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PA compares Israel to the Corona virus; after weeks of silence finally mentions cooperation with Israel

Nan Jacques Zilberdik and Itamar Marcus  |

  • For weeks, PA media has been immersed in the Coronavirus story, including occasional demonization of Israel - without mentioning Israel's efforts in helping the PA. Finally yesterday, the PA Government Spokesman informed Palestinians of the cooperation between Israel and the PA in fighting Corona

Despite Israel's cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in fighting the Coronavirus, the PA has made statements comparing Israel to the deadly virus itself and for weeks didn’t mention Israel's help at all.

Just two days ago, the official PA daily published the above cartoon showing 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. [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 16, 2020]

An editorial in the paper compared Israel to “all of nature’s viruses,” stating it is “more dangerous”:

“Just as we will overcome the Coronavirus, we will certainly overcome the occupation’s viruses that are more dangerous than all of nature’s viruses.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 11, 2020]

Two weeks ago, PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh stated that the PA was dealing with both “the Corona virus and the occupation virus”: 

PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh: “On behalf of my brothers in the [PA] government, I call on all of the organizations to prioritize the good of the homeland and prioritize dialogue over a strike, because in practice we are at a critical and difficult stage that is not connected only to disease and the Coronavirus or the occupation virus.”

[Facebook page of PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh, March 3, 2020]

Similarly, the governor of Ramallah compared life with Israel to life with Corona, stating that as Palestinians managed to live through the intifadas – the PA’s terror campaigns - so it will “live through the Coronavirus”: 

Governor Laila Ghannam: “We lived through the first Intifada (i.e., Palestinian terror wave, approximately 200 Israelis murdered, 1987-1993), we lived through the second Intifada (i.e., PA terror campaign 2000-2005, more than 1,100 Israelis murdered), we lived through curfew, we lived through a stoppage of salaries-”
Host: “We need to live through the Coronavirus.”
Ghannam: “… Coronavirus is not more difficult than the occupation, not more difficult than the siege.”

[Facebook page of Ramallah and El-Bireh District Governor Laila Ghannam, 
March 12, 2020]

Fatah even accused Israel of “helping the Coronavirus” and showing “indifference regarding the spread of the virus among the Palestinians” when Israel arrested some young Palestinians on suspicion of illegal activity, including graffiti. Fatah claimed the Palestinians were “disinfecting public institutions”: 

“The occupation assists the Coronavirus in Jerusalem… 
Fatah held Israel fully responsible for the infection of any Palestinian in Jerusalem with the Coronavirus, after it arrested the young people and prevented them from fighting the virus. Fatah said in a statement from its spokesman [and Fatah Revolutionary Council member] Osama Al-Qawasmi: ‘The arrest of Palestinians in Jerusalem by the occupation authorities proves absolute contempt for the Palestinians’ lives, and indifference regarding the spread of the virus among the Palestinians.’”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 17, 2020]

Until yesterday, the PA leadership and its controlled media had not said a word about Israel's help to the PA fighting the Corona crisis. Among other things, COGAT – the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories - has published information about Corona and guidelines on prevention and protection from the virus in Arabic, which is available to the entire Palestinian population. Israel has also provided the PA with 20 tons of disinfectant material and Coronavirus testing kits. Israel has also arranged joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical personnel. [COGAT website, different reports, accessed March 2020] 

Finally last night, PA Government Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem announced that Israel and the PA will establish a joint situation room: 

PA Government Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem: "Honestly and unequivocally, we have established a joint situation room with the Israelis to deal with this plague, or epidemic according to the definition of the World Health Organization (WHO), which has declared epidemic, this virus, a pandemic. The adjacent borders and the entwined relations between us and the Israelis do not allow for hesitation in taking strict steps and coordinating at the highest levels in order to prevent the spread of this epidemic. Regarding the [Palestinian] workers in the settlements, we are warning the workers against the focal point that is now in the settlements, the focal point of the epidemic. The settlements have become the focal point of the epidemic. Therefore, it is not possible to [continue] to be in contact with these focal points.”

