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The occupation has left Palestinians unable to control the virus | Occupied West Bank



In recent weeks, some countries around the world managed to slow down the spread of COVID-19 within their borders, and successfully eased their strict lockdown measures. Many others, however, experienced a second wave of infections and are still struggling to reduce the number of new coronavirus cases. 

Unfortunately, the occupied Palestinian territories are in the latter group. 

After imposing strict measures early on during the first wave of infections, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories appeared to have contained their outbreaks, with each reporting only a few dozen new cases a day in May. But an easing of restrictions has led to a steady uptick in cases since mid-June. This caused panic and confusion while the authorities rushed to come up with more effective methods to get the virus under control.

However, stemming the spread of the coronavirus is particularly difficult in Palestine due to Israel’s military occupation and the resulting apartheid and economic devastation. 

The sharp deterioration in coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officials after Israel threatened to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank has made an already grave situation worse. The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept tax revenues from Israel due to its annexation plans meant that the public sector employees did not receive regular salaries since May, putting more strain on the local economy during the lockdown. 

The fractured administrative structure of the occupied West Bank – where Area A is exclusively administered by the PA, Area B is administered by both the PA and Israel; and Area C is administered only by Israel – has made it impossible for the Palestinian leadership to impose effective preventative measures. The PA’s inability to fully access Areas B and C, which comprise almost 80 percent of the West Bank, has left it struggling to follow an all-inclusive coronavirus containment strategy.

The recent rise in coronavirus cases in the occupied territories has largely been blamed on the continuation of weddings, funerals and other forms of mass gatherings as well as Palestinian labourers working in Israel. Recognising that it is powerless to officially impose any virus containment measures in areas under Israeli control, the PA has asked grassroots activists, influential families, clan and tribe leaders to help it raise awareness and prevent large gatherings. 

The situation in the West Bank city of Hebron, the area hardest hit by the second wave of infections, provides further proof of the occupation’s devastating impact on the PA’s ability to contain the virus. The 1997 Hebron Protocol signed between Israel and the PA divided the city in to two areas: H1 and H2. The H1 is controlled by the PA, but H2 is under Israeli military control.

During the first wave of infections, the PA imposed a strict lockdown in H1, however, Israeli authorities did not follow the same strategy in H2. Thus, while some shops and venues were forcefully shut down, others, sometimes located on the opposite side of the same street, were allowed to continue with business as usual. This caused a lot of confusion and frustration for the residents of the city and exacerbated the spread of the virus.  

Furthermore, on July 21, at a time when the Palestinian Ministry of Health recorded daily increases averaging 400 cases across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with 80 percent of active cases being recorded in Hebron, the Israeli authorities demolished a COVID-19 quarantine and testing centre in the city. Another testing centre in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan was raided and shut down by the authorities in mid-April.

And as the Palestinian population was put under another strict lockdown in July, Israeli forces continued to conduct nightly raids on Palestinian areas, disregarding the severity of the crisis. Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities were raided multiple times throughout the month, with scores of Palestinian being arbitrarily arrested. 

On July 18, Israeli forces also conducted a night raid on the Al-Jalazon refugee camp, where over 150 COVID-19 cases have been recorded and approximately 14,000 people are forced to live in close quarters with little possibility of social distancing. The camp’s youth and volunteers have been working hard to control the spread of the virus within the camp, but the Israeli raid and the resulting clashes and arrests brought their efforts to a halt. 

Palestinians in East Jerusalem have also been left vulnerable to the virus due to the activities and policies of Israeli authorities. In a July briefing paper, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Al-Haq and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre highlighted how “Israel’s discriminatory response to COVID-19 in East Jerusalem, coupled with long-standing failures to fulfil fundamental human rights, has compounded Palestinians’ susceptibility to the pandemic”.

In their joint briefing paper, the NGOs explained how Israeli policies led to “long delays in opening testing centres for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, delays in the provision of quarantine facilities, harassment, arrests, and persecution of local volunteers distributing aid materials and foodstuffs, closures of community-led initiatives to contain COVID-19 and raise awareness as to the pandemic, and the initial failure even to provide data on the numbers and rate of infections in Palestinian communities as well as to issue information and guidance for the Arabic-speaking public”. 

