The Palestinian Authority has reportedly been mounting a “campaign of incitement” for the past week, accusing Israel of “spreading the virus” in Palestinian areas of the West Bank.
Israeli defense officials are furious with Ramallah over the campaign, and have sent warning messages to this effect to Ramallah, Channel 12 reported Sunday.
The report noted that the source of contagion in 73% of cases that have tested positive for COVID-19 in the PA has been traced to Palestinian workers employed in Israel. The PA has utilized this statistic to allege that Israel is “polluting” PA areas via both Palestinian workers and the IDF.
A clip broadcast in the past week on PA-affiliated television in this context has shown Palestinians spraying disinfectant on Israeli army vehicles entering Palestinian areas.
Palestinian officials have also been routinely spraying disinfectant on workers returning from Israel.
In addition, the PA Health Ministry has been listing on its website the cause of the confirmed Palestinian coronavirus cases in the West Bank as “the occupation state.”
The Israeli defense establishment blames senior PA figures, including Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, for what a senior defense official told Channel 12 is “a racist incitement campaign against the IDF and Israel.”
Israel has sent “very strong messages” to top PA security officials and, indirectly, to Shtayyeh, warning that if the “anti-Israel incitement” does not stop, Israel “will take action,” including by reducing security cooperation and by limiting the freedom of action of PA security officials, according to Channel 12.
The PA had asked Israel to test Palestinian workers for the coronavirus before tens of thousands of them returned to the West Bank ahead of last week’s start of Passover, fearing they could spark a massive surge in infections in the territory.
Shtayyeh spoke by phone with Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the World Health Organization’s mission to the Palestinians, and asked him to convey the request — on behalf of the Palestinians — to Israel, Ibrahim Milhem, the premier’s spokesman said at an evening press conference in Ramallah
In the past week, several laborers who came back to their homes in the West Bank tested positive for the virus and transmitted it to others.
Last month, after the first confirmed cases of the virus in Israel and the West Bank, Israeli authorities barred the vast majority of Palestinians from entering the Jewish state, but allowed tens of thousands of Palestinian workers in “essential sectors,” mostly construction, to spend one to two months in the country.
Milhem said last week that there were 50,000 Palestinian laborers residing in Israel, but at a separate press conference Shtayyeh put the figure at 35,000. COGAT did not provide a number.
Two West Bank Palestinians have died from COVID-19. As of Sunday evening, there were 271 confirmed coronavirus cases among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the official PA news site Wafa. None were in critical condition.