Viral Occupation

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The present crisis caused by COVID-19 has laid bare the inequality and violence at the heart of the current global economic system where profit accumulation comes at the expense of our collective rights. As people live in fear and uncertainty of the unfolding crisis’ impact, governments and corporate capital are seizing the opportunity to tighten their control and generate profit. 

In this dynamic report, Who Profits will monitor the developments on the ground, providing analysis and sources of the unfolding of the COVID-19 crisis in occupied Palestine. Monitoring developments in Palestine is crucial not because Palestine is an exceptional case, but precisely because it is not. As one political economist put it, Gaza (and Palestine more broadly) may be “the proverbial canary in the COVID-19 coal mine.”

There is no doubt that for Palestinians living under occupation, the acute shortage of testing kits, protective gear and ICU capacity is only the tip of the iceberg. A host of structural issues inevitably compound the virus’ devastating impact.

While it is still too early to tell how the COVID-19 will impact the global and local economy, we can begin by posing the right questions with the following framing in mind: 

      1. COVID-19 is not operating in a vacuum. As it spreads through Israeli-occupied Palestinian and Syrian land, it is interacting with the structures of occupation which, while far from novel, are every bit as adaptive, resistant and continually mutating as any member of the corona family.
      2. COVID-19 will not function as a ‘Great Equalizer’ – The myth that a pandemic does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, is patently false. An occupied and besieged population and a systematically de-developed economy are particularly vulnerable to both COVID-19 and the economic fallout.
      3. Desperate times legitimize repressive measures. Declaring a state of emergency often provides the pretext for the introduction of new repressive and exploitative measures and the entrenchment and legitimization of existing ones.
      4.  What happens in Palestine does not stay in Palestine. A key reason Israel is continually looking to diversify its portfolio of repression is that it can later turn it outward for economic profit and political gains.

This page will be updated as the situation continues to evolve. If you have further information or specific queries, please contact us at [email protected] or through the information center.

