COVID-19 infections surge in West Bank
Tamara Nassar, Electronic Intifada, Jul 6 2020

Palestinian laborers queue to enter Israel via the Mitar checkpoint
in Hebron on Jun 28. Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen almost sevenfold in the occupied West Bank over the past three weeks. The total number of cases jumped from 690 on Jun 16 to more than 4.7k on Jul 6. There have been 20 deaths in the West Bank, more than half of them recorded in the past week. The UN OCHA said this was one of the highest increase rates recorded worldwide during this period. The PA has renewed lockdown measures in certain areas in light of the recent surge, after easing them in May. The recent uptick has been attributed to the easing of restrictions, including reopening businesses and houses of worship. Meanwhile, the total number of confirmed cases in Israel now exceeds 30k. More than half of the people infected have recovered and 332 have died. Initial antibody tests suggest that 2.5% of Israel’s population has been infected with the virus, more than 10 times the number of confirmed cases. Mohammad Shtayyeh, the PA PM, has urged Israel to close all the checkpoints in and out of the West Bank to stymie the spread. Palestinian laborers who continue to work in Israel are believed to be a primary vector for the spread of COVID-19 in the West Bank. Hundreds of thousands of workers travel between their homes in the West Bank and their jobs in Israel on a weekly basis. In response to the recent surge, the PA imposed a week-long lockdown on Hebron and a two-day closure on Bethlehem. Shorter lockdowns were imposed on other Palestinian towns throughout the West Bank. All shops were ordered closed, barring grocery stores, bakeries and pharmacies. The PA renewed prohibitions on large gatherings, such as weddings, graduation parties and funerals. Shtayyeh has appealed to the public to avoid holding such gatherings. The Allenby Bridge separating the West Bank from Jordan has opened a number of times in recent weeks, allowing passengers to cross into the West Bank.

No new cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in the Gaza Strip since Jun 10. This is largely due to a sharp decrease in the number of people moving in and out of Gaza in the past few weeks. There have been 72 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gaza, one of them fatal. The vast majority of people infected have recovered. The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been closed by the Egyptian authorities. It is the sole entry and exit point for the vast majority of Gaza residents to the outside world. The Erez checkpoint, the only crossing for people between Gaza and Israel, has been practically inoperative since March in an attempt to stymie the spread of COVID-19. Exits from Gaza into Israel are limited to mostly medical cases in general. But since the PA announced it was suspending coordination with the Israeli authorities on May 21, Palestinians have had no means by which to apply for travel permits to enter Israel. That includes Palestinians in need of critical medical treatment unavailable in the coastal enclave. Human rights groups have sent a letter to the Israeli government demanding that Israel ensure that Palestinians with medical or humanitarian needs be allowed to travel outside Gaza. The letter stated:

Israel may not, no matter the circumstances, prevent travel on procedural, bureaucratic grounds, all the more so when travel is required in order to exercise basic human rights. Denying these individuals travel would be a blatant, severe violation of their fundamental rights, including the right to life and bodily integrity.

The letter was signed by human rights groups Adalah, Gisha, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, HaMoked and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The Gaza authorities have decided that all those entering the Strip will be placed in mandatory three-week quarantine for the remainder of the year. Israel’s siege on the territory has entered its 13th year. The Kerem Shalom checkpoint, the only place Israel allows goods to enter and leave Gaza, is still operating. COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation, has been using the coronavirus pandemic as a propaganda opportunity to boast of the medical equipment and other supplies it allows into Gaza through the crossing.

COGAT has also boasted of making its occupation apparatus more efficient during the pandemic, in connecting the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank directly to a bus station:

COGAT masks its oppressive role as the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation through seemingly “humanitarian” acts, including trying to make the occupation more “efficient,” by adding high-tech systems to checkpoints and building shortcut routes. Such propaganda provides no comfort to the victims of Israeli oppression.

Israel lobby loses latest appeal against American Studies Association
Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada, Jul 6 2020

Palestinians have called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions due to their central role in Israel’s military
occupation, settler-colony enterprise and weapons industry. Photo: Mohammed Zaanoun/ActiveStills

An incessant Israel lobby-backed attempt to censor and punish the American Studies Association over its support of an academic boycott of Israel has once again failed in court. On Jun 19, a three-judge panel of the federal Court of Appeals in Faschingstein unanimously affirmed an earlier dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the ASA, its executive director and eight members of faculty by other current and former members of the ASA. Israel advocates filed the initial lawsuit in 2016 after the ASA endorsed the academic boycott of Israeli institutions three years prior. The ASA stated at the time:

Israeli academic institutions function as a central part of a system that has denied Palestinians their basic rights. The boycott represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians.

Israel advocates within the association, however, jumped into action to persecute colleagues who dared to criticize Israel. They claimed that the boycott resolution was brought by “insurgents” within the association who attempted to “subvert and change the ASA’s purpose” into a political advocacy organization. They alleged that a “cabal” of leaders from the Pindo Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel surreptitiously took over the ASA and used their positions on its executive committee and national council to foist the boycott resolution on the association’s unsuspecting membership, misspending ASA money in the process. A federal court threw out a key claim in the lawsuit in 2017, ruling that the ASA’s endorsement of the boycott was not contrary to the association’s charter. Palestine Legal attorney Radhika Sainath said at the time:

Israel advocacy groups are throwing every legal argument at this movement to see what will stick, and nothing’s sticking.

