Israel Blocks Palestinian Police From Enforcing Coronavirus Regulations in Jerusalem

PA police stopped from entering Kafr Aqaba – inside Jerusalem’s boundaries but on other side of the separation barrier – where locals say Israel isn’t helping

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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People wearing protective gear at a coronavirus testing station in East Jerusalem, April 2020.
People wearing protective gear at a coronavirus testing station in East Jerusalem, April 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Israel ordered Palestinian police intending to enforce coronavirus regulations on Tuesday not to enter an East Jerusalem neighborhood that is within the city’s municipal boundaries, but on the other side of the separation barrier.

Palestinian police are not allowed to work within Jerusalem. But Kafr Aqab, in northeast Jerusalem, there have been at least two occasions on which the government has permitted armed Palestinian law enforcement to operate in the neighborhood to enforce local measures aimed at mitigating the virus’ spread.

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Local authorities in Kafr Aqab have been trying to impose a lockdown, as Israel has not been operating there. On Tuesday, local activists summoned Palestinian police to aid them in ensuring that businesses are shut and to disperse people wandering outside. On their way to the neighborhood, the forces received an order from Israel not to enter and withdrew.

Meanwhile, personnel from the Palestinian Authority conducted sanitizing operations in the neighborhood's main street, even though it is part of Jerusalem’s jurisdiction. “People aren’t heeding the rules,” said one local resident. “Israel doesn’t want the PA forces to help us, so it should come and help us instead.”

According to chair of Kafr Aqab's emergency committee, 18 cases of the virus have been found in the neighborhood, four of which were diagnosed over the last two days, and one resident has been admitted to a hospital in Ramallah in severe condition.

Earlier this month, police shut down a clinic for coronavirus testing in the neighborhood of Silwan that was opened with the aid of the PA. Several testing sites have been opened in East Jerusalem, but these are mainly clinics operated by the country’s health maintenance organizations and not everyone is able to get to them, so residents are force to travel to Jericho or Ramallah in order to get tested.

In one case, a clinic operated by the Clalit HMO opened in Silwan – but most of the neighborhood residents are members of other HMOs and cannot get tested there. Furthermore, the Health Ministry is not conducting contact tracing in East Jerusalem, and often it is the carriers who are publishing a list of places they have visited to let others know if they should enter isolation.

The coronavirus is spreading in other East Jerusalem neighborhoods, too. On Tuesday, a 57-year-old Silwan resident who had been hospitalized in Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, died from complications of the virus. The hospital said she had many underlying medical conditions. Al-Joulani was the second woman from East Jerusalem to die of coronavirus complications.

A document issued two days ago by the government’s coronavirus information center, which advises the Health Ministry, said there were 122 confirmed virus cases in East Jerusalem. However, medical officials in East Jerusalem say the number is at least 140.

According to the government center, the highest infection rates are in Ras al Amud and Beit Safafa. A top medical official in the city says that the infection rate in the Isawiyah neighborhood is also of concern, as the number of confirmed cases there has jumped from one to 20 in the past week. The city has recently opened a situation room to manage the outbreak in East Jerusalem, headed by Brig. Gen. Rafi Milo, who was appointed by army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. 

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