which it deliberately incentivizes terrorism by paying hefty salaries to the families of ‘martyred’ terrorists.
A report in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida and translated by Palestinian Media Watch quoted the March 29 statements of PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh:
‘Since the wheels of production, import, and consumption have stopped, there will be a large drop of more than 50% in the PA’s revenues… The international aid will decrease because the entire world is in crisis, and therefore we will work according to an emergency austerity budget by reducing the expenses as much as possible.’—
Shtayyeh continued, saying that the PA would pay half of the March and April salaries of now-jobless Palestinian workers who had been employed in Jewish West Bank communities before the shutdown. But, he also urged them not to seek other work in the “Israeli settlements, given that they are illegal and infected with the disease”.
On the other hand, Shtayyeh promised, the PA would use a week-long staggered pay cycle to pay the full monthly allotment to medical personnel, teachers, civil servants, police, PA bureaucrats, and citizens on welfare—as well as convicted terrorists in Israeli jails, and the families of “martyred” terrorists.
According to Shtayyeh’s plan, of those ‘priority’ groups, only medical staff and police precede Israel’s “prisoners” and the families of “martyrs” in their payday schedule. Evidently, teachers, civil servants, and the indigent are not as important to the PA as Palestinians who seek to murder Israeli Jews—even during the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.
It thus should not be a surprise that Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis continue despite the coronavirus outbreak. Indeed, according to a Meir Amit Intelligence Center Report, on April 22
there was a combined vehicular and stabbing attack, the first of its kind since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. It occurred at a roadblock in Judea southeast of Jerusalem near Ma’aleh Adumim. A Border Police fighter was seriously wounded. The Palestinian terrorist who carried out the attack, Ibrahim Muhammad Halse, was shot and killed…As in the past, the PA did not condemn the terrorist attack…PA government spokesman Muhammed Milhem expressed sorrow at the deaths of Ibrahim Halse and Nur al-Din al-Barghouti, a Fatah operative who recently died in an Israeli jail.
In the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis: the first significant terrorist attack in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and a threat to renew IED balloon launchings from the Gaza Strip https://t.co/0GxKOuseKd pic.twitter.com/8FVox31UJL
— Andy Vermaut (@AndyVermaut) April 24, 2020
In response, a Hamas commander threatened that
his operatives would launch IED balloons into Israeli territory as revenge for the deaths of the imprisoned Fatah operative and the “shaheeds of the West Bank.” So far no balloon launches have been identified. The commander of a different balloon-launching unit (affiliated with Hamas) threatened that his operatives might return to intensive activities and “turn the area around the Gaza Strip into a living hell.” The statements are in addition to the threats made by senior Hamas figures against Israel, including Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip, [who declared on April 2 that “if ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis”] as an accompaniment to Hamas’ fight against COVID-19.
4. Israeli-Palestinian Healthcare Cooperation Continues
Yet Behind the propaganda and the bluster, there exists a preponderance of evidence that Israel is actually working hard to help Palestinians throughout the region weather the COVID-19 storm—and that unprecedented partnerships are blossoming between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Meanwhile, in the real world,” as Cary Nelson put it in Fathom,
Israeli and Palestinian health authorities throughout the area continue to be in contact with each other to discuss strategies for containment. A senior Palestinian official in March told The Times of Israel that Israelis and Palestinians ‘set up a special mechanism to communicate “moment-by-moment” on all issues related to the virus.’
On March 24 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHA) issued its first ‘COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report.’ After detailing steps taken in Gaza and the West Bank, the report concludes that,
Since the start of the crisis, the Palestinian and Israel authorities have maintained a close, unprecedented cooperation on efforts aimed at containing the epidemic. Representatives from both ministries of health, as well as from Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), have been meeting on a regular basis to agree on matters of mutual concern, such the understandings concerning Palestinian workers employed in Israel. As part of these efforts, COGAT is facilitating four trainings for Palestinian medical teams, while the Israeli MoH donated over 1,000 testing kits and thousands of PPEs to the West Bank and Gaza.
A touching March 31 account in the Times of Israel described Palestinians, Arab-Israelis, and Jewish-Israelis working together to heal as many people as possible:
A March 29 article reported similar teamwork between Israelis and Palestinians:
The Sheba Medical Center, near the city of Tel Aviv, is ranked among the best in the world and its directors say its standing is thanks to a team of Arab and Jewish caregivers working together in a society otherwise marked by divisions.
…A photo shared widely on social media this week showed two medics pausing to pray in front of their ambulance. One was Jewish — standing and praying in the direction of Jerusalem — and the other a Muslim, who laid out his prayer rug and knelt facing towards Mecca.
“Our goal, both Arabs and Jews, is to protect humanity, and we call for an end to incitement to hatred. We’re in the trenches together working to stop the coronavirus epidemic,” said Shukri Awawda, a senior doctor in the Arab city of Nazareth…
[Professor Elhanan Bar-On, head of Sheba Medical Center] learned more about [Palestinian] concerns last week on a teaching and training mission that brought him and representatives from the Health Ministry and the Palestinian Authority to Jericho, east Jerusalem and at the Erez Crossing on the Gaza border. During the visits, Bar-On shared the experience he has gained treating coronavirus patients in Israel. He was the only Israeli healthcare professional in the delegation.
