In many Israeli hospitals, Jewish and Palestinian doctors work side by side. Right-wing politicians who oppose the participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset (parliament) are more than willing to have Palestinians risk their lives fighting this deadly virus. But the practices of the Israeli government in providing health services to its citizens are highly discriminatory. As guest columnist Suha Salman-Mousa explains, they appear to be guided by a desire to protect Jewish citizens of Israel while mostly ignoring its non-Jewish citizens. Read more...
By guest columnist
As the highly contagious coronavirus spreads around the world, Israel strains to struggle to contain a local outbreak that has virtually halted daily life and led to tens of thousands of people entering quarantine.
Israel has a total population of approximate 8 million people. Already over 1900 Israelis have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, almost as many as in Canada which has a population three times larger.
Israel is now in lockdown. Israel’s government has approved measures to limit movement of citizens and trade, shuttering cultural and recreational establishments, as well as schools and universities and banning gatherings of over 10 people.
Although the crisis began in January, the government was very slow to prepare the necessary hospital beds, ventilators, and detection (testing) kits. Only last week were flights no longer allowed into or out of Tel Aviv Airport. Over 2500 healthcare workers are under quarantine as a result of a delay in providing equipment and protection for them.
All Israelis are worried of course, but the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, about 20% of the Israeli population, have special reason to be concerned by the lack of health services available to the Arab community and lack of clear information in the Arabic language.
While a large community of Palestinian citizens live in big mixed cities (like Haifa, Acre, Nof Hagalil), where the population is mostly Jewish, most of the Palestinian Arab community is concentrated in cities and towns that are exclusively populated by Palestinians. Palestinian towns and cities such as Nazareth, Um El Fahem, and Taybeh, are overcrowded, but Israeli zoning restrictions prohibit them from expanding. Jewish communities, on the other hand, where Jewish Israelis live, face no such restrictions.
The Israeli government has announced that treatment for Corona virus will be provided in Jewish population centers where laboratories, hospital beds, National Ambulance Services (MDA), and equipment are located. The Ministry of Health had decided to establish new testing centres in five localities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Rishon Le Zion, and Haifa, all of which have predominantly Jewish populations.
Ironically, the healthcare system in Israel is heavily reliant upon Palestinian Arab doctors, physicians, pharmacists, and nurses. Therefore, as the epidemic continues to intensify, it is Palestinian Arab doctors who are frequently on the frontlines treating and caring for patients.
The Israeli government’s response to the outbreak is marred by the deliberate neglect of the Palestinian Arab community. The Mossawa Center of which I am Executive Director has called on the government for treatment centers to be opened in the major Palestinian Arab localities of Nazareth, Um El Fahem, Taibeh- Tira, Rahat, and Sakhnin-Araba. After intense lobbying the government has just agreed to open just two such centres to service 1.5 million people.
Because important health information is not easily available in Arabic on Israeli government websites, the Mossawa Center had to open an information page in Arabic on its website, organizing all relevant information collected and translated from various sources, including government bodies and ministries.
Clearly, it is unacceptable that the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel must take matters into its own hands when combating such a deadly and infectious virus.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also made use of the corona virus to further control over Israel’s Palestinian citizens. He has promoted a measure to allow the Shabak, Israel’s Security Agency, to use cellphone information to track Israeli citizens who are supposed to be under quarantine.
This move has far more dangerous and broad consequences than simply hindering the civil liberties of Israeli citizens: it will provide a legal pretext for spying on any opposition, including Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel on a scale never before seen. And the ban on meetings of more than 10 people effectively limits our ability to organize any protest.
The Joint List, an alliance of the four major Palestinian Arab political parties, has appealed to the Supreme Court to suspend and repeal these measures implemented by the government. (The measures have now been suspended – “temporarily”.)
Netanyahu and his allies also used the outbreak as a reason to adjourn the Knesset (our parliament) for a week, allowing him to stay in power despite the pending court cases against him. This move, which drew massive criticism even from Jewish Israeli citizens, will allow Netanyahu to continue implementing his racist and discriminatory anti-Palestinian agenda – all in the name of public health.
A parallel suspension of the country’s judicial system harms many Palestinian citizens of Israel who have court cases attempting to defend their homes against demolition orders. In the past few years, Israel has ramped up home demolitions not just for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, but also against Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, with the Bedouin community in the Negev being the most heavily targeted.
The Israeli government’s response to the corona virus outbreak has not only been deliberately weak in protecting its own Palestinian citizens, but it is also being used as a cover for measures to further cripple Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.
Suha Salman-Mousa is the Executive Director of Mossawa Centre, the Advocacy centre for the Arab Citizens in Israel http://www.mossawa.org/eng/
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