The Remarkable Story of Israel, the Palestinians and COVID-19

When the United Nations praise Israel, you can be sure to be living in unprecedented times. It was 26th March when Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, praised Israel for its co-ordination with the Palestinians to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19.

There is no doubt that Israel’s co-ordination with the Palestinians has been a success story, which has undoubtedly saved countless lives. With 354 cases and two deaths in a West Bank population of three million, the Palestinian figures are particularly impressive, given the high population density, widespread distrust of Israel on a societal and governmental level and a period of extreme social distancing that occurred during the holy month of Ramadan. Even Gaza, ruled by a homicidal terrorist organisation, reported only 20 cases. Furthermore, we even saw Jerusalem’s right-wing mayor, Moshe Lion, personally packing food parcels for Arab residents and ensuring that the Israeli Air Force’s Yom Ha’atzmaut flyover went over a Palestinian hospital, garnering praise from the hospital’s director and the left-wing Ha’aretz newspaper.

For left-wing and right-wing commentators, advocacy groups and pro-peace organisations alike, this should be a moment of agreement. Indeed, one would expect a left-wing organisation such as Yachad UK, which describes itself as ‘Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace’, to champion this news story and mobilise their membership to advocate for the Israeli government to continue building positive relationships with Palestinians.

And yet, if one follows the Yachad Twitter account, one could be forgiven for not knowing that there was any good news to report. Apart from one tweet highlighting Mladenov’s praise, the vast majority of tweets have centred on the possible annexation of the Jordan Valley, with the occasional criticism of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu over coronavirus too.

Now, let’s clarify. I am not asking Yachad to suddenly become Netanyahu fans. Being pro-Israel does not mean being pro-Netanyahu, or supportive of government decisions. But it does include a deep-rooted love, respect or pride for the country on a basic level and being fair minded so that adulation and criticism alike are contextualised and moderated.

The fact that Yachad are not willing to celebrate what is possibly the most optimistic moment in Israeli-Palestinian relations in history, and to use this moment as a springboard to encourage further relationship building, seems to indicate that their true purpose is to find new – and in these times niche – ways to ever-criticise the Jewish state. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, given that Yachad didn’t tweet anything for Yom HaZikaron, and their sole Yom Ha’atzmaut tweet showed a picture of anti-Netanyahu protestors in Tel Aviv (and no Israeli flag).

Another reason why Yachad may have forgotten about coronavirus is their pre-occupation with what they see as the main issue of the day in Israel – Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley. Most of their tweets, webinars and current campaigns are about lobbying against this possible policy of the soon-to-be-formed Israeli government. Undoubtedly, annexation is a controversial issue. However, the decision to solely focus on that and virtually ignore the world’s – and Israel’s – biggest news story neither reflects the reality of what is happening, nor does any service for the wider community.

Yachad has claimed the mantle of the left-wing voice within the Israel conversation of the British Jewish community and has a significant presence among young people and students. If they are unable to capitalise on this moment in Israeli-Palestinian relations, it will drive people further away from Israel and further the mistaken notion that the Palestinian question is the single issue by which all of Israel is judged upon.

If the United Nations, Ha’aretz and Palestinian leaders themselves are able to praise Israel at this time, it should not be beyond Yachad’s ability to do so. Witnessing Israel and the Palestinians working together to save lives is truly impressive. In the shadow of the tragic devastation throughout the USA, Europe and the Middle East, this stands out as a beacon of hope and opportunity for those willing to acknowledge it.

About the Author
Michael Rainsbury is an Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, a modern Orthodox Anglo yeshiva in Jerusalem. Originally from London, he made Aliyah in 2013. Michael has held many roles in Bnei Akiva, serving as Educational Director and National Director in the UK and running the movement's gap year programmes in Israel. A teacher by profession, Michael has a Masters in Jewish Education and also runs Poland trips for JRoots, a leading provider of Jewish educational heritage tours. All articles are written in a personal capacity.
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