East Jerusalem Struck by Record Number of Coronavirus Cases

Sources say real numbers may be even higher as some residents and entire neighborhoods are seeking health services from the Palestinian Authority, not Israel

Nir Hasson
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A woman is tested by a healthcare worker at a coronavirus mobile testing station, in East Jerusalem, Tuesday, July 21, 2020.
A woman is tested by a healthcare worker at a coronavirus mobile testing station, in East Jerusalem, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. Credit: Oded Balilty,AP
Nir Hasson

Between Monday and Tuesday, East Jerusalem registered the highest number of coronavirus infections since the beginning of the pandemic.

In 24 hours, 151 new cases were identified, which marked the third time more than 100 cases were recorded in one day, all three occurring in the last week. 

Although ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods typically suffer from high rates of coronavirus infections, West Jerusalem as a whole registered a lower number of cases, 136.

The al-Aqsa mosque compound as seen from the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem, on July 1, 2020.
The al-Aqsa mosque compound as seen from the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem, on July 1, 2020. Credit: Mahmoud Illean,AP

So far, the total number of infections in East Jerusalem is 1,721, according to the Israeli Health Ministry and municipality. The majority are still-active cases, and of these, the great majority of patients are still at home and have not been evacuated to designated hotels. Of the 901 households in which someone got sick, 843 still have that person at home. To date, six Palestinians from East Jerusalem have died from COVID-19.

According to sources in the city, the true numbers are higher, since some patients, especially in neighborhoods lying beyond the separation barrier, were tested by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and don’t appear on Israeli databases.

According to Samih Abu Ramila, the head of a committee to combat the coronavirus in Kafr Aqab, a neighborhood in northern Jerusalem lying beyond the separation barrier, there are more than 400 cases he knows of in his neighborhood, whereas the official numbers is 109.

“Anyone who belongs to the Clalit health organization has no problem. You call and go to the lab for a test. Other HMOs are not that efficient, so people go to the Palestinian Health Ministry and get tested, but they don’t get on the Israeli Health Ministry’s list,” he says.

Abu Ramila says that many residents pay no attention to restrictions and act irresponsibly. “I see sick people walking around, there is no enforcement here, there are weddings in homes and halls. There are no police here. They come when they need to arrest someone, but not when they need to protect us.”

The virus is spreading mainly in Palestinian neighborhoods in the city’s central and northern areas. The neighborhood with the highest number of confirmed cases is Beit Hanina, with 190 cases, 99 of which were added this week. The Old City comes second, with 183 cases, 83 of which were added over the last week, and a-Tur, with 153 cases. In southern neighborhoods such as Jabal Mukaber and Sur Baher, the incidence is significantly lower.

Israel's handling of the health crisis in East Jerusalem has been given to the IDF Home Front Command, which has set up headquarters at city hall, coordinating the assistance provided, the opening of labs for testing for the virus and the evacuation of residents to designated hotels for quarantine or to hospitals.

Mosques in East Jerusalem remain closed to large-scale prayers on Fridays. However, the Temple Mount compound and the al-Aqsa Mosque remain open. A source in the Waqf religious trust said that it cannot allow the closing of the compound to worshippers as long as Jewish visitors continue coming.

During the first wave, there was an agreement between Israel’s government, Jordan and the Waqf to close the Mount to both Jews and Muslims. But the number of worshippers on Fridays is much lower than usual, and the Waqf source says that the compound is large enough for several thousand people to spread out without posing a risk of infection. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on the other hand, was closed again with the arrival of the second wave of infections two weeks ago.

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