Palestinian incitement escalates despite coronavirus crisis

This cartoon with the caption “The Palestinian Prisoners” appeared in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on March 23, 2020. It shows an Israeli jailor wearing a uniform and helmet covered in protrusions resembling the peplomers on the Coronavirus viral envelope (Source: Palestinian Media Watch)

As covered in this month’s edition of the Australia/Israel Review (AIR), cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), and even Hamas-linked authorities in Gaza, on combatting the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has been very good – so good that it has received specific praise from the United Nations.

Not generally renowned for pro-Israel remarks, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, called the coordination “excellent” and emphasised that Israel was facilitating the import of emergency testing and protective equipment into Gaza. Even UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres specifically cited Israeli-Palestinian cooperation as an example of politically adversarial entities working towards the greater good.

Unfortunately, as Tzvi Fleischer reported in the latest edition of the AIR, neither self-preservation nor an overwhelming common enemy is enough to tone down the conspiratorial incitement that spews forth on a regular basis from both official PA channels and independent Palestinian media. Moreover, in the week since that report was written, this trend has continued to spiral and arguably worsen.

Just this week, no less a figure than Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh claimed that the IDF was deliberately spreading the coronavirus among Palestinians. “We were exposed to testimonies that some of the soldiers are trying to spread the virus on car handles. This is racism and hatred of people who long for the death of the other. We will record this in the list of crimes.” This absurd libel was initially being spread by independent networks, like the Quds News Network, which is ironically banned and censored by the Palestinian Authority and was recently banned by Twitter.

This lunacy is even present in Israel itself, where Israeli-Arab Member of the Knesset Ahmed Tibi has also reportedly been promoting the lie that there are “IDF soldiers spitting on every Palestinian vehicle” to spread coronavirus.

Furthermore, the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, published an op-ed accusing Israel of deliberately spreading the virus among Palestinian prisoners through negligence, claiming that Israel has “not taken the necessary steps to prevent the spread of the virus, and added insult to injury when they withheld disinfectant and cleaning materials from the prisoners – as if we are on the brink of a holocaust against the Palestinian prisoners…The colonialist and settlement occupation system in the era of Benjamin Netanyahu is proving for the millionth time that it is the most dangerous ‘human virus’ known to man.”

The newspaper has been publishing a series of cartoons equating Israel with coronavirus, while the PA itself continues to use the risk of the virus to pressure Israel to free Palestinian prisoners. The PLO Commission for Prisoners’ Affairs is now alleging that Israel is “exploiting the spread of the coronavirus” to further harass prisoners.

Even worse, the Fatah movement, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, is actively undermining containment measures, and for the worst possible reason: celebrating terrorism. Fatah organized a massive rally in the Jenin refugee camp to mark the release from prison after 17 years of Nidal Turkeman, who murdered at least 6 Israelis in 2002. Fatah claims thousands of Palestinians packed into the area. This received criticism from the PA health authorities – not the celebration of the terrorist per se, of course, but the number of people celebrating in the same place. Criticism notwithstanding, the rally was allowed to go ahead.

Not to be outdone, one of the many militant groups in the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip decided to fire rockets into Israel this week, despite the fact that they’re facing an urgent and unprecedented health crisis in which they need aid that only Israel can facilitate (Egypt is not currently allowing anything to cross its border with Gaza). There are already more than 1,750 Palestinians being held in 25 quarantine centres in Gaza and thousands more isolated at home. The territory is under virtual lockdown and is poorly equipped to handle a mass outbreak of COVID-19,  but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still time to send Israeli civilians running for bomb shelters!

Both Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas released statements on the 44th anniversary of “Land Day,” March 30, in which PIJ “stressed the rejection of all forms of normalisation with the Zionist entity.” That is, they are suicidally rejecting any attempt to combat the pandemic with Israeli assistance.

Meanwhile, Hamas, for its part, is apparently seeking to use the coronavirus crisis to blackmail Israel for financial gain. According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar daily, Hamas informed Israel, via Egypt and Qatar, that if Israel delays the monthly aid package from Qatar to Gaza as part of the restrictions on movement through the border crossings, Hamas would “ratchet up [the conflict] on the ground, on the [Gaza-Israel] border.” Hamas sources are also reported to have said that “the resistance can send half of Israeli society into the bomb shelters, which will increase the number of coronavirus cases and cause Israel to lose control [over the spread of the epidemic].”

Both organisations also stressed their continued dedication to the destruction of Israel, an unfortunate message to be promoting when their very existence could be threatened if they don’t receive Israeli aid. Thankfully, a poll released last week showed 68% of Palestinians supported medical cooperation with Israel.

No matter the stakes for Palestinian wellbeing, conspiratorial incitement and worship of violence continues to undermine efforts to combat the disease.