Most of the fears Palestinians had when the pandemic began in March were realised over the past few weeks. The virus had spread, uncontrolled, in heavily populated cities and towns. It had also hit vulnerable and overcrowded refugee camps all over the West Bank, where social distancing is not possible. 

Palestinians in the occupied territories are aware that their capabilities in the health sector pale in comparison to those of more developed nations who had been devastated by the pandemic. This is why they fear the worst could be still to come. They are angry with the PA for failing to protect them from this deadly virus, but they are also aware that the Israeli occupation is making it almost impossible for the Palestinian leaders to manage the situation. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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Museveni issues ultimatum to police boss




Museveni flagged off distribution of motorcycles for NRM chairpersons

President Yoweri Museveni has given Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martins Okoth Ochola a chilling ultimatum: You either do your work or I will do it myself!

Museveni disclosed the ultimatum he gave to the IGP today Monday at the NRM secretariat at Plot 10 Kyadondo Road in Kampala where he was flagging off the distribution of motorcycles to parish chairpersons of the ruling National Resistance Movement party across the country. 

“I told the IGP that if the police doesn’t do their work, I will do it myself by arresting the police officers themselves,” Museveni stunned his audience as he commented on the electoral violence that marred the NRM primaries held on Friday last week. At least 4 people were killed across the country during the primaries. 

“There was violence in Bukono county [Namutumba district] where people were beaten. I got information that police has not done much work. Some (policemen) have been arrested and given police bond; there is no police bond for somebody who has attacked Ugandans!,” Museveni added. 

Museveni vowed to deal with all persons who messed up the party primaries.  In some parts of the country, there were massive regularities where candidates who had been defeated ended up being announced winners. In some places like Namutumba, Isingiro, Ntungamo, Jinja, Katakwi, among others, there was violence that led to the killing and wounding of civilians. Museveni said that they are going to make sure that all those who participated in these irregularities and violence are held to account. 

Museveni said although the violence was orchestrated by the politicians, the police personnel are to be held accountable for failing to contain it.

Last week, police spokesman Fred Enanga warned police personnel especially those guarding VIPs against being drawn into the politicians’ political wrangles, reminding them that they would face the music if they did. With the president now threatening to go and conduct the arrests of errant policemen himself, IGP Ochola is likely to move fast to avert the spectacle. 

Museveni wondered why police would shoot at unarmed people who were fighting amongst themselves: “That policeman must be arrested; even the ones who are threatening people you will go to jail for that if we get evidence,” a seemingly incensed Museveni said.

He also said that the state minister of Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana who was captured on camera attempting to shoot people over the weekend in Ntugamo after he lost the  Rushenyi primaries, will be charged with threatening violence and attempted murder. 

 “This game is finished,” Museveni said.

Rukatana has since been charged and remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district in western Uganda. Museveni called upon all those dissatisfied with the election results to write petitions to the regional panels of elders which he said are going to be constituted to hear all election complaints.

“We are going to get three respected people who are not part of the struggles, then we shall go and audit village per village and we shall discover. If you have committed forgery, the registrar or the politician who ordered,  you all shall go to jail. The game is finished; the voting is by lining and if you miss-add, you are ‘miss-add’ yourself,” Museveni said.

Museveni’s speech came shortly before that of Justine Kasule Lumumba, the secretary general of the NRM who called upon the president to reign over some senior people who with impunity were freely changing the results of the elections.

“Some of our staff were lured into changing declaration forms on the way forgetting that people who had participated at the village don’t need to write; they registered the record in their faces…Some have done things with impunity… in Butemba county Kyakwanzi district, one of the candidates who got 3,000 votes brought in soldiers, cordoned off that place and was declared a winner and off they went away,” Lumumba said. 

The ball is now in Ochola’s court to get the police to execute their duties professionally and with impartiality. In March 2017, President Museveni warned Ochola’s predecessor Kale Kayihura to clean the police force of wrong elements. As months passed with no visible sign of police officers shaping up, Museveni resorted to other security agencies who started arresting rogue senior police officers and charging them in the military court for various crimes.

Kayihura was then removed from office, arrested and jointly charged with the errant officers in the army court. To avoid similar fate, Ochola is likely to use a firmer hand on the police officers so that by the time of the February 2021 elections, there is no laxity in the force’s execution of its mandate to maintain law and order.

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