Guarding the Israeli border in times of coronavirus

"We will not give Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad an opportunity to carry out attacks"

 Palestinians, wearing masks as a preventive measure against the coronavirus disease, work in a bakery in Gaza City (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
Palestinians, wearing masks as a preventive measure against the coronavirus disease, work in a bakery in Gaza City
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
While hundreds of troops from the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade are busy caring for coronavirus patients, hundreds more of their fellow servicemen are guarding Israel’s border with Gaza.
Though Hamas has closed schools, mosques and wedding halls and banned large street gatherings in the Strip, it has not imposed a total lockdown to curb the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Gaza’s healthcare system would not be able to deal with an outbreak of the deadly disease in the densely populated enclave home to nearly 2 million people.

Maj. Naor Shem Tov (Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)Maj. Naor Shem Tov (Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
“As an army which protects the country, we are prepared for all scenarios. There are always discussions about what would happen if Gazans come to the border looking for medical care, on all levels of command,” Company Commander of the 202nd Paratroopers Battalion, Maj. Naor Shem-Tov, told The Jerusalem Post.
“Troops will not open fire on women and children but at the end of the day we won't give Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) an opportunity to take advantage and carry out attacks like they have during the riots we saw the fence during the Great Return Marches,” he said.
As fear over the continued spread of the coronavirus continues to grow in the blockaded enclave where 13 people have been diagnosed with the virus, Shem-Tov told the Post that the military is also prepared for the resumption of rocket fire towards southern Israel.
In late March a projectile was fired from the Strip and landed in an open field leading the Israeli Air Force to strike Hamas targets in retaliation. The projectile broke a month-long lull in violence and was the first fired in almost a month when a rocket was fired towards southern Israel but landed inside the Gaza Strip.
Troops have been kept on base away from family for the past month and a half in an attempt to prevent the virus from spreading and to ensure continued training and operations. And while there have been several incidents of troops being documented breaking the regulations imposed by the Health Ministry and the Chief of Staff, most soldiers under the current unique circumstances have been obeying.
While they may be far from family, soldiers understand that by being on base is safer than being home where they could get sick or infect others. Troops also continue to work in a “capsule-system” where soldiers work in two or three self-contained shifts where they do not physically interact with each other.
“Troops are very motivated and understand the situation. Some are very concerned about friends and family who might be in quarantine or sick. But they are learning more, are training more, and are getting stronger,” Shem Tov said, adding that by remaining on base “it’s helped keep them healthy.”
But while the regulations have kept the troops on base, that doesn’t stop residents of southern Israel from sending over messages of support.
“The ties between troops and residents of the south are very tight, but because of corona we keep our distance from them. We can't even get shabbat cakes from them,” Shem-Tov said adding that instead of food residents are sending over videos for troops for the Passover holiday and Shabbat.
“It warms the heart even if we can't physically touch. It’s love from afar.”