On a slow boat to Japan: 6 things to know for February 11
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On a slow boat to Japan: 6 things to know for February 11

Israelis trapped on a cruise liner due to an outbreak of coronavirus describe surreal conditions and long for home

A woman holds a teddy bear on the balcony of the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in the Yokohama Port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, February 11, 2020. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
A woman holds a teddy bear on the balcony of the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in the Yokohama Port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, February 11, 2020. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

1. You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave: The Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom dailies are gripped by accounts from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan, where over a dozen Israelis are among the thousands quarantined on the liner due to the outbreak of coronavirus, at least until February 19 and perhaps two weeks longer.

  • So far, 135 passengers have been infected by the virus. One of the Israeli passengers, a woman, has been feared to have contracted the virus after developing a fever. Her condition improved later Monday but she remains under observation on the ship and awaits test results.
  • According to Yedioth, the passengers received individual thermometers and are required to monitor their temperatures several times a day. “Every few hours, we have to report on our health. I’m in a room with a porch on the 11th floor, and the rest of my relatives are on the fifth floor,” Nicole ben David, 51, tells the paper. “I’m closed up here, can’t go anywhere. We receive food in sterile packaging. They give us our sheets to change [the bedding] ourselves so as to limit contact with staff.”
  • The passengers are allowed to roam the halls occasionally, provided they don face masks and keep a two-meter distance from others.
  • Israel Hayom similarly quotes trapped Israeli couple Shimon and Shalva Dahan, who are quoted as saying: “Every day looks like the day before. The captain announces the places of origin of those who are infected with the coronavirus.” The Dahans say they have asked to return to Israel and be quarantined there, apparently to no avail.

2. No sickness but homesickness: But according to ben David, despite the conditions, there are some lighter moments.

  • “Over the weekend, a Chabad house transferred a shipment of kosher food and Shabbat candles. It made us very happy. They’re trying to give us fun and comforting packages from Israel, like Elite coffee and crossword puzzles to make it more pleasant.”
  • Ilan, her husband, adds that a family WhatsApp group has kept their spirits up. “We send videos to each other. One of the aunts dances and the other one sings. An aunt and uncle renewed its vows after 45 years and pulled out a ring, and another aunt celebrated her 70th birthday. My mood is sometimes better and sometimes down, sometimes we cry when we see videos from home and the children.”

3. Home we stay: Israel Hayom also suggests Israelis are refraining from traveling to some of their favorite destinations, Thailand and India, due to the epidemic.

  • It quotes the Travelist search engine, which reports a 55% drop in searches for flights to Thailand and 57% for India.
  • Yedioth, in an explainer on how to cancel flights to the virus-struck destinations, says there are no official numbers, but tourism operators assess a 50% drop in the number of all flights ordered from Israel to abroad in the coming month.
  • Israel Hayom says a dozen patents related to the coronavirus have been registered in the past few days by Israeli companies. Some were submitted by Israeli pharmaceutical firms, others by diagnostic companies, and the ideas range from antiviral medicines to a home testing kit, it reports.

4. Speak up, captains: President Reuven Rivlin’s comments urging defense officials to voice their opinions to government officials makes the front page of Haaretz.

  • Speaking at an event attended by top IDF officials, the president encourages the military “to continue to captain the ship of Israeli security wisely, responsibly, without fear and without involvement of those who should not be involved. Without concern of what they will say, tweet, write.” He adds that the army “will continue to present to the government the ramifications of every decision it seeks to make.”
  • Though the president does not specify what he was referring to, and his comments could be read as warning against Israeli military action in Gaza before the election — which Netanyahu has said could happen — the paper’s Amos Harel insists he was referring to annexation.
  • “These comments were not said by chance. After the unveiling of the Trump peace plan, and the firm promises of annexation from the prime minister’s circles (that have since been abandoned, under US administration pressure), the silence of the defense establishment was glaring… The president is telling them: It is your obligation to defer to the instructions of the government but you must also voice your professional opinion on what’s happening.”
  • Adds Harel: “Now, after the American intervention, the timetable is clear. Netanyahu admits the annexation will come after the election, and according to him, only if Likud wins. But the declarations of annexation have consequences on the ground — and we received a reminder of last week with the spate of difficult terror attacks. The people who need to put out the fires these empty declarations will ignite (and all the more so, if there are actual steps in this direction) sat yesterday in the front rows in Gelilot, facing the president.”

5. Speech but no vote: The Palestinian decision not to vote on a draft resolution Tuesday against the Trump peace plan at the UN Security Council gets muted coverage in the papers.

  • Abbas is still scheduled to speak at the Security Council against the plan, though no vote will be held.
  • The PA president will also hold a joint press conference with former prime minister Ehud Olmert to rail against the proposal, at 2 p.m. New York time.
  • As prime minister, Olmert had offered far-reaching concessions to Abbas for a Palestinian state, which were ultimately rejected. The disgraced prime minister was later jailed on corruption charges.
  • In an op-ed in Israel Hayom, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon censures Abbas for rejecting the Trump proposal.
  • “Soon, when he gets off the stage, Abu Mazen [Abbas] will be remembered as the greatest refuser of peace in history. Years of historic opportunities, with the deal of the century at its height, were thrown into the trash in favor of speeches at the UN and diplomatic terrorism against Israel around the world.”

6. Fanning the flames: Haaretz dedicates its editorial — “The Annexation Festival” — to condemning a Burning Man-esque event scheduled to be held by Israelis in the West Bank, in the northern Dead Sea area.

  • The event is not officially tied to Burning Man’s Israel affiliate, Midburn, it says. It has yet to receive final police approval though tickets are expected to go on sale soon.
  • “The announcement of the event last week generated controversy in the Burner community over whether holding such an event in the territories has political significance. But the fact that there is a dispute at all is the best proof that this is indeed a political act. One of the organizers of the April event posted, ‘While the location is over the Green Line, recently they’ve been talking about annexing this land. So if in a momentary decision this could be inside the Green Line, there’s no cause for concern.’ Speaking to Haaretz, he explained that he isn’t interested in politics, and that ‘All this definition of A, B and C are political issues and I don’t want to deal with them.'”
  • “But his remarks ignore the fact that there is another party to the conflict. Like the right-wing government, the event organizers err when they think that an Israeli decision, even with American support, is enough to render the occupation, the settlements and annexation kosher.”
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