[Official PA TV News, March 17, 2020]

Last month though, the same PA government spokesman compared defeating the Coronoavirus to defeating what he called the “Trump virus”: 

PA Government Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem: "If the Chinese have now succeeded in containing the Coronavirus – then the Palestinians, like the Chinese, have the ability to contain the Trump virus. They are using antibiotics in an attempt to discover-”
Official PA TV host: "Biological antibodies."
Melhem: "Yes. So we can make anti-policies. We have the anti-Trump-policy ability in order to deal with Trump's policy, with Trump's bullying in the Middle East."

[Official PA TV, Topic of the Day, Feb. 9, 2020]

A host on official PA TV accused Israel of demonization of the PA, alleging that Israel has stated that it got the Coronavirus from Bethlehem in the PA. Israel has said no such thing but took measures supported by the PA when it became apparent that there was a serious outbreak of Corona in Bethlehem. In addition to twisting the facts, the PA TV host in turn demonized Israel, accusing Israel of “exporting” Corona to the PA: 

Official PA TV host 1: “While we are monitoring the topic of the Israeli focus on the Coronavirus, there is an issue that indicates the level of insolence and racism. They are talking about the West Bank as if it were the source of this epidemic, while the truth and even the news articles published [in Israel] indicate that one of the reasons of the contagion [in the PA] arrived from within the Green Line (i.e., Israel). They speak about the West Bank as if it is the one that exported this epidemic to Israel. We do not wish for the spread of this epidemic anywhere in the world, but this is an act of demonization that the senior Israeli officials are taking part in and also the Israeli media, as if Bethlehem is what imported this epidemic to Tel Aviv, while the opposite is true even according to the Israeli sources.”

[Official PA TV, Israel Parenthetically, March 10, 2020]

Palestinian Media Watch exposed a sermon broadcast by official PA TV in which the preacher taught that the Coronavirus is “one of Almighty Allah’s soldiers.” 

Unidentified preacher: "The true meaning of the epidemics is a trial from Almighty Allah and a punishment. A trial for the believers and a punishment for the sinners… If they have stood firm and place their trust in Allah, then they will receive an enormous reward, and whoever dies in the epidemic merits the reward of Martyrdom… If the epidemic harms non-believers, from among the abusers and the aggressors, then that is punishment… This [Corona] virus is one of Almighty Allah’s soldiers, and He is unleashing it on those who attack His believers…"

[Official PA TV, Feb. 28, 2020]

Another PA reaction to the Corona crisis has been to demand that Israel release all terrorists from Israeli prisons:

PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh: "I demand that the Israeli occupation authorities release all of the prisoners, beginning with the sick, those with chronic illnesses, children, and women, in order to protect their health. We hold the occupation responsible for harm to any one of them, and call on the international authorities, the Red Cross, and the humanitarian institutions to visit the prisons, work for their release, and guarantee their health under these international and local conditions."

[Official Fatah Facebook page, March 14, 2020]

Meanwhile the PA has also proclaimed itself a master of combatting Corona. Both an editorial and an op-ed in the official PA daily claimed the PA is so good at dealing with the crisis that it has been suggested in Israel that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu learn from the PA in Ramallah how to fight the virus:

“We will note what has been conveyed in the Israeli media outlets – praise for the functioning of the besieged Palestinian [PA] government, which is suffering from a financial crisis and despite this has succeeded in taking effective steps to deal with the [Corona]virus, while the Tel Aviv government with all its economic and medical capabilities has not succeeded in dealing with the epidemic, to the point that one of the Israelis has demanded that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his government go to Ramallah and learn from the Palestinian government how to manage crises.”

[Op-ed in official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 15, 2020]

"The Palestinians… have become a role model thanks to their humanitarian, cultural, and medical steps in their struggle against the Corona epidemic. They have become a role model even in their willingness to coordinate with those who are occupying them in order to eradicate this epidemic. Their steps have proven to be recognizably efficient, and there are those in Israel who demand that their government follow the PA's lead in this matter. " 

[Editorial in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 17, 2020]

PMW is not aware of any Israelis having made such a statement. 