After the lawsuit was dismissed last year, the plaintiffs filed an appeal, and opened a second case in the Faschingstein Superior Court. In Dec 2019, the Superior Court granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss in part, but denied their anti-SLAPP motion. SLAPP suits are intended to suppress free speech and force people or organizations into spending money defending themselves in court. That case remains open.

Notably, the lawsuit was backed by the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights, an Israel advocacy organization that has for years worked to smear Palestine solidarity activism as anti-Semitism and attempts to suppress it with frivolous lawsuits and bogus civil rights complaints. The organization’s former president, attorney Kenneth Marcus, represented the plaintiffs until Feb 2018, when he was appointed as the Trump administration’s top civil rights enforcer at the federal Dept of Education. This latest ruling states that the plaintiffs failed to explain how they have suffered “economic or reputational damage,” nor “loss of standing within their universities,” as they asserted in their lawsuit, and did not present valid claims for alleged punitive damages. The ASA stated:

Although this victory leaves other pending litigation unresolved, the ASA will keep moving forward in these urgent times. We will continue to defend our work, our reputation, and our members who come under attack.

Biggest Dutch pension fund dumps Israeli banks
Adri Nieuwhof, Electronic Intifada, Jul 6 2020

Israel’s biggest banks are heavily involved in financing Israel’s construction of colonies
in the occupied West Bank, a war crime. Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/ActiveStills

Dutch pension fund ABP announced last month that it has stopped investing in two Israeli banks involved in Israel’s violent colonization of the occupied West Bank. ABP is the biggest pension fund in the Netherlands, and one of the world’s largest, with about $500b in assets. It says it wants its investments to “contribute to a sustainable world.” In areas where there is an increased risk of human rights violations, like the West Bank, ABP requires companies it invests in to have in place a human rights policy. Not only do Israel’s Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi have no such policy, but both are heavily involved in building settlements on occupied Palestinian land. All of Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in Syria’s Golan Heights, is a war crime. ABP spox Jos van Dijk confirmed the divestment from the two banks in a phone call with The Electronic Intifada. For over a decade, many organizations and thousands of individuals have expressed their concerns over ABP’s investments in settlement profiteers. In 2014, former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to ABP’s board calling for divestment from the Israeli banks. Investing in Israeli institutions that lend to repressive and illegal projects “helps perpetuate the cycle of violence,” he argued.

However, the Israeli banks do not appear on ABP’s exclusions list, van Dijk said, because only firms involved in tobacco production, nuclear arms and cluster weapons are listed. Named on the exclusion list are Israeli arms firms Aryt Industries, Ashot Ashkelon and Elbit Systems. In 2016, ABP held shares worth $100m in Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, as well as $10m in shares of Mizrahi Tefahot, another Israeli institution that finances settlements, according to research organization Danwatch. In February, the UNHRC released a long-awaited database of companies involved in Israel’s illegal settlements. It includes nine Israeli banks and many international brands. ABP holds shares in several companies listed in the UN database including train maker Alstom, travel firms and Tripadvisor, real estate company Re/Max, US food giant General Mills and electronics firm Motorola. ABP should also divest from these companies because they aid and help sustain Israel’s illegal settlements. Six years ago, the second largest pension fund in the Netherlands PFZW, formerly known as PGGM, excluded five Israeli banks for their role in financing settlements. Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank were excluded from the fund’s investment portfolio. PFZW director Peter Borgdorff told Dutch daily Trouw in 2014:

We are concerned that the occupation of the West Bank harms the human rights of Palestinians under international law. We do not want to make money from companies that further strengthen and expand the settlements.

But last year, PFZW suddenly removed the five Israeli banks from its exclusions list. When asked, Borgdorff said that this had to do with a reassessment of all investments. Three Israeli banks reappeared in PFZW’s 2019 investment portfolio. Fully aware of the role Israeli banks play in the violation of Palestinian rights, PFZW nonetheless invested more than $7m in First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot. PFZW spox Ellen Habermehl assured The Electronic Intifada that the pension fund still applies its policy of sustainable and responsible investment. She added that the OECD guidelines on responsible business conduct for multinational enterprises serve as an important benchmark. Those guidelines say:

Companies should “respect human rights, which means they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.

Today, Habermehl said, PFZW uses the services of dataprovider Sustainalytics, which screens companies for ethical and sustainable conduct. Since Sustainalytics provides proprietary information to subscribers, it is currently unclear what its recommendations are regarding companies that violate Palestinian rights. This is not the only area in which PFZW appears to have backtracked on ethical commitments. In December, environmental campaigners accused PFZW of breaking a 2015 pledge to reduce its investments in fossil fuels by 30% over five years. Instead, according to campaign group Fossielvrij NL, the pension fund actually increased its holdings by 14%. Since 2014, the year PFZW excluded the five Israeli banks, Israel has intensified its settlement expansion, which goes hand in hand with increasing violations of Palestinian rights. There can be no doubt that Israeli banks violate the OECD guidelines. Continuing to invest in them renders PFZW’s alleged concerns for human rights insincere and hollow.

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