Israel may seal West Bank passages to PA territory to limit COVID-19

“Travel between the Palestinian territories and Israel is something that is bringing up infection – we see an increase in the number of cases from it.”

The Kalandiya Crossing. (photo credit: COGAT SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
The Kalandiya Crossing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weighing temporarily closing crossings between Israeli and Palestinian territory in the West Bank in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19.
“In light of the dramatic jump in morbidity in the Palestinian Authority,” Netanyahu “ordered that closing the crossings be evaluated immediately,” the Prime Minister’s Office’s said in a statement.
A similar step was taken earlier this year. Palestinian officials said on Wednesday that they were unaware of any Israeli decision to close checkpoints to and from the West Bank, as coronavirus infections continue to rise among Palestinians.
“We haven’t received any official announcement from the Israeli side regarding this issue,” a senior Palestinian Authority official told The Jerusalem Post.
 The official pointed out that the PA was considering banning Arab-Israelis from entering the West Bank in the coming days as part of efforts to stem the spread of the virus.
According to the official, many Arab-Israelis have been holding weddings and other gatherings in various parts of the West Bank, especially Jericho and Bethlehem, in violation of health restrictions concerning the coronavirus.
Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy said Wednesday during a briefing that “there is suspicion that when [workers] come from the territories they are bringing the virus with them and infecting Israelis.” He added, “We are evaluating how to test those people who are coming to work and how many we will allow [into Israel] to help stop the spread of the virus from the territories into Israel.”
Infection has also been spread through Arab Israelis traveling to markets in the territories and coming back from weddings and other illegal gatherings being held beyond the green line, Levy said.
“Travel between the Palestinian territories and Israel is something that is bringing up infection – we see an increase in the number of cases from it,” he stressed. “We need these events to be prevented” by the Police and the army.
Levy added that the rate of infection in the Arab sector in general is much higher in proportion to the number of citizens, and that the Health Ministry’s Arab desk is doing what it can to help the community reduce morbidity by working with local authorities and religious leaders.
There are currently 15 red cities and many more orange cities. The majority of them are Arab.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians enter Israel to work each day. During the first wave, Israel allowed a certain number of Palestinians to enter but they had to stay for long periods in closed apartment units rather than travel back and forth between Israel and the territories. The defense establishment has said it is not interested in putting similar measures in place this time, N12 reported. The Housing and Construction Ministry said that if workers are banned from Israel, several projects could be delayed.
According to data presented at the coronavirus cabinet meeting by the National Security Council earlier this week, nearly 47% of all new infections in Israel in the past week were within Arab society. Similarly, 60% of all infections among school children are within that sector.
The Palestinian official said he did not know whether Israel was planning to prevent Palestinians from entering the country as part of the efforts to combat the disease. “We are holding daily consultations and discussions with the Israeli side on this issue,” the official added. “We are working together.”
Earlier this month, the IDF issued an order banning Israeli citizens from entering Area B of the West Bank to slow a rise in coronavirus cases among Arab Israelis. Under the 1995 Oslo II Accord, Area B is located under PA civilian control and Israeli security control.
Despite the ban, thousands of Arab-Israelis continued to visit the West Bank in the past weeks, mainly because the IDF did not take measures to enforce the order, another PA official said.
Samer al-Assad, director-general of Preventive Medicine at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, said on Wednesday that the coming days would see an increase in the number of infected people.
Al-Assaad told Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, that an expected increase in the number of deaths and case numbers has been observed in recent days. During the last 48 hours, 26 deaths and 3,666 COVID-19 cases were recorded, after a state of stability in the numbers of deaths and illnesses. He warned that the number of infections would increase during the Winter.
“Palestine has entered the stage of societal spread of the virus, meaning that the source of infection is not known, and that there are undiagnosed infections, due to the reluctance of a number of citizens to conduct tests, and failure to adhere to home quarantine, in addition to infected people who do not show any symptoms,” Assad said.
He revealed that there was an increase in infections in schools, but said it was “within a reasonable rate and is still under control.”
More than 750 Palestinians have died of the coronavirus since the outbreak of the pandemic in March, Palestinian health officials confirmed on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the PA government in Ramallah ordered a total lockdown from Friday morning until Sunday morning in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.