(The following article appeared today in Mondoweiss)
I have to disagree with Dr. Azmi Bishara. Trying to defend the disastrously late response of western capitalist states to the pandemic, he claimed in Arab 48, that governments should not be assessed by their conduct at emergencies. I find just the opposite to be the case. We have seen, in many cases, that in normal times a country can just about manage itself without a functioning government. But a major crisis exposes abruptly many things about the nature of each regime, exactly at the time that we desperately need a good government to protect us, and everybody is taking note.
“The Economist” reports that in the United States, lifesaving PPE (personal protective equipment) that is imported by the government (through FEMA) is given to private distributers to make a buck at the expense of the lives of medical staff on the frontline. We have seen all rich countries stop exporting essential medical goods and outbidding everybody else to get whatever is on the market. When Italy was at the worst of the crisis, Germany banned export of medical supply, but when China sent needed life-saving equipment EU leaders warned that China was doing so “for propaganda purposes”.
Reading the local Corona news in Israel is yet a very different story. Israel’s Apartheid regime is showing itself to be absurdly abnormal even in the most abnormal of times. Here are some heart-breaking examples of what Apartheid looks like at the time of Corona.
Ready to die like Samson
There are many stories how each state and each medical institution is looking today for any opportunity to buy PPE. Turkey is one of the biggest producers worldwide and one of the few that is still ready to sell, in spite of a worsening epidemic on its home front. Bloomberg reported that Turkey was supplying personal protective equipment to Israel, including surgical masks, overalls and sterile gloves.
On Thursday, April 9, 3 Israeli planes had to collect medical supplies from a Turkish military airport. But then it was reported that Turkey requested that Israel would reciprocate by allowing the passage of similar amount of Turkish anti-corona aid contributed to the Palestinians.
As of Friday, April 10, according to both “Times of Israel” and “Arab 48”, it seems that Israel refused to surrender to Turkish “terror” and the equipment was not supplied. As the hero “Samson” said: “Let me die with the Palestinians” …
Then yesterday, April 12, Haaretz reported about new negotiations between Israel and Hamas concerning steps toward prisoners’ exchanges. Hamas signaled that it is ready to compromise on its previous conditions in order to protect old and sick Palestinian prisoners from the danger of succumbing to corona while in prison. What is significant for our subject is that, according to Haaretz, the Palestinians implied that part of the deal is that Israel will supply to the Gaza strip, which is under siege, an unspecified number of ventilators to treat corona patients. What is even more significant is that, according to the same report, Israeli sources denied (out of all the reported details about the planned deal) that ventilators would be allowed into Gaza!
Does Mossad steal PPE?
Yeshayahu Leibowitz warned long time ago that Israel would become “A Shabak State” – referring to Israel’s all-powerful “general security service” (General Security Service, Shabak). An article in Maariv from July 27, 2019, estimates that the Shabak and the Mossad (its twin responsible for operations out of the state’s borders) each employs about 7,000 people and has a budget exceeding a billion dollars. While Israel investment on health is low relatively to other OECD countries, it has these two monsters, and it decided to utilize them to fight the pandemic.
Start with Mossad. It was assigned the task of acquiring medical equipment. According to “the Marker” it requested a budget of 7 billion shekels but was given 2.5 billion to start with (about 700 million $US). But it had no professional knowledge of the medical field, not any special experience or the infrastructure to perform large scale purchases and import operations.
The Mossad soon boasted of bringing in 100,000 virus tests from an unspecified source, only to be rebuked by an Ministry of Health official who commented that these were not the tests that were needed. After the remark was published the official hurried to apologize, and the Mossad promised to check again what is needed and continue the hunt.
On April 6 Haaretz reported that Israel’s “defense” minister Naftali Bennett failed to deny, and actually implied, that the Mossad stole medical equipment from other countries. When asked during an interview on the army radio if the Mossad stole medical equipment related to the coronavirus pandemic, Bennett answered: “I will not answer this question. We are all acting in an aggressive and smart ways.” (It was reported also in English in Middle East Eye.)
It is not surprising that the Mossad, which specializes in assassinations, espionage and all sorts of under-cover activities, will resort to illegal means in its new role. But you could expect from Mr. Bennett, who is supposed to be a respected businessman, to be, at least, smart enough to deny it. However, he might have a good reason to make his Israeli audience believe that the Mossad is stealing for them. Some commentators in the Israeli press mentioned that giving billions of shekels to a secret organization like Mossad means that there is no supervision about how the money is spent. Now, when questions would be asked, Bennet might whisper “Shhh…” and wink: “you would not want to disclose the state’s secrets”.
