Israel to start testing Palestinian workers for COVID-19 at checkpoints

Tests will be conducted randomly; workers who refuse to be checked will not be permitted to enter, officials say

Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Mitar checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 3, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Mitar checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 3, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians announced on Wednesday that it will begin randomly testing Palestinian workers entering Israel for the novel coronavirus in an effort to control the spread of the pandemic.

Approximately 87,000 West Bank Palestinians are legally employed in Israel, in addition to another 35,000 who work in West Bank settlements. The workers will be randomly given the tests while passing through Israeli checkpoints.

“Any worker who refuses to be checked will not be permitted to enter Israel,” a spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said.

Israel recorded 1,837 new coronavirus cases on Monday, its highest number of daily infections in almost two months.

The pandemic in both the West Bank and Gaza, meanwhile, has reached unprecedented levels of severity. Both Palestinian areas have put partial lockdowns in place as the number of cases has surged to record highs — with 10,206 active infections in Gaza and 15,003 in the West Bank.

Around 37.4 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, indicating that large numbers of cases could be going undetected.

Both Israeli and Palestinian health officials have traded accusations that the other side was exporting cases into their territories since the beginning of the pandemic. The status of Palestinian workers — tens of thousands of whom enter and leave Israel on a daily basis — has emerged as a bone of contention in the blame game.

Israel closed its borders to Palestinian workers during the first coronavirus wave in March and April in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus. Palestinian health officials said at the time that most identified cases in the West Bank could be traced back to those employed in Israel.

As lockdown restrictions loosened in both Israeli and Palestinian areas, Israeli authorities began allowing Palestinian workers to enter for three-week chunks. The responsibility for their care — including lodging — fell upon their employers. Some workers alleged serious neglect by employers, including some who said they were forced to sleep for weeks in a trash-sorting plant in an industrial zone outside of Jerusalem.

In late July, Palestinian workers again began entering and exiting Israel on a daily basis. At the time Palestinian officials lamented the change in policy, which they believed contributed to a rise in cases in the West Bank.

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