Footage of crowding at West Bank checkpoint raises fears of virus outbreak

Despite Defense Ministry’s assurances, social distancing isn’t being observed at Bethlehem Checkpoint 300

Palestinian workers on their way to work in Israel, at Bethlehem's Checkpoint 300 in the West Bank, June 2020. (Screenshot: Channel 12)
Palestinian workers on their way to work in Israel, at Bethlehem's Checkpoint 300 in the West Bank, June 2020. (Screenshot: Channel 12)

Footage published Wednesday showed mass crowding at a West Bank checkpoint as hundreds of Palestinian laborers made their way into Israel for work this week, raising fears it could lead to a further spike in coronavirus infections.

Some 80,000 Palestinians resumed work in Israel some three weeks ago, when the country started opening up after weeks of lockdown.

The Defense Ministry has said government virus rules would be kept in all checkpoints.

But the footage broadcast by Channel 12 said social distancing and mask-wearing were not adhered to at Bethlehem’s Checkpoint 300, near Jerusalem, raising the risk of a coronavirus outbreak.

The report said the overcrowding took place every morning, with hundreds of people crammed together, as the checkpoint hadn’t been adequately prepared for the massive crowds.

Many of the workers were seen not wearing masks.

“The conditions in the checkpoints are difficult even in normal times,” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Kav LaOved nonprofits said in a joint statement. “These days it is creating a real danger.

“The lack of reasonable conditions doesn’t enable adherence to the guidelines and thus endangers the Palestinian workers,” the statement said. “The responsibility for the health and dignity of Palestinian workers lies with Israel, and it is shirking that responsibility as a matter of routine.”

A soldier looks on as men walk through Checkpoint 300 between Bethlehem and Jerusalem on the last Friday of Ramadan on July 10, 2015. (Micah Bond/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice last week unanimously rejected a petition filed in late March by the two civil rights groups to compel the government to compensate West Bank Palestinians employed in Israel who were furloughed during the pandemic.

During the coronavirus crisis, Palestinians who work in Israel were largely unable to enter the country, though at several points tens of thousands of workers were allowed to come in on condition that they remain in Israel for several weeks at a time.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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