(After the initial publication I found a more direct self-evidence of stealing medical equipment from other states in a TV interview in Israeli TV from a senior “security” official. Here in Hebrew and Arabic.)
Besides, Israel is used to being above international law for all its war crimes, so why should it fear stealing medical equipment from around the world?
On the receiving end of Shabak
On the home front, Shabak was assigned the task of identifying the routes of people infected by the Corona virus and instructing those who were in their proximity to be in self-isolation. For the first time it became public knowledge that Shabak can follow (now it is officially doing so) the whereabouts of each person, at least as long as people are moving around with their smartphones.
For the Palestinians, both in the West Bank and inside the green line, constant inspection by Shabak is nothing new. Even in Haifa, the most peaceful place under Israeli Apartheid, any Palestinian youth may be invited to intrusive “conversations” with Shabak officers for no reason at all. For political activists the military governor (yes, there are military governors on both sides of the green line) may issue an administrative detention order, based on Shabak secret “evidence”, so that the detainee or his lawyer are not allowed even to know what he is accused of. Shabak officers appear in courts under false names and the defense is not allowed even to see their faces. Their words in court are regarded as undisputable.
As soon as Shabak started to target Jewish Israelis, admittedly not sending them to prison, only to self-isolation, suddenly the press was full of reports about its errors.
One woman arranged for her husband to be in self isolation in their home after he came from abroad, and stayed with her parents so she could continue to work. But after she passed in the street near her house to wave hello to her husband, who stayed on the balcony at a safe distance, she was sent to self-isolate also. Another women prepared a cake for a neighbour under isolation and left it for him near a closed door. She also fell in the Shabak net. Others complained that they could not understand why they were instructed to isolate, as they were not told with whom they supposedly met and when.
People whose lives were suddenly disrupted for no reason called the Ministry of Health and were answered that they don’t know a thing about it, it is Shabak’s work. They were told that “Shabak never makes mistakes”.
Some tried to call the Shabak directly and found that there is no way to reach the secretive organization and no way to appeal its decrees.
One case that was reported in detail is that of a medical doctor who had some symptoms and was tested for corona. The test returned negative results (no virus), but apparently the result that was typed into the system was wrong. Soon his relatives, neighbours’ and medics that worked with him where all ordered by SMS to isolate themselves. Even he, with connections to the medical establishment and the certificate of the negative test in his possession, found it hard to get the authorities to reconsider. Only after the media exposed the absurdity of the situation the MOH admitted the error.
Will it make any Israeli judge think twice before relying on secret Shabak “evidence” while sending Palestinians to jail? Unlikely.
Police attack Palestinian residents in Yaffa
For Israel’s regular police force the declaration of country-wide lockdown was another opportunity to abuse Palestinians. I can’t cover here abuse of all types in the West Bank, where widespread attacks on Palestinians by settlers and soldiers were already reported here on April 6. What is less known is the severe attack on Palestinians in Yaffa, an Arab town that was annexed by Tel Aviv, and is now under intense pressure for “Judaization/Gentrification”, that took place on the 1st and 2nd of April.
Yaffa’s Arab population is mostly poor and marginalized, and relations with the police were tense even before the pandemic. As the lockdown was declared the Tel Aviv police found an opportunity to make a show of force in Yaffa in a way that wasn’t practiced in any other neighbourhood. It provoked two days of widespread clashes that continued late into the night.
I couldn’t go to Yaffa but I talked on the phone with a local activist and heard a first-hand report about how it all developed. On the first day, in what was supposed to be enforcement of the lockdown, police started arresting local youth. From what I heard, what provoked the residents most was the fact that the police themselves didn’t show any intention of following the anti-infection instructions. They moved in dense groups, without masks, and beat people with their bare hands. A woman who tried to protect her son was thrown to the ground, her head hit the pavement and she started bleeding. People all over the neighbourhood erupted in anger, not ready to take it anymore.
On the second evening activists initiated a quiet vigil against police violence, trying to keep the social distancing standards, staying apart. Even though the lockdown order specifically allows demonstrations, the police demanded from the protesters to disperse and soon attacked them. Then the road was closed and clashes resumed.
On the 3rd day it was the local Palestinian leadership itself that worked hard to convince the activists and the population at wide to stay at home. The danger of infection was too big; and police violence and the protest against it would probably be with us long after the pandemic.
* * *
Apartheid has poisoned our lives for so many years. It is even more dangerous at these hard times.