Coronavirus czar accuses Arabs of ‘attacking’ Israel by spreading virus

Of the nearly 4,000 people in Jerusalem with the virus, almost half are residents of east Jerusalem – with over 40% testing positive

A Palestinian woman waits before leaving Rafah border crossing with Egypt, which was reopened for the first time since it was closed in March over Covid-19 concerns, in the southern Gaza strip August 11, 2020. (photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman waits before leaving Rafah border crossing with Egypt, which was reopened for the first time since it was closed in March over Covid-19 concerns, in the southern Gaza strip August 11, 2020.
(photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
Israel’s new coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, accused the Arab sector of “almost carrying out a terror attack” in an interview Sunday morning with the Hebrew website Ynet.
Gamzu said, “The Arab sector in the last two weeks, after the Eid al-Adha holiday, almost carried out an attack that would have resulted in hundreds of patients. Gatherings, riots, parties, complacency, apathy – thinking coronavirus would not hurt them.”
The commissioner’s comments came against the backdrop of reports of a high rate of infection in east Jerusalem and several Arab villages.
Of the 3,721 people in Jerusalem with the virus as of Sunday evening, around 50% are residents of east Jerusalem, the Health Ministry reported.
Moreover, more than 40% of east Jerusalem residents screened for the virus in recent days have been diagnosed as positive.
Israeli and Palestinian health officials said that the high rate of infections in east Jerusalem was the result of the residents’ flouting of regulations to curb the spread of the disease. They said that more than 100 cases have been recorded almost every day in east Jerusalem since Eid al-Adha two weeks ago.
According to the officials, many residents of east Jerusalem have also been ignoring the regulations by attending weddings and other celebrations in a number of West Bank villages and towns located near Jerusalem. Moreover, gathering for Friday prayers on the Temple Mount has increased infection.
A coronavirus testing center was opened Sunday in the Jebl Mukaber neighborhood to help get a better handle on the situation, and another is expected to open in Sheikh Jarrah in the coming days, according to Mayor Moshe Lion.
“In light of the growing morbidity, the treatment of the residents of east Jerusalem is of paramount importance,” the mayor said. “I congratulate and thank Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, director-general of the Health Ministry Prof. Chezy Levy, and Prof. Ronni Gamzo for their efforts and attention.”
“I say to the Arab community, to their leaders and local authorities – you have the power,” Gamzu said. “Do not wait for the government. Get help from the Home Front Command, from [the Health Ministry].”
Gamzu made his comments on a day that the infection rate was at among its highest in recent weeks: 8.2% of people tested over the weekend were found to be positive for the virus.
The Health Ministry reported that 760 new patients were diagnosed with the virus on Saturday and another 383 between midnight and press time. Some 382 people are in serious condition, including 112 who are intubated.
Ten people died Sunday, bringing the death toll to 685.
In response to Gamzu’s comments, MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) called the commissioner “racist” and said that he related to the Arab community as if its intention was to commit harm.
She added that “nobody has used such a term to refer to all the people gathering on the beachfront, in cafes in Jaffa and Tel Aviv – no one has called them perpetrators,” and that “Gamzu should focus on his work and examine what can be done in particular in the Arab sector.”
MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, also criticized Gamzu over his remarks.
“It is a pity that while Arab doctors are at the forefront of the struggle against the coronavirus, the commissioner comes out with a statement that harms an entire society,” Odeh said. “Instead of making such unfortunate statements, I invite him to work together to defeat the plague.”
MK Mansour Abbas (Joint List) accused Gamzu of offending the entire Arab public. “Prof. Gamzu has forgotten or ignored the fact that the healthcare system consists of sons and daughters of the Arab sector,” Abbas said.
Gamzu apologized for the way he came across during the Ynet interview. He later tweeted that he has a lot of close Arab friends and his favorite food is humus.