A conversation on securitization and surveillance in the context of Covid-19 with Dr. Nisha Kapoor and Whi Profits research coordinator Riya Al-Sanah.
Israel intends to use Visby Medical’s Covid-19 testing kits to test Palestinian workers before they enter Israel from the besieged Gaza Strip, as well as in the Israeli Knesset.
Neura, led by veterans of Israeli military intelligence units, is marketing a behavioral intelligence platform that predicts future Covid-19 hotspots to governments.
“The Shin Bet will begin tracking immediate family members of coronavirus carriers suspected of lying or not cooperating in their contact tracing.”
Gaza’s unemployment rate rose 3.6% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the previous quarter, reaching 49.1%.
According to Palestinian Minister of Health Mai al-Kalia, Israel “obstructed” the entry of 100,000 COVID-19 testing swabs destined for the West Bank.
“Routine blackouts and shaky internet service have made remote learning in the Gaza Strip a challenge for students during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Israeli military’s Home Front Command is recruiting current and former agents from the Shin Bet security agency in order to gather intelligence on Palestinian citizens of Israel as part of Covid-19 response.
According to the WHO, Gaza's hospitals currently have capacity for 350 COVID-19 patients for a population of two million.
“Palestinian factions issued a statement holding Israel responsible for the health of Gaza residents and demanded it lift the blockade and provide the Strip with medical and humanitarian supplies.”
The Israeli R&D center of the Japanese Yaskawa Electric Corporation developed a robotic system to conduct Covid-19 tests. Its robotic arm, capable of conducting some 2,800 tests per day, has been installed in an Covid-19 testing lab operated by the Israeli military.
“Palestinians are sheltering in place at their homes amid high temperatures on just four hours of electricity a day, and without running water.”
Rights groups appeal to the UN to uphold the right to health and safety of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention, many of whom are minors, chronically ill, or held under administrative detention in contravention of international law.
The Israeli Employment Service is not allowing online forms to claim unemployment be filled out in Arabic, which may result in thousands of unemployed people losing their stipends, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem, where many are not fluent in Hebrew.
Elbit subsidiary KMC Systems has been selected by members of the US Department of Defense – Defense Health Agency, United States Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, and the Wright Brothers Institute to evaluate ventilator designs for Covid-19 response.
“The city’s legal department and the courts refused some families’ requests for a postponement due to economic hardship and fear of infection in East Jerusalem neighborhoods with a high incidence of COVID-19.”
Lack of testing facilities, inaccurate and unreliable tracking data, and persecution of Palestinian health activists, coupled with decades of systemic neglect, render Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem highly vulnerable to the pandemic.
“At least 2,000 soldiers set to help military's 'Alon' Coronavirus Command Center conduct testing and epidemiological investigations with a goal to cut the chain of infection within 36 hours, as opposed to 5 days it takes health officials now.”
"By April 2020, one month after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fiscal revenues of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) had declined to their lowest levels in 20 years."
Kando, a US- and Israel-based company that monitors sewage systems for pollution, is piloting a SARS-CoV-2 detection system in collaboration with Ben Gurion University, the Technion and the Israeli Ministry of Health.
“Last month [June] saw a spike in Israeli demolitions, which left 151 Palestinians, including 84 minors, homeless – despite the danger of remaining without shelter during a pandemic.”
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signed a collaboration agreement with the Abu-Dhabi based Group42, for Covid-19 focused R&D. IAI has been a key player in Israel’s militarized coronavirus response.
Israeli forces are preventing the PA from erecting barriers in Area C to contain the virus. Total number of infections in the West Bank reached 4786 (4307 active). Palestinians workers inside Israel were asked to stay in their workplace.
“Recognising that Covid-19 would lead to economic devastation on a global scale and that states will need to control and repress resisting populations, SIBAT wants to identify potential customers for Israeli military and security companies.”
Utilizing data from an Israeli hospital, IAI developed a model that predicts the progression of the medical status of COVID-19 patients using big data and AI. The model was developed in IAI’s Systems Missiles and Space Group.
Pangea IT announced a platform for Covid-19 air travel, with which governments can issue a smart card, featuring the holder’s photo, a digital signature, a chip, a hologram, and up-to-date encrypted data on the holder’s Covid-19 profile, linked to a country’s medical database.
A ministerial committee of the Israeli Knesset has declared a lockdown in two neighborhoods in Palestinian towns in the Naqab (Negev) region within the Green Line.
The Palestinian Authority announced new restrictions in the West Bank following a steep rise in coronavirus cases.
A conversation on the political economy of Covid-19 in Palestine with Dr. Rafeef Ziadah and Dr. Weeam Hammoudeh.
An Israeli military tender asks bidders to map out surveillance needs of all countries (excluding Iran, Syria and Lebanon). Israel regards surveillance export as a main lever for economic growth as protests spread worldwide.