A third piece noted that:
COGAT…provided the Palestinian public in the PA-ruled West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with an Arabic translation of the [Israeli] Health Ministry’s instructions on self-quarantine, designed to prevent a massive outbreak of the disease. The digital instructions were made accessible on various online platforms.
The #UN has delivered more than a million items, including drugs, medical equipment, personal protective equipment, laboratory materials, thousands of #COVID19 tests, oxygen therapy devices and advanced analysis machines to the occupied #Palestinian territory #WestBank #Gaza
— Nickolay E. MLADENOV (@nmladenov) April 23, 2020
15 ventilators were transferred into Ramallah today with the coordination of COGAT and the Civil Administration Trade and Industry Department. The equipment was donated by the @WHO and @UNICEF to the Palestinian healthcare system for use in hospitals to treat #COVID19 patients. pic.twitter.com/bTWRqIts7v
— COGAT (@cogatonline) April 22, 2020
Last week, 197 tons of medical supplies were transferred through the Kerem Shalom Crossing into the Gaza Strip. pic.twitter.com/G8WrEQh3f9
— COGAT (@cogatonline) April 30, 2020
5. COVID by the Numbers: Statistics, Projection, and Deflection
Despite the last two months’ worth of dire predictions about the disaster Israel and COVID were about to cause for Palestinians, the numbers have consistently reflected a different reality.
The latest accounting puts the total number of coronavirus cases in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank at fewer than 300, with only 17 in Gaza. The Strip has seen no fatalities at all, and 10 of the 17 total patients in Gaza have already recovered. The West Bank has seen only two COVID fatalities, and an April 28 report stated that there had been no new cases recorded in either area for two days.
And of the possibility of under-reporting Palestinian cases? According to an April 3 article in Time magazine,
Experts say such underreporting is unlikely in Gaza. The dozen Gazans diagnosed with COVID-19 were all either recent returnees from abroad already in isolation when they were diagnosed, or members of security forces staying with those returnees at quarantine centers.
Moreover (and somewhat ironically) Gaza especially may have been spared of the very type of COVID-catastrophe the Palestinian regimes claimed to fear by the same Israeli naval blockade that anti-Israel detractors warned would precipitate the coming COVID-pocalypse. In the same April 3 article, Time acknowledged that the blockade has functioned as “Gaza’s principal bulwark against the coronavirus.”
In another strange twist, a May 1 New York Times article pointed out that, for Gaza, the “coronavirus has oddly been an economic boon.”
With demand for masks and protective gear soaring worldwide, Gaza garment factories have been bombarded with new orders since early March by merchants from — of all places — Israel, ordinarily seen by much of Gaza’s Palestinian population as the enemy.
Israel, on the other hand, has seen far more cases than the Palestinians, both in number of cases and fatalities overall, and in percentage of cases and deaths per capita.
Below are the latest figures, according to Google and Wikipedia’s May 1 accounting.
Even in light of these facts, Palestinian officials have shown a familiar reticence to acknowledge information that does not fit their standard, anti-Israel ideological framework. When they have had no choice but to contradict their COVID-tinged Palestinian-David-Israel-Goliath narrative by conceding that Israel’s COVID numbers have far outstripped their own, they still manage to find exclusive fault with Israel. Some government figures have even gone so far as to assert that Israeli casualty counts are high because the Israeli government is motivated by “profit” and would prefer to keep the economy open, contagion be damned.
During a March 29 segment on official Palestinian Authority television program Palestine This Morning, PA Government Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem stated,
“Why is the number of infected [with Coronavirus] high among the Israelis? Because they prioritize money. They don’t want to stop the wheels of production, and so they are sacrificing the infected among their people in order to make more money. The heads of the cartels and the wealthy, and with them [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu, do not want to paralyze the financial life because they are doing the math: Money.”
You can watch PMW’s clip of Melhelm’s declaration here or below.
In an April 2 editorial in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Fatah Revolutionary Council member Muwaffaq Matar embellished Melhelm’s assertions:
The Palestinian [PA] government has mobilized all of its human and material resources in order to stop the advance of ‘the hidden bomb,’ the Coronavirus…but the occupation authorities – which were impressed by the Palestinian government’s ability to stop the number of infected while they failed in stopping the shocking and frightening rise in the number of infected and dead among them, and given the fact that they prefer that the wheel of finance continue turning at the expense of human life – hurried to tempt the Palestinian laborers with easements such as staying at the workplaces for an entire month…In the end, some of them (the Palestinian laborers) discovered that the occupation authorities and the Israeli employers – and the worst of them are in the settlements – do not care about the lives of the Palestinian laborers, but rather [care] first of all about their material and financial profits.