Regardless of its demonizing attitude to Israel, the PA is taking the Coronavirus very seriously. PA Chairman Abbas announced a state of emergency for 30 days on March 5, 2020, and from early on, official PA TV has broadcast instructions daily on how to maintain proper hygiene and where to call for help. The news reports are constantly updating on the number of people sick with the virus, informing the population of how the PA is dealing with it, and every evening there is a TV program that functions as an open hotline for people to call in and ask questions.

In addition, the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs has limited prayers to people’s homes and decided that mosques are to be used for calling to prayer only, and churches only for ringing the bells in order to avoid gatherings of many people. This was officially announced on Fatah’s official Facebook page and in the official PA daily [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 15, 2020]

“In order to accommodate ourselves to the health considerations of decreasing contact with people and reducing gatherings as much as possible – we at the [PA] Ministry of Religious Affairs call on our people in Palestine, Muslims and Christians, to hold their prayers in their homes.”

[Official Fatah Facebook page, March 14, 2020]

The following are longer excerpts of the reports cited above and additional ones:

Official PA TV, broadcast of PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh declaring a state of emergency due to the Coronavirus epidemic

PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh:
"In the name of All Merciful Allah
An order issued by His Honor [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas for 2020 on the declaration of a state of emergency
President of the State of Palestine
Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee

1.    We henceforth declare a state of emergency in all of the Palestinian territories in order to deal with the danger of the Coronavirus and prevent its spread.
2.    The bodies of authority will receive the authority to carry out all of the necessary measures in order to deal with the dangers coming as a result of the Coronavirus and to protect the health of the public and achieve security and stability.
3.    This state of emergency will last for 30 days.

Published in Ramallah on March 5, 2020
Muhammad Abbas
President of the State of Palestine
Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee"

[Official PA TV, March 5, 2020]

Headline: "The [PA] government held an emergency meeting to discuss the budget and determine economic plans to deal with the state of emergency – Shtayyeh: We will not hesitate to make any decision or implement any measure that will guarantee the wellbeing of our people"
"[PA Prime Minister Muhammad] Shtayyeh said: 'A week has passed since we began to implement measures, and these were done in time and reduced the extent of the harm and prevented the spread of the Coronavirus… 
He again called on the citizens to hold prayers at home and refrain from being in crowded places, and thanked all of our people for their understanding and cooperation in dealing with the epidemic, and also thanked all of the teams that are working day and night to protect our people.
The prime minister demanded that the occupation authorities release all of the prisoners, and particularly the sick among them, those sick with chronic illnesses, and the children, in order to protect their lives given the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Israel. He held the occupation authorities responsible for any harming of a prisoner by the illness. He called on the international authorities, the Red Cross, and the humanitarian organizations to visit the prisons and work for their release and to guarantee their wellbeing…
The prime minister said: 'This epidemic and dealing with it, and the continued deduction of the Martyrs and prisoners' money (refers to Israel's Anti "Pay-for-Slay" Law; see note below –Ed.), the reduction in the rate of production, and the reduction in income… will be expressed in local income, taxes, and international aid, and therefore will affect the 2020 budget.'
Shtayyeh thanked the merchants for the cooperation and for not raising the prices and exploiting the people's situation, and explained that we have no shortage of food products… and said: 'We are doing everything we can in order to assist all of our poor people and reach them in these difficult circumstances.’"

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 15, 2020]

Israel's Anti "Pay-for-Slay" Law - Israeli law stating that the PA payments to terrorists and the families of dead terrorists is a financial incentive to terror. The law instructs the state to deduct and freeze the amount of money the PA pays in salaries to imprisoned terrorists and families of "Martyrs" from the tax money Israel collects for the PA. Should the PA stop these payments for a full year, the Israeli government would have the option of giving all or part of the frozen money to the PA.  The law was enacted by the Israeli Parliament on July 2, 2018, and its first implementation was approved by Israel's Security Cabinet on Feb. 17, 2019, when it decided to withhold 502,697,000 Israeli shekels (approximately $138 million) from the PA. In response, the PA announced it would not accept any of the tax money collected by Israel unless it also included the frozen amount.  During the initial parliamentary vote in 2018, the law's sponsor Avi Dichter said: “The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee received much help in its deliberations... from Palestinian Media Watch who provided us with authentic data that enabled productive and professional deliberations, nuances that are very difficult to achieve without precise data.” [Israeli Parliament website, July 2, 2018]

