Coronavirus a gift to Israeli colonization

A protest against Israeli evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem on 3 April.

Sharona Weiss ActiveStills

Israel has found propaganda opportunities in the coronavirus pandemic and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exploited the crisis to consolidate his authoritarian control.

The country’s surveillance industry, closely tied to the state and its military-intelligence complex, is poised to find a global market as health authorities seek to use technology for contact tracing as they look toward easing broad lockdowns.

Indeed, the significant changes brought about by the pandemic may serve Israel’s settler-colonial agenda more generally.

West Bank annexation

Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz reached an agreement to form a coalition after a year of political stalemate and three general elections.

The coalition agreement includes a commitment that the Israeli government and parliament will, from July, proceed with votes to annex large parts of the West Bank.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has called out Netanyahu’s campaign promises to annex parts of the West Bank.

In December, she recommended that the court open an investigation that could lead to indictments and war crimes trials. She has been met by a US-Israeli campaign to undermine the independent mandate of the international tribunal.

Should that campaign be successful, it will be one less check on Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ human rights, and a significant blow against international justice.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus has put the future of the Palestinian Authority, the body that represents Palestinians at the international level, in question.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Middle East peace envoy, told the UN Security Council on Thursday that damage to the economy stemming from the pandemic risks the PA’s “very existence.”

He also warned that Israeli “moves to annex land and to accelerate settlement expansion, combined with the devastating impact of COVID-19 can ignite the situation and destroy any hope of peace.”

Mladenov acknowledged that “as a result of the occupation, the Palestinian Authority has limited sway over its economy and does not have access to the conventional monetary and fiscal tools necessary to remedy the crisis.”

Yet once again he implicitly praised Israel, referring to unspecified “inspiring examples of cooperation across conflict lines in the common battle against the virus.”

This is despite Israel’s total abrogation of its obligation to protect the health of Palestinians living under its military rule.

Israel has no plan to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in Gaza. The two million Palestinians living in the densely populated territory are among the world’s most vulnerable.

Despite grave fears over a Gaza outbreak, Israeli defense minister Naftali Bennett ordered a stop to COVID-19 testing there earlier this week, Israeli media outlets reported.

Palestinian health authorities inside Gaza can conduct their own testing, but have been hampered by a severe shortage of test kits, a consequence of Israel’s tight siege on the territory over the last 13 years.

A breakdown in coordination between two Israeli military bodies reportedly led to the scrapping of plans to run coronavirus testing for Gaza and the West Bank.

It is hard to see what UN officials like Mladenov find so inspiring or hopeful in this broken-down coordination.

No restraints on Israel

With no international restraints on Israel, and Palestinian protest severely hindered under emergency coronavirus orders, there is little stopping it from proceeding with annexation.

Annexation has been Israel’s intent all along, the constant invocations of a negotiated two-state solution by the broken records at the UN increasingly detached from the one-apartheid-state reality on the ground.

Israel’s moves to establish new facts on the ground during the pandemic has not been limited to the West Bank.

Energix, an Israeli energy company, “is taking advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown” to develop sites for a wind farm in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory under Israeli military occupation, the human rights group Al-Marsad stated on Thursday.

Al-Marsad has found that the Tel Aviv-based firm’s wind turbine project violates the indigenous Syrian population’s right to self-determination. The scheme also serves to strengthen Israel’s control over the territory.

Energix filed a lawsuit against al-Marsad last year, the first to be brought forward by an Israeli company under Israel’s anti-boycott law to suppress the activity of a human rights group.

Given the coronavirus pandemic, Syrian residents of the Golan Heights “are grounded in their homes, unable to monitor or peacefully protest Energix’s activities,” Al-Marsad added in its Thursday statement.

“Those that have risked their health to venture out and film Energix and Israeli police visits to project sites have subsequently been harassed and questioned by Israeli police.”

In January, the Israeli government granted approval to Energix to build 25 wind turbines on agricultural land belonging to two of the remaining Syrian villages in the Golan Heights.

At a maximum height of 220 meters, “the approved turbines could be some of the tallest onshore turbines in the world and would occupy around a fifth of the agricultural land still available to Syrians in the Golan,” Al-Marsad said.

While Energix has withdrawn five lawsuits against Syrians in the Golan and was ordered by a court to pay the legal fees of the defendants, the case against Al-Marsad is ongoing, the rights group stated.

And so is Israel’s colonization of the territory it occupies, with little reason to believe that world powers will stop it.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.