Neither Muwaffaq Matar nor any other Palestinian government official have acknowledged that several anti-Israel organizations—including leading BDS advocacy group American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)—have themselves used the pandemic as a fundraising gimmick.For their part, anti-Israel activists and BDS proponents have reacted to news of Israeli COVID fatalities with similar shamelessness. As I documented in my last post, many responded to the report of 88-year-old Israeli and Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even’s death from the coronavirus with nothing short of glee.
Unfortunately, this elation at Israeli suffering has not been tempered by evidence of Israeli-Palestinian partnerships or Israeli aid—regardless of the immediate, tangible relief that aid has provided to Palestinian citizens. Instead, like Muwaffaq Matar, anti-Israel crusaders have managed to find ways to attribute any positive aspects of Israel’s pandemic-response to nefarious self-indulgence.
Indeed, an April 21 article published at the anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada reiterated the now tired refrain: “Israel has no plan to prevent Gaza outbreak…Gaza’s health care system is on the brink of collapse due to Israeli policies.”
The author of the piece, associate editor Maureen Murphy, attributed the low rate of infection in Gaza to “Palestinian authorities in Gaza” (she didn’t mention that those authorities are the totalitarian theocrats of Hamas), including their so-called prohibition on “crowding…at funerals.” (She also overstated—without a source, naturally—the number of infections the West Bank.)
Still, forced to acknowledge COGAT’s steady stream of Gaza-bound aid, she cited some of the agency’s tweets with photos of medical packages—including one in which COGAT explicitly stated it had merely coordinated the transport of the pictured goods, as they had been donated by the WHO rather than provided by Israeli tax dollars. Nevertheless, Murphy contended (in a perfect exemplar of projection), such tweets demonstrate that
COGAT has exploited the pandemic for propaganda opportunities, posting photos of medical equipment donated by international organizations for Palestinians living under Israeli military rule.
Only a day after Maureen Murphy argued that Israel has exploited COVID for “propaganda opportunities” by coordinating aid deliveries to Gaza, the Associated Press reported:
A Palestinian woman from Syria has become the first refugee living in a camp in Lebanon to test positive for the coronavirus, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Wednesday. It triggered a spate of testing to determine whether other residents have been infected.
…Lebanon, a country of 5 million, hosts tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, most of them living in squalid camps that resemble jungles of concrete. They have no access to public services, limited employment opportunities and no rights to ownership.
The Times of Israel also published an AFP report from the same day:
In coordination with Lebanese security forces, Palestinian factions in charge of security have imposed a lockdown on the [Wavel camp in the eastern Bekaa Valley], preventing anyone from entering or leaving…
More than 2,000 people live in Wavel, according to statistics released by Lebanon’s government after a 2017 census, but the UN agency says the population of those registered in the camp are much higher.
Aid groups have warned that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in Lebanon’s overcrowded camps are the most vulnerable and that self-isolating patients in the camps where sanitation is weak would be one of the top challenges.
…More than 174,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon, according to official figures, with most residing in camps ruled by Palestinian factions beyond the reach of Lebanese security forces.
Yet, as the blogger Elder of Ziyon pointed out, so-called “pro-Palestinian” entities have remained silent regarding this potential Palestinian catastrophe.
Though “the Wavel camp is tiny – a mere 250 meters by 210 meters in a rough rectangle [- and] Lebanese law does not allow any of the camps to expand, so it is hemmed in”, there has been no pro-Palestinian outcry about impending devastation in this far more densely populated “open-air prison”.
This discrepancy can be explained, however. Even in the age of the COVID pandemic, “pro-Palestinians” (and Arab and Muslim regimes) are silent about the evidently more severe Lebanese-Palestinian peril for the same reason they are un-enthusiastic (at best) about positive and measurably impactful steps Israel has taken to cooperate with Palestinians: these inconvenient truths are a threat to anti-Israel propagandists’ actual bottom line.
In another post, Elder of Ziyon explains:
To these sick people, it is literally impossible for Israel or Israelis to do anything admirable outside the context of the conflict. The conflict is everything. To them, Israel itself is defined by its own desire to rid itself of Arabs. Any counter-proof is readily dismissed as nothing more than PR. The concept that most Israelis are just trying to live their lives like everyone else, and that they might even be nice, normal, relatable people, must be combated. If Israelis are perceived by the world as human beings, their message of Israeli criminality gets diluted – and that must be fought. Anything that could blunt the demonization of the Jewish state is by definition as evil as the Jewish state itself is.
Though many work hard to portray themselves as righteous, liberal, “pro-Palestinian” activists, anti-Israel detractors rarely fit that description—as their wide-ranging and immediate hijacking of pandemic panic shows. Such ideologues prioritize their ‘war by other means’ against Israel above all else—even the lives and welfare of their beloved Palestinians.
With the support of naive Western enablers and inspiration from ancient myths and Islamist regimes, anti-Israel forces can twist anything into an anti-Israel cudgel. Let’s hope that, in the wake of the Jewish state’s herculean efforts to care for people who hate it, the less fanatic among them will start to change their tune.
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