Israeli authorities say the Palestinian Authority is violating their sovereignty by operating in Jerusalem on the pretext of combating the coronavirus outbreak.
The PA and east Jerusalem residents say their activities are limited to medical and relief assistance and are unrelated to issues of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Over the past few weeks, some east Jerusalem residents have been detained by the police on suspicion of acting on behalf of the PA and its ruling Fatah faction to prevent the spread of the virus in several neighborhoods and villages in the city.
Police officers detained the PA “governor” of Jerusalem Adnan Gheith on Sunday morning.
Last Friday, PA Jerusalem Affairs Minister Fadi al-Hidmi was briefly detained by the police.
The two officials are suspected of overseeing the work of “emergency relief committees” that were established in Arab neighborhoods and villages in Jerusalem after the coronavirus outbreak last month.
The committees consist of hundreds of volunteers, some of whom are affiliated with Fatah. The volunteers have been spraying disinfectant and distributing food parcels to many families in Jerusalem.
Last week, the police detained four members of a relief committee in the village of Sur Baher, south of Jerusalem, and confiscated 300 food parcels.
Earlier, the police detained 12 east Jerusalem residents who were caught spraying disinfectant in mosques and churches in various parts of the city. Four residents were detained for distributing pamphlets with instructions to the Arab residents of Jerusalem regarding the fight against coronavirus.
Israel says the Palestinians have been acting in violation of the Law for the Implementation of the Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area – Restriction on Activity – 1994, which bans the PA from carrying out political, governmental or similar activity within the area of the State of Israel, including east Jerusalem.
The law prohibits the PA from opening or operating a representative mission or holding meetings in the area of the State of Israel and authorizes the police to take any action necessary to ensure its implementation.
Over the past few months, the police have stepped up efforts to prevent the PA from operating in Jerusalem.
Gheith and al-Hidmi, the PA’s two senior representatives in Jerusalem, frequently have been detained for interrogation about their activities among the Arab residents of the city.
The two, who hold Israeli-issued ID cards in their capacity as permanent residents of Israel, have been served with orders banning them from entering the West Bank. The orders are aimed at preventing them from coordinating with PA officials concerning their activities within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries.
On Sunday, police officers raided the home of Shadi Mtour, secretary-general of Fatah in Jerusalem, and summoned him for interrogation about his activities in the city.
Last week, Mtour said the Israeli authorities were not doing enough to protect Arab residents of Jerusalem against the possible spread of coronavirus. Dozens of residents have volunteered to work with a recently established group called The Jerusalem Association for Combating Coronavirus, he said. The volunteers include physicians, nurses, school teachers, journalists, paramedics and lawyers, Mtour said.
Attorney Majd Owais told the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida the Israeli authorities in Jerusalem gave priority to dealing with Jews, “while the fate of the [Arab] residents remains unknown.”
Hours before he was detained by the police on Sunday morning, Gheith warned the local Arab residents not to purchase furniture or any other items from religious Jews on the eve of Passover on the pretext they may be contaminated with coronavirus.
PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh denounced the crackdown on Palestinian activists in Jerusalem. The World Health Organization should condemn the Israeli measures, which “constitute an attack on the organization’s protocols in facing this pandemic,” he said.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi also denounced the crackdown. She accused Israel of obstructing “all self-help efforts and arresting volunteers for the crime of assisting Palestinian Jerusalemites in resisting coronavirus.” Israel “wants only defeated or infected Palestinians,” Ashrawi said.
Some of the east Jerusalem volunteers who were briefly detained last week said their activities were unrelated to political issues.
“Since when is spraying disinfectant in public places considered a crime?” asked one volunteer from the Old City. “We are ready to work with any party that will help the Arabs of Jerusalem. But if Israel doesn’t want to work with us, it should at least stop preventing us from helping our people.”
Another volunteer said he and his friends were shocked to see how much effort the Israeli authorities were taking to stop them from helping Arabs in Jerusalem during the pandemic.
“Our work is not political, and there is no reason for Israel to panic,” he said.