“The fiscal position of the PA, which was already extremely vulnerable following the liquidity shock in 2019, is now facing a further deterioration in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.”
Tel Aviv University, together with the Israel Medical Corps, will conduct the first widespread test of Israeli soldiers for development of antibodies to the coronavirus.
Israeli policies vis-à-vis Palestinian labour in the context of the Covid-19 crisis expose how pre-existing structures interlock to secure profits for the occupying power at the expense of an occupied population.
تكشف السياسات الاسرائيلية تجاه العمال الفلسطينيين في ظل فيروس الكورونا الطريقة التي تتقاطع بها مباني السيطرة والخنق الاقتصادي القائمة، وذلك لضمان الارباح على حساب الشعب المُستعمَر.
"Palestinian workers play a vital role in Israel’s economy, but they’ve been left exposed to the danger of COVID-19 without any support from the Israeli authorities or their own leaders. The pandemic has exposed the harsh realities of life for workers under Israeli occupation."
Authorities in Gaza have reported the first coronavirus fatality, after a sharp rise in confirmed infections in recent days.
Proposed legislation would enable the Israeli authorities to trace the whereabouts of confirmed patients in the two weeks preceding the diagnosis.
“The damage to the water tanks is sheer abuse and constitutes an illegal act of collective punishment. As residents now have to follow strict hygienic measures, including frequent handwashing, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, this conduct is even graver.”
From May 28, further restrictions imposed on the movement of workers will be lifted. 80,000 Palestinian workers will be permitted to access their work places within the Green Line and the settlements on a daily basis.
“The pandemic is entrenching already existing patterns of debt, surveillance, labor exploitation and Israeli control over Palestinian land and life.”
Israeli surveillance tech continues to be marketed as part of the coronavirus response. In this instance, AnyVision systems will detect people without face masks.
Military intelligence units continue to develop coronavirus-related tech in partnership with startups and hospitals. New Israeli carriage tank technology is concurrently being adapted for hospital use.
The Israeli policy of punitive demolitions continues under COVID-19.
Israeli assaults on Gaza continue under COVID-19.
Israel prevents the development of ICT infrastructure in Gaza that would enable its besieged population to access virtual work opportunities, learning, leisure and communication.
Aerial herbicide spraying conducted by Israel in early April damaged 588 dunams of farmland to the east and north of the Gaza District, harming the livelihoods of 93 farmers.
Who Profits Company Feature highlights the coronavirus-related activities of the Israeli spyware company NSO Group.
Who Profits investigates the coronavirus-related activities of the Israeli military establishment and private enterprises, exposing the deep military bias of the Israeli economy and political regime.
Israeli Supreme Court decision leaves the door open for further Sin Bet interference in civilian matters. For Palestinians, such interference has long been the norm.
The app was developed by Israeli soldiers in collaboration with employees of weapons corporation Rafael and Amazon Israel, joining a growing list of medical products based on Israeli military know-how.
Although the number of COVID-19 patients is decreasing, Gaza is already suffering from a very harsh economic crisis and the coronavirus has only made it worse.
Power and fuel shortages lead to total paralysis of hospitals, sometimes stopping their work for days. 95% of all hospital beds in Gaza’s 32 hospitals are occupied.
While Covid-19 movement restrictions prevent Syrian Golanis from monitoring or protesting, Energix representatives, accompanied by Israeli police, visit planned wind farm project sites on occupied land.
“The ‘usual’ terror is now compounded by the specific fear of contracting coronavirus from strangers who break into your home and stay there for some time.”
Israeli military intelligence capabilities, central to the occupation apparatus, have been incorporated into Israel’s coronavirus response, gathering medical intelligence.
AnyVision, whose biometrics tech is deployed in Israeli military checkpoints and Palestinian towns in the oPt, will deploy thermal cameras in Israeli hospitals.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, Gaza companies have produced protective suits and masks, selling them in the West Bank and Israel. With travel via Erez Crossing heavily restricted, manufacturers and suppliers are less able to collect on existing debts.
While the 2019 Gaza measles outbreak was fairly quickly contained, Gaza’s health sector offers little cause for confidence in the case of Covid-19.
The Israeli government approved the re-entry of 67,000 Palestinian construction workers. They will not be able to return home until the end of Ramadan and their movement will be restricted and monitored while on the job.
Because of Ramadan and unsafe working conditions, with severe health implications, over 80% of Palestinian workers left their jobs, leading to the halting of work in over 9,000 construction sites.
Around 20 thousand Palestinian workers continue to work in Israel in sectors deemed “essential” for the economy. No official Israeli body has taken responsibility to oversee their work and accommodation conditions and they have no access to testing.
Palestinian workers' remittances from Israel made up 25% of wages in all sectors and 14% of the Palestinian GDP in 2018. Since late March, over 60,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs within the Green Line.