Posted text: “As a means to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus: The [PA Ministry of] Religious Affairs decides to limit prayer to homes and not to go to mosques and churches”

Text in document: “In response to the words of Allah: ‘O you who have believed, take your precaution’ [Quran, Sura 4:71, Sahih International translation], and in order to accommodate ourselves to the health considerations of decreasing contact with people and reducing gatherings as much as possible – we at the [PA] Ministry of Religious Affairs call on our people in Palestine, Muslims and Christians, to hold their prayers in their homes.
Our Messenger [Muhammad], may Allah bless him and grant him peace, says: ‘[All of] the land was a mosque and purity for me. Every man of my nation who arrived for the prayer time – let him pray despite the limitations of the mosques to [only] calling for prayer – this is according to the Messenger’s instructions, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, when there is justification [for not coming to the mosque] that is expressed by rain, cold, or wind.’ All the more so in epidemics and illnesses, [Muhammad], blessing and peace be upon him, ordered the Muezzin (i.e., the person who sings the Muslim call to prayer) to say after the call to prayer: ‘Please pray in your homes,’ and also that the churches be limited to just the sounds of the bells.”

[Official Fatah Facebook page, March 14, 2020]

Headline: "The [PA Ministry of] Religious Affairs decided to limit prayers to home and not going out to mosques and churches"
"The [PA] Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a decision to limit the prayers of citizens to their homes and not to go out to mosques and churches in all areas of the State of Palestine, beginning yesterday [March 14, 2020] and until further notice. This is based on the guidelines of the [PA] Ministry of Health and expert doctors.
The ministry said in a statement: 'In accordance with the recommendations of the Ministry of Health to reduce contact between people, and reduce gatherings as much as possible, we call on the Muslim members of our people in Palestine to hold prayers in their homes, and that the mosques serve only for the call to prayer in accordance with the guidelines of Prophet [Muhammad] at a time when there is difficulty due to rain, cold, or a stench, so how much more so in the case of an epidemic and sicknesses.' …[The ministry] added: 'We also call on our Christian brothers to stop the prayers in the churches and limit their role to ringing the bells in accordance with this position.'
And it announced: 'This world epidemic has not stopped circling and is liable to take the lives of millions of people. The instructions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the experts are based on research and precautions, and violating these instructions is liable to cause disasters and harm to people's lives – which Allah determined are holier than the supreme Kaaba (i.e., in Mecca, Islam's holiest site) – and how could it not be, for Shari'ah [law] is based on protecting lives.’" 

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 15, 2020]

Official PA TV program Israel Parenthetically, on whether there will be a fourth round of elections in Israel

Official PA TV host 1: “While we are monitoring the topic of the Israeli focus on the Coronavirus, there is an issue that indicates the level of insolence and racism. They are talking about the West Bank as if it were the source of this epidemic, while the truth and even the news articles published [in Israel] indicate that one of the reasons of the contagion [in the PA] arrived from within the Green Line (i.e., Israel). They speak about the West Bank as if it is the one that exported this epidemic to Israel. We do not wish for the spread of this epidemic anywhere in the world, but this is an act of demonization that the senior Israeli officials are taking part in and also the Israeli media, as if Bethlehem is what imported this epidemic to Tel Aviv, while the opposite is true even according to the Israeli sources.”
Official PA TV host 2: “The occupation is always attempting to cancel you, to lessen your value. This is the existing Israeli style. It is attempting to cancel you and lessen your value. Bethlehem is not the source of the Coronavirus and the like. Bethlehem is the source of peace. In other words, it is the cradle, and this land first and foremost is the cradle of the religions, peace, and love. But these Israelis are maintaining the opinion that you are nothing more than a laborer or collaborator or other terms, and they want to take away the humanity from you.”

