Since the coronavirus outbreak shut down large swaths of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory early last month, countless reports of Israeli violations of Palestinian rights have surfaced during the pandemic.
From continued home demolitions and displacement, arrest raids, violent confrontations with Palestinian communities, and settler attacks, Israeli authorities have been criticized for ramping up their occupation activities in violation of global health recommendations.
The Who Profits research center has released a new report entitled Viral Occupation, detailing how the Israeli occupation is compounding the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the occupied Palestinian territory.
“The present crisis caused by COVID-19 has laid bare the inequality and violence at the heart of the current global economic system where profit accumulation comes at the expense of our collective rights, the report says, adding that “governments and corporate capital are seizing the opportunity to tighten their control and generate profit.”
In the context of Israel and the occupied territory, the group says “the acute shortage of testing kits, protective gear and ICU capacity is only the tip of the iceberg,” for Palestinians living under occupation.
In its working report, which is consistently updated with news related to Israel’s occupation activities during the COVID-19 crisis, Who Profits argues that “an occupied and besieged population and a systematically de-developed economy are particularly vulnerable to both COVID-19 and the economic fallout.”
The group has identified three major topics — surveillance, Gaza, and workers — to highlight how Israel is using the pandemic to step up its “exploitative measures and the entrenchment and legitimization of existing ones.”
Israeli and Palestinian rights groups have been vocal in their criticism of the Israeli government, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s, abuse of authority during the crisis.
There was widespread outcry after Netanyahu announced plans to use Israeli “counter-terrorism” surveillance to track the whereabouts of patients who have tested positive for the virus, which rights groups criticized as “mass violations” of digital and privacy rights.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has filed multiple petitions to the supreme court fighting for the enforcement of separation of powers, and a curbing of the Prime Minister’s executive powers during the state of emergency, specifically in regards to surveillance.
“The COVID-19 global public health emergency has given rise to heightened forms of surveillance in the name of public safety,” Who Profits said in its report. “The experience of controlling, repressing and surveilling an occupied population has long been at the core of the so-called “Israeli advantage” in the Homeland Security (HLS) market.”
“The Israeli military apparatus serves as an incubator, laboratory and high-profile client for Israel’s surveillance industry, which translates Israel’s portfolio of repression into ‘field-proven’ product offerings, marketed not only to traditional HLS clients, but also to municipalities, schools and businesses,” the group said.
According to Who Profits, the coronavirus crisis has “generated new business opportunities for Israeli surveillance tech,” adding that Israeli spyware company NSO Group “is reportedly developing software to match cell phone-tracking and locational data,” and that a number of Israeli security companies have exported their technology to US healthcare professionals during the crisis.
When the first cases of the coronavirus were announced in the besieged Gaza Strip, fear and panic began to rise over concerns of how the enclave, which has been devastated by Israel’s 13-year blockade, would be able to handle an outbreak.
As of April 15th, Gaza had only 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with thousands more people in government quarantine facilities and in self-isolation.
“Gaza’s exceptional vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic is a direct product of decades of Israeli occupation, brutal siege and continued military assaults,” Who Profits said in its report, adding that “basic preventive measures – social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home – are impossible to follow” in Gaza, which one of the world’s most densely populated regions.
The group criticized Israel’s land, air, and sea blockade for “shattering” Gaza’s health sector through the control of imports, limited access to medical equipment, and destruction of health
Who Profits noted that basic equipment like hospital beds and ventilators are lacking, with only 2,000 beds and 62 ventilators — a third of which are already in use — for a population of nearly 2 million people.
Palestinian workers have been a major topic of discussion in Israel and Palestine in recent weeks, as more than 141,000 Palestinians depend on labor jobs in Israel and illegal settlements.
Last month, Israel began dumping sick Palestinian workers at checkpoints along the Green Line prompting the Palestinian Authority to order all laborers fro the West Bank back home, causing a major spike in coronavirus cases in the territory.
As of April 15th, the number of coronavirus cases in the West Bank stood at 278.
Palestinian leaders and rights groups slammed the Israeli government and private employers for failing to protect the rights of workers during the pandemic.
“Dependency on these jobs renders workers uniquely vulnerable to exploitation and precarious working conditions, amplified and exacerbated by COVID-19,” Who Profits said in its report.
“The myth that a pandemic does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, is patently false. An occupied and besieged population and a systematically de-developed economy are particularly vulnerable to both COVID-19 and the economic fallout,” the group said.