“COVID-19’s impact is exacerbated by [compromised sanitary] living conditions making Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers increasingly vulnerable.”
“Of particular concern is the ongoing demolition of water and hygiene-related structures, which could undermine efforts to contain the spread of the virus.”
Subsidiary raised $5M to develop a facial recognition platform that could aid policing of populations under quarantine, based on capabilities of the parent company, led by veterans of Israeli elite military intelligence units.
According to its CEO, Elbit Systems "is an ideal candidate to benefit from budgets and contracts of governments that would want to quickly raise employment and the GDP. Civil unrest also creates demand for public security products.”
“Gaza appears to have kept the new coronavirus under control, confirming just 12 cases so far. But it has put an extra strain on the economy which was already struggling because of the strict blockade by Israel. And farmers there are becoming desperate.”
73% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees living in extreme poverty in densely-populated camps. Ali Abu Kheir, resident of Al-Shate`a camp, says: “we can barely afford food, how can we afford hygienic products?!”
“The besieged Gaza Strip has run out of Coronavirus testing kits, Palestinian health authorities have warned, further harming the coastal enclave’s attempts to shield itself from a widespread outbreak”.
“Farmers working in agricultural lands near the fence told Gisha that they fear the strong winds in the area yesterday carried the herbicidal agents as far as one kilometer into the Strip, potentially damaging large areas of farmland in Gaza”.
Israel not only neglects the health of Palestinians in illegally annexed East Jerusalem, but actively criminalizes it, shutting down testing facilities and arresting officials engaged in awareness raising.
By restricting access to agrarian land, water and other occupied resources, the Israeli occupation impedes food production and availability. Coronavirus lockdown will further exacerbate food insecurity for Palestinians.
Israel’s extensive surveillance apparatus, long used against Palestinians, is now deployed to monitor Israeli coronavirus patients.
Israeli government investment arm is offering millions in grants for coronavirus-related tech. Recipients include several firms specializing in population control through remote monitoring, sensors and scent recognition.
Israeli employers are eager to employ cheap Palestinian labour, but they become dispensable as soon as they need care. In theory, Palestinian workers are entitled to the same rights as Israeli workers. 
Israel is capitalizing on the Covid-19 crisis to further entrench its surveillance apparatus and control over Palestinians. Workers must willingly agree for Israel to tap their cellphones to check the status of their permits.
In cooperation with the Israeli MOD and military, Israeli spyware firm NSO Group developed a data analysis system to track Israelis and rate their probability of contracting coronavirus. System trials have been reported in multiple countries.
Canon’s full subsidiary, the Israeli video surveillance firm BriefCam active in occupied East Jerusalem, is advocating the use of intelligent video surveillance as part of the response to COVID-19.
“Allowing the Shin Bet to employ its secret, unsupervised methods in civilian affairs could create a dangerous slippery slope that might pave the way for its intervention in additional civilian realms."
Across the globe, far-right governments are using the pandemic to further restrict civil space and deepen surveillance.
Pushed to work for Israeli employers- "I prefer to be home like the Jews and like you, with a mask. But what will my wife say if I don't have money? It's a choice of no-choice", said a Palestinian construction worker on a site in Tel Aviv.
Palestinian workers in Israel are employed in labour intensive jobs in unsafe conditions. Some 65% of them work in the construction sector, their absence could have led to the monthly loss of 4.45 billion NIS.
The dependency of Palestinian workers on jobs in the Israeli market allows employers to cut costs and accumulate profit through exploitation. No protection when catching the virus on the job. 
41 Palestinian workers at the Glatt Chicken factory in the Atarot Industrial Zone, occupied East Jerusalem, were infected by the Coronavirus. None of them were tested or received healthcare before returning to their families. 
Gaza's healthcare system has no capacity to deal with the spread of COVID-19. There is an acute shortage in ICU beds, ventilators and PPE.
Israeli structures of dispossession have created a population of refugees. Most of Gaza residents live in cramped refugee camps, each containing more than 100k people in areas as small as 14 km, such as Jabaliya camp. `Social distancing` is impossible.
The siege has devastated Gaza`s economy, with an unemployment rate of over 70% among young people and around 80% of residents rely on humanitarian aid. Almost all pumped water in the Gaza Strip is undrinkable and electricity is provided for only a few hours a day.
Through an imposed land, water and air siege, Israel has control over the imports and exports from and into Gaza. This includes the import of essential material to protect Gaza's inhabitants such as masks and sanitizers and medical equipment needed to treat those infected.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Water, sanitation and Hygiene Assessment at the Household Level in the Gaza Strip                                 
U.N. Says Gaza is De-Developing Even Faster than Expected
Exploitation and Profiteering: Palestinians Forced to Pay a Fortune to Work in Israel