Israel Police closed down a makeshift coronavirus testing clinic in East Jerusalem because it was operating under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, according to a report Wednesday.
The clinic was set up Tuesday next to a mosque in the Silwan neighborhood of the capital and carried out tests until the early evening, the Haaretz newspaper reported. However, later that night police arrived and arrested four people running the clinic.
The Public Security Ministry said in a statement: “All activity by the Palestinian Authority in Israeli territory that is not coordinated and approved by authorities is prohibited under law and the police must prevent it.”
Israel considers East Jerusalem its territory, though Palestinians want it as the capital of a future state. Though its residents are Palestinians, East Jerusalem is under the control of the Israeli government, which is responsible for providing them with services.
According to the report, the clinic was using equipment supplied by the PA Health Ministry and the tests it carried out were to have been transferred to the PA for assessment.
Knesset member Ofer Cassif of the predominantly Arab Joint List party condemned the development, saying it was to everyone’s benefit that virus tests be carried out.
“The police raid on the coronavirus testing center in Silwan is inhumane and even stupid,” he told he paper. “Preventing the virus spread is a joint interest and if Israel doesn’t do the checks it must at least enable testing by others.”
Cassif said he had asked Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to allow the clinic to continue to operate or to alternatively set up a Magen David Adom testing unit instead. The MDA ambulance service already operates drive-in testing sites in East Jerusalem and at other locations across Israel, though testing was late to arrive in the capital’s east, and critics have said the efforts are far less robust than in the rest of the country.
The newspaper reported that a committee of doctors who volunteer in Silwan have recently warned of a possible outbreak of the disease in the neighborhood and the lack of testing stations. The doctors estimate there are some 40 people in Silwan who are sick with the coronavirus and due to the crowded living conditions the disease could rapidly spread.
Also Wednesday, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) accused Israel of preventing efforts by the agency to stop the spread of the virus among Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
Speaking to the Wafa news agency, Sami Mshasha said Israel was hindering UNRWA health services and those of the Palestinian Health Ministry from operating in Jerusalem neighborhoods and refugee camps.
He said lockdown restrictions were making it difficult to access the refugee camps, and in particular the Shuafat camp in the eastern part of the city.
UNRWA was set up in the years after more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their lands during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel. It has repeatedly had its mandate extended since then.
Israel accuses the organization of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by extending refugee status to millions of descendants, rather than the status only to the original refugees as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.
The Trump administration has made similar criticism of UNRWA and in 2018 suspended and later cut all funding to the agency.
UNRWA disputes the criticism and says the services it provides would otherwise not be available to Palestinians.
East Jerusalem hospital officials have expressed concerns about a possible increase in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus, as medical authorities ramp up testing of Palestinians in the area.
Medical authorities opened four testing stations in East Jerusalem late last week and have since — according to the Health Ministry — tested many Palestinian residents of the city for COVID-19.
According to the Israeli Health Ministry, thus far, dozens of cases of the virus have been recorded in East Jerusalem, where many residents live in densely populated neighborhoods and tight living quarters.