PLO: Israel exploiting coronavirus to expand settlements

Criticism comes despite cooperation with Israel in combating the pandemic.

PLO flag hoisted over Jerusalem's Old City walls near the Damascus Gate, Jan. 1, 2020 (photo credit: MAOR TZEMACH/LACH JERUSALEM)
PLO flag hoisted over Jerusalem's Old City walls near the Damascus Gate, Jan. 1, 2020
The PLO,on Saturday accused Israel of exploiting the world’s preoccupation with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic to advance settlement projects and carry out “ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians.
The latest allegation came in spite of the ongoing collaboration between Israel and the Palestinians in combating the virus.
A public opinion poll published last week showed that a majority of Palestinians support the collaboration between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in preventing the spread of the virus.
Despite the cooperation, senior Palestinian officials have continued their condemnations of Israeli policies and measures, particularly regarding settlement construction and settler violence against Palestinians, as well as arrests carried out by the IDF.
The PLO’s National Office for Defending the Land and Resisting Settlements claimed that settlers were “running wild” in light of the state of emergency declared due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
It also accused the Israeli government of pursuing its policy of settlement construction and land expropriation despite the spread of the disease.
The PLO said that Israel was planning to expand settlements in various parts of the West Bank, including Efrat in Gush Etzion and settlements in the Jordan Valley.
A plan published in early March, the PLO noted, aims to alter the use of agricultural land to construction land and for building new roads.
According to the PLO, settlers have set up a number of barracks on land south of Bethlehem that was expropriated by Israel in 2004. The report accused settlers of destroying 50 vine and olive trees near the village of al-Khader, also south of Bethlehem. It further accused settlers of stepping up their attacks on Palestinian farmers in some parts of the West Bank.
“This assault is not the first of its kind, but rather occurred in previous times, as settlers take advantage of the situation to destroy people’s lands, trees and crops,” the PLO report charged. “It’s worth noting that during the past few weeks settlers cut hundreds of olive and grapevine trees in al-Khader, where they also paved a new road.”
Referring to the ongoing arrests of Palestinians suspected of involvement in anti-Israel terror activities, the report said: “The Israeli occupation insists on exposing its true face and ugly racism by storming Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps to arrest Palestinians, while the frequency of settler assaults on Palestinians has increased. This is an escalation of the policy of ethnic cleansing practiced by the occupation authorities.”
The report also condemned Israel for confiscating tents designated for a clinic in the Jordan Valley on March 26. According to B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Civil Administration officials entered the Palestinian community of Khirbit Ibzik in the northern Jordan Valley and confiscated poles and sheeting meant to build eight tents, two for a field clinic, four for emergency housing for residents evacuated from their homes, and two as makeshift mosques.
The PLO also accused Israel of using the spread of coronavirus to restrict the movement of Palestinians in a number of areas, particularly in the village of Barta’a that straddles both sides of the Green Line in the Wadi Ara region.