COVID-19 Crisis: Mounting Israeli Attempts to Cut Off Neighborhoods Beyond the Barrier from Jerusalem

March 20, 2020
Today, it was revealed that the Israeli government intends to close the Qalandia and Shuafat Refugee Camp (RC) checkpoints, thereby fully disconnecting the East Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the barrier (NBB) from Jerusalem and preventing 120,000-140,000 East Jerusalem residents who live in those areas from entering the rest of the city. Currently, strong opposition from the Mayor of Jerusalem has prevented the move, however  the government is still adamant to carry out the measure which might happen as early as tomorrow (Saturday). 
If the decision is approved, it will have a disastrous impact on the Palestinian population who live in these neighborhoods. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, these residents will be entirely disconnected from their city upon which they rely for all basic services. This will likely lead to widespread panic and acute unrest at an extremely challenging time, which will echo throughout the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem.
The reason given by the government is based on the claim that NBB residents are visiting other areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and therefore could potentially contract the virus there and spread it to other areas of Jerusalem inside the barrier. Contrary to this line of reasoning, the outbreak of the Coronavirus among the West Bank population is far less than that among Israel’s population: less than 50 cases have been identified, most of them in Bethlehem, while no cases have been reported in Ramallah, which is the closest West Bank destination for residents of the NBB.  So far in Israel, there are more than 700 infected individuals. Furthermore, the PA has been implementing extreme measures to prevent the spread of the virus and has instructed the population to refrain from traveling out of their local districts.

Exploitation of the COVID-19 Pandemic to Carry Out Further Unilateral Measures
The Israeli government’s attempt to close these checkpoints should be seen within the larger political context of longstanding Israeli policy and plans to ultimately sever these neighborhoods off from the rest of Jerusalem. In 2015, Prime Minister Netanyahu proposed the idea of revoking Israeli residency status from the population living in the NBB. Likewise, in 2018 the government attempted to amend the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel in order to redraw the municipal boundaries of the city so as to formally disconnect the NBB from the city - a move which was blocked at the last minute. 
Most recently, Trump's Plan, designed in close coordination with the Israeli government,  asserted that the Separation Barrier would mark the new Jerusalem municipal border and that the NBB would be transferred to the responsibility of a Palestinian government and constitute part of a future Palestinian capital. A decision by the Israeli government to disconnect these neighborhoods from Jerusalem through closure of the checkpoints under the guise of measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus would be one step forward in the implementation of Trump’s plan and in line with persistent Israeli plans and proposals pertaining to these neighborhoods.

For greater illumination of the implications of this move, see Ir Amim’s analysis of the impact of the Trump Plan on East Jerusalem