Israel Closes Off Jerusalem’s Ultra-Orthodox Areas To Stem Coronavirus Spread

The most densely populated areas in Israel are those where the country’s ultra-Orthodox citizens reside. Subsequently, the rate of infection of the coronavirus is also high in these areas. This past Sunday, Israel’s government made a decision to lock down these areas, in order to contain the coronavirus spread. In Israel, a government order that all citizens wear face masks in public recently went into effect throughout the country. That same day, restrictions on entry and exit became enforced. Ultra-Orthodox residents of Israel will be forced to remain within their homes and without public contact through government employed police roadblocks. However, these residents will still be able to shop at nearby establishments for essential goods, like groceries and medicine. Synagogues, on the other hand, have been closed in order to prevent the spread of the infections, but this has already gone into effect throughout the country. Throughout these ultra-Orthodox areas, multi-generational families live together in small homes. It is believed that these residents have not been following social distancing guidelines, previously put out by the government. One such area, Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox community with a population of 200,000, was named a restricted zone, by the government, on April 2. Police have limited the exits and entrances of the town, which is located just outside of Tel Aviv. 

While Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are situated on the same piece of land, their tallied counts of coronavirus cases have been repeatedly recounted. In Israel, there have been 10,878 confirmed coronavirus cases and 103 deaths. In the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip, Palestinian officials listed 268 cases with two deaths. Palestinian officials have indeed been struggling to protect their citizens, considering the West Bank’s suffocated resources and limited access to economic revenue. Israel, which receives financial contributions from the United States government, has, so far, neglected to assist the West Bank financially in this unprecedented global crisis. In acknowledgment of this, Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara has stated that the Palestinian Authority (PA) asked Israel to help it manage the economic hardship that the corona virus crisis has caused. Typically, outside the coronavirus pandemic, Israel would collect around 700 million shekels ($195 million) a month, in exchange for a 3% commission in tax revenues for the Palestinian Authority from imports that arrive at Israeli ports. Now, due to the coronavirus crisis, the Palestinian Authority has predicted that these revenues will decline by more than 50%, as a result of lost trade. Bishara went on to state that he had requested that Israel loan the Palestinian Authority financial support as required to ensure the handovers amount to at least 500 million shekels ($140 million) a month. And then, possibly after the crisis, any loans given would be repaid by the Palestinian Authority, to Israel out of future tax revenues.

Bishara said that, if Israel were to agree to this loan, “we can add another 200 million shekels ($56 million) monthly aid from donor countries, in addition to 100 million shekels ($28 million) from local revenues.” This would be a way for the Palestinian Authority to keep afloat in the midst of the global crisis. Though, there would be a shortcoming to this condition.“That would make us 200 million shekels short (of normal figure), a sum we can make up for through taking [bank] loans,” Bishara said. “That should keep us going that way for six months.” There is, after all, a silver lining, considering that Israel agrees to give the PA the loan they so desperately need. The press was not able to attain a response from a spokeswoman for Israel’s Finance Ministry. Instead, the spokeswoman said, “We will not comment before a deal is signed”. She did, however, say that Israel had already, previously stated its willingness to loan the PA money to assist in the anti-coronavirus efforts. 

Considering that all countries, including the United States and Israel, often considered emblems of democratic progress, are struggling to protect their citizens and stay prepared for the coronavirus crisis, places like the Occupied Palestinian Territories will suffer greater costs. It is in the power of these stronger nations to assist those in economic constraints. In Israel’s case, the West Bank is occupied by none other than their government and military, and it is Israel’s responsibility as a nation to ensure the safety of the Palestinian people, in these unprecedented times.