Palestine is battling two emergencies now: the COVID-19 pandemic and Israeli plans of annexation. The Israeli occupation continues to take advantage of the pandemic, the lockdown and the suspension of popular struggle campaigns to fulfill pre-existing settler colonial and apartheid goals. The deal for an Israeli government has set a timeframe for the de jure annexation of 30% of the West Bank, on the agenda starting July 1, and has further accelerated the race against the clock of the Israeli occupation authorities to enter the post-COVID19 world with more Palestinian land in their grip.
This is the first of an ongoing series of Stop the Wall reports on how the Israeli occupation works incessantly to prepare for official annexation in July targeting the lands and communities – especially the Jordan Valley – that are slated for annexation.
The Israeli occupation and other oppressive regimes are suspending the principles of the entire framework of international law and human rights during the pandemic more than ever before to impose new systems and realities of racism, apartheid and discrimination. Only if we build more bridges of solidarity and intensify our collective action, we can change the rules of the game in favor of the colonized and the marginalized behind walls of shame and exclusion.
The Israeli occupation forces and fanatic settlers led by a coalition government formed by two ultra-right-wing parties continue to escalate violence, settler colonial and apartheid practices against Palestinians despicably taking advantage of the world’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.
On a daily basis since the emergency state has been declared in the occupied territories, Palestinians encounter brutal arrest campaigns, medical negligence of prisoners, murder of unarmed people, increased demolition of structures and houses. With its latest decision regarding the annexation of land in the Old City of Hebron, the Israeli Supreme Court has continued to underwrite breaches of international law.
The Israeli occupation’s measures in the Jordan Valley aimed at expelling the Palestinian communities from the area are the ‘underlying condition’ that makes the communities particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. For decades, Palestinians there are banned from construction, access to electricity, water, and large swaths of their land. The lockdown as a preventive measure of the spread of the pandemic makes it easier for fanatic settlers, safeguarded by armed Israeli soldiers, to destroy the Palestinian communities’ wheat crops , grazing their cattle in their lands. The lockdown has further negatively affected the economic situation of these communities as they are unable to market their dairy products, one of their primary sources of income. The harassment of settlers invading with their cattle Palestinians’ agricultural lands threatens the other source securing their families livelihood. The intensified brutal and apartheid policies since the spread of the pandemic serve the realization of a pre-set goal: to annex the Jordan Valley and make it an integral part of Israel.
The Israeli government is now waging a war against two targets: the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in Israel and Palestinians in area ‘C’. On Monday, April 20th, 2020, the leaders of two right-wing parties, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, through the formation of a coalition government have agreed to share power between them. The new coalition government was formed to represent an initial six months, where the laws that can be introduced within this period serve to combat the pandemic after the number of infected people reached over 12,000. While Israel uses its spy agencies and technologies against the virus, its military is working hard to prepare the second front: The coalition government also agreed that by July 1 laws to annex 30% of the occupied West Bank, specifically the annexation of the Jordan Valley, can also be introduced.
After Donald Trump has unconditionally green-lit the legalization and legitimization of Israel’s settlement expansion and apartheid policies through its proposal for the ‘Deal – or more correctly Theft – of the Century’, Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that the inevitable annexation of the Jordan Valley is imminent. Efforts to prepare this are underway in the Jordan Valley and other regions of Area C.
Settlers graze their cows in Palestinian wheat fields in the Jordan Valley
Villages under attack in area C
Other rural areas in Nablus and Bethlehem districts have been attacked by the settlers and soldiers. The villages of Burqa, Madama and Burin in the Nablus district are all villages partially located in Area C and are under the attacks of Israeli settlers escorted with armed soldiers almost on a daily basis. Israeli settlers aim to steal more land from Palestinians there while they are in quarantine. For Palestinians living in these villages, following the guidelines of the World Health Organization to be protected from the pandemic, mainly, social distancing is infeasible as staying at home means seeing their land falling prey to settlers.
Also in the rural area of Khallet al-Nahleh in Bethlehem, settlers never take a break from their relentless attempts to swallow more Palestinian land. Since the lockdown, settlers have brought tents, water tanks and generators to Khallet al-Nahleh in order to build a new settlement outpost. This is not their first attempt to take over the area. In 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Khallet al-Nahleh is privately owned Palestinian land forcing settlers to dismantle the outpost they had erected. Since then, settlers never returned to the area until a few days ago.
Hebron in the target
One day after the formation of the Israeli coalition government, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit approved the expropriation of Palestinians’ land in the old city of Hebron. This move not only annexes land but stirs religious sensitivities as it confiscates the surrounding land to the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, which belongs to Islamic Waqf. The pretext of providing expanded facilities for tourists, Jewish worshipers and others visiting the part of the mosque under Israeli control seems preposterous in a moment the last thing anybody needs is more tourist facilities. The project will also annex a wholesale market belonging to Palestinians in the Shuhada street area.
Since the massacre held by an American-Jewish settler that killed 29 Muslim worshipers in the Ibrahimi mosque in 1994, the Israeli occupation has never turned its gaze away from the old city of Hebron. 800 extremist settlers are living nowadays in houses confiscated from their Palestinian owners. In 2007, the Ibrahimi mosque and the old City of Hebron were recognized as a UNESCO world heritage. The acceleration of the fulfillment of settler colonial objectives in the city and the mosque would further Judaize the old city of Hebron and the Ibrahimi mosque. This threatens not only the Palestinian existence there, but also the disappearance of sites serving as a testimony to a cultural and historical presence that Palestinians have been trying to preserve throughout generations.
Palestinians lives at risk
Palestinian activists that are part of the emergency committees and who already risk contracting the virus while providing help to their people at the entrances of villages, also risk losing their lives due to the settlers’ violence. Last night, an armed Israeli settler opened fire at Palestinians who kept presence at the entrance of Kisan village, Bethlehem district, as part of the measures to combat the pandemic. Although the violent attack did not cause any injuries, it sufficed to intimidate the activists.
|Ibrahim Halsa, 25 years old.|
Murder and arrest campaigns are also escalated in order to stifle any kind of Palestinian protest against the Israeli occupation’s practices denying the very humanity of Palestinians while the world is focused at the virus threatening mankind. Yesterday, 25-year-old Ibrahim Halsa was shot dead at the container checkpoint, in the Bethlehem district. Not allowing Palestinians to honor their dead through burial, the Israeli soldiers took Halsa’s body and arrested his bereaved mother. Yesterday, Palestinians were also outraged by the death of the 23-year-old prisoner Nour Al-Barghouti in Al-Naqab Israeli jail due to the prison administration’s refusal to give him medical treatment leaving him fainted for half an hour until he passed away.
The continuous siege of the Gaza Strip and the control of its borders allowing limited or no medical facilities to enter the Strip to combat the pandemic brings to the forefront more than ever before the racist face of the Zionist settler colonial project. It is a project whose pillars are ideologies of ghettoization, walls, exclusion and apartheid treating the two million people living in Gaza as a matter that doesn’t matter.