Israel and the Palestinian Authority have set up a joint operations room to combat the coronavirus pandemic, PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem revealed.
A Defense Ministry official confirmed that a joint operations room has been set up with the Palestinians, but declined to provide further details.
“Our shared borders and relations do not leave room for hesitation to take severe measures and cooperate on the highest levels to prevent the spread of the virus,” Milhem said on Tuesday.
His revelation did not surprise Palestinians, particularly those living in the Bethlehem area, who said that they have been aware of the Palestinian-Israeli cooperation since the first coronavirus cases were discovered at the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala earlier this month.
The PA announced on Wednesday that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 44. It said three cases were discovered in Beit Sahur, east of Bethlehem, on Tuesday, prompting the Palestinian security forces to impose a curfew on the town.
“We have been working with the Israeli authorities from day one to fight the virus,” said a Bethlehem-based Palestinian health official. “Most of the measures we took in the Bethlehem area after the first cases were detected were done in full coordination with the Israeli authorities.”
The official pointed out that Israel has delivered 200 coronavirus test kits to the PA Ministry of Health. Before that, he said, the samples taken from Palestinians suspected of having contracted the virus were sent to an Israeli hospital.
The issue of cooperation between the PA and Israel has always been an extremely sensitive one for the Palestinians.
The PA has often come under sharp criticism for conducting security coordination with Israel. In addition, the PA leadership is often criticized for promoting normalization with Israel by allowing meetings between Palestinians and Israelis.
But cooperation in the medical field, considering the outbreak of the coronavirus, seems to be acceptable these days to most Palestinians.
“Anyone who opposes cooperation with Israel in the medical field would be acting against the interests of our people,” said a PA official in Ramallah. “This is the time to lay aside our differences and work together against the pandemic, which does not distinguish between a Jew and Arab.”
Maj. Yotam Shefer, head of the international department of the Civil Administration, said on Wednesday that in the last three weeks the Office of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, in collaboration with the Health Ministry, has been working to aid the Palestinians, in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“In light of the great importance of this issue, Israel delivered to the PA 400 medical kits, enabling observation of the virus, and 500 protective equipment kits for Palestinian medical staff and security forces as well,” Shefer said. “Also, there are joint tutorials and professional medical workshops for Israeli and Palestinian medical staff, where they are given the knowledge regarding the virus and proper tools in dealing with it.”
Shefer pointed out that as of Wednesday a closure has taken place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the exception of humanitarian cases, such as medical treatments in Israeli hospitals and the entrance of Palestinian medical staff.
“Palestinian workers employed in agriculture, construction, industry and services may enter Israel,” he added. “Also, Palestinian workers employed in the Atarot industrial zone north of Jerusalem may also enter. Due to the sensitive situation and the spread of the virus, all workers entering Israel are subject to accommodation in Israel for a period of one to two months, which is under the responsibility of Israeli employers.”
Workers who chose to go back to their homes in the West Bank earlier than that period won’t be allowed to reenter Israel until further notice, Shefer said.
“It’s also important to note that Bethlehem is still under closure as a result of the spread of the virus in the city,” he said.
“The decision was taken by the PA. Due to the sensitive situation, in the few weeks we made a large effort to coordinate the passage of more than 1,000 international citizens who were staying in Bethlehem toward Ben-Gurion Airport. This important effort was conducted in cooperation and coordination with dozens of embassies and consulates. The health of all citizens in the region stands above all and is our top priority, and we will continue to act in collaboration with the PA in a joint effort.”
Shefer said that the cooperation and coordination between Israel and the PA are conducted in different fields, including civilian and security fields.
“In this case, we are talking about health, and that’s a top priority,” he explained. “Our coordination with the PA is very tight and very strong. We are working together because we understand that eventually this virus doesn’t have boundaries and doesn’t differentiate between Israelis and Palestinians and anyone. We intend to continue this collaboration and coordination.”