One of the many ironies of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is that its proponents routinely use Israeli products, innovations and medical treatments. Now they face another challenge: should they risk dying from the coronavirus rather than accept help from Israel?
Just as most Palestinians in the disputed territories have ignored the BDS campaign mounted by people who don’t live with the consequences of their antisemitic movement, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, the public, and even Hamas are welcoming Israeli help in fighting the coronavirus.
Of course, some people would like to blame Israel for the virus. The “Students for Justice in Palestine” chapter at the University of Maryland, for example, planned a conference on March 10, 2020, suggesting Israel is at least to blame for exacerbating the problem in the territories (“Perverted Israel-haters claim Israel trying to sicken Palestinians with Covid-19,” Elder of Zion¸ March 10, 2020).
BDS advocate, Cal State Stanislaus Professor Asad Abukhalil, tweeted, “Israel will—I am sure—have different medical procedures for Jews and non-Jews. Non-Jews will be put in mass prisons” (@asadabukhalil, March 8, 2020).
In fact, Israel is doing a great deal to help the Palestinians contain a coronavirus outbreak that apparently began when 19 people in Bethlehem tested positive for the disease. Israel quickly provided 250 coronavirus test kits to the Palestinian Authority and began joint training sessions for Israeli and Palestinian medical personnel to study the virus, the protection of medical personnel, and the testing of patients suspected of being virus carriers. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is also providing Israeli health ministry guidelines on prevention and protection from the virus on its website and Arabic language social media pages.
“We will continue working to help the Palestinian authorities curb the spread of the virus, both as an Israeli interest and for humanitarian reasons,” said Israeli Civil Administration Health Coordinator Dalia Basa. “We will expand medical training to Palestinian personnel as much as possible, as well as the transfer of medical equipment to the Palestinian healthcare system” (“Joint Israeli & Palestinian medical teams work to prevent further spread of Coronavirus,” COGAT, March 5, 2020).
In a tweet, COGAT said on March 7, 2020: “Public health in Israel and the Palestinian territories is always our top priority and particularly at this time. We are making every effort, in collaboration with all the relevant parties, to protect the health and wellbeing of the region’s residents” (@cogatonline, March 7, 2020).
This applies to Gaza as well where the Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the receipt of test kits and medical equipment from Israel requested by medical personnel in Gaza. “Handling the coronavirus outbreak takes precedence over any political consideration, and without help from Israel, Gaza would be in a very difficult situation in the case of an outbreak,” said a ministry official (Daniel Siryoti, “Why is the Gaza Strip calm these days? Hamas knows the answer,” Israel Hayom, (March 10, 2020).
In the last week of February alone, Israel permitted more than 100,000 Palestinians to enter Israel for medical treatment. Nearly 70,000 more were admitted the first week of March. On March 10, COGAT “coordinated the transfer of 20 tons of disinfectant material from Israeli plants to Palestinian plants. The materials included chlorine and hydrogen peroxide, used for disinfection, preservation of hygiene and sanitation” (@cogatonline, March 1 and 10, 2020).
As of March 12, 2020, 29 Palestinians in the West Bank were diagnosed with the virus. The Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency and, in cooperation with Israeli authorities, closed the city of Bethlehem. The PA also shut schools, tourist sites, churches and mosques (Jack Khoury, “Bethlehem Becomes a Ghost Town After Coronavirus Closure,” Haaretz, March 8, 2020).
Meanwhile, COVID-19 tests from Palestinians were sent to laboratories at Israel’s Sheba Hospital.
Such cooperation is counter to the anti-normalization campaign of the BDS movement; however, An-Najah University epidemiologist Zaher Nazzal said, “Whenever there’s a crisis that affects the people’s health, collaboration should be possible” (Joshua Mitnick, “‘Something human:’ Mideast fight against virus elicits rare unity,” Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2020).
The Palestinians’ lack of involvement in joint health activities in recent years may now be coming back to haunt them. A Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance was set up by the Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian governments 15 years earlier to promote research collaboration and provide joint epidemiological training for doctors and nurses. In recent years, however, the Palestinians stopped participating.
Even sadder, as Israel is working with Palestinian officials to address the virus outbreak, incitement against Israel continues, including the propagation of blood libels, such as the claim “Jewish settlers have been releasing wild boars in parts of the West Bank to destroy Palestinian crops and intimidate Palestinian villagers and farmers” (Khaled Abu Toameh, “Palestinians Revive Blood Libels as Israel Saves Their Lives,” Gatestone Institute, March 9, 2020).
The fact that Israel is providing life-saving medical care to Palestinians, a practice that preceded the virus pandemic, will probably also make little difference to propagandists who make the specious claim Israel is engaged in ethnic cleansing.
Published with permission from Jewish Virtual Library; Myths & Facts