[Official PA TV, Israel Parenthetically, March 10, 2020]

Headline: “The occupation assists the Coronavirus in Jerusalem and arrests 12 citizens because they disinfected public facilities in the city”
“The Israeli occupation’s intelligence service yesterday evening [March 16, 2020] arrested 12 young [Palestinian] people in Jerusalem who disinfected a number of public institutions and facilities in the city (sic., 1 0 arrested by Israeli police “on suspicion of illegal activity” including graffiti).
Fatah Movement Secretary in Jerusalem Shadi Mattour said: ‘Our young people fulfilled their national role in defending our people in Jerusalem given clear neglect and negligence on the part of the occupation municipality in Jerusalem.’
He added: ‘The residents of Jerusalem have gotten used to relying on themselves. They hang no hopes on the occupation's municipality, and they do not rely on its racist institutions. What the occupation did to the young people who provided a service to their people proves that this occupation is terrorist and racist.’ …
Fatah held Israel fully responsible for the infection of any Palestinian in Jerusalem with the Coronavirus, after it arrested the young people and prevented them from fighting the virus. Fatah said in a statement from its spokesman [and Fatah Revolutionary Council member] Osama Al-Qawasmi: ‘The arrest of Palestinians in Jerusalem by the occupation authorities proves absolute contempt for the Palestinians’ lives, and indifference regarding the spread of the virus among the Palestinians.’”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 17, 2020]

Excerpt of an op-ed by Riyad Qadryyah

Headline: “In the time of Coronavirus we tip our hats”
“We will note what has been conveyed in the Israeli media outlets – praise for the functioning of the besieged Palestinian [PA] government, which is suffering from a financial crisis and despite this has succeeded in taking effective steps to deal with the [Corona]virus, while the Tel Aviv government with all its economic and medical capabilities has not succeeded in dealing with the epidemic, to the point that one of the Israelis has demanded that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his government go to Ramallah and learn from the Palestinian government how to manage crises.
What inspires my pride even more is when the State of Palestine was placed alongside the large State of China as the second state in the world declaring a state of emergency and imposing a blockade on the epidemic with full seriousness.
We as a people need to be proud of our wise [PA] President [Mahmoud Abbas] and leadership, and our righteous government that is working day and night to provide us with security.”

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 15, 2020]

Official PA daily editorial

"It may be that the most prominent and important thing that the Coronavirus is revealing to all of humanity now is that there is no blue blood on the planet, and therefore racism is nothing more than an idea riddled with delusions and arrogance…
The racist separation walls that the Israeli occupation has stretched like a snake across the face of our land, (sic., Israel erected the security fence to keep Palestinian terrorists out.) and that US President Donald Trump wants to establish on the border of his country with Mexico… do not and cannot prevent what is really threatening the lives of those who are enclosed within them. More importantly, the Palestinians whom these walls fight have become a role model thanks to their humanitarian, cultural, and medical steps in their struggle against the Corona epidemic. They have become a role model even in their willingness to coordinate with those who are occupying them in order to eradicate this epidemic. Their steps have proven to be recognizably efficient, and there are those in Israel who demand that their government follow the PA's lead in this matter. The Palestinians emphasize this willingness because in their awareness and in their culture there are no racist walls."

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 17, 2020]

Official PA TV News, on Coronavirus, interview with PA Government Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem

PA Government Spokesman Ibrahim Melhem: "Honestly and unequivocally, we have established a joint situation room with the Israelis to deal with this plague, or epidemic according to the definition of the World Health Organization (WHO), which has declared epidemic, this virus, a pandemic.
The adjacent borders and the entwined relations between us and the Israelis do not allow for hesitation in taking strict steps and coordinating at the highest levels in order to prevent the spread of this epidemic. Regarding the [Palestinian] workers in the settlements, we are warning the workers against the focal point that is now in the settlements, the focal point of the epidemic. The settlements have become the focal point of the epidemic. Therefore, it is not possible to [continue] to be in contact with these focal points.”

Official PA TV newsreader: "Allow me - this is as part of the existing situation where the numbers of [people infected with Coronavirus in Israel] are not increasing at a high rate; but what if the epidemic spreads in Israel?"
Ibrahim Melhem: "We are taking [precautions]. We know that Israel constitutes a large breach for us."

[Official PA TV News, March 17, 2020]
 

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