Khaled al-Batash at the press conference (Right:, Shehab Facebook page, March 30, 2020. Left: to of the Masdar news network, March 30, 2020).
Khaled al-Batash at the press conference (Right:, Shehab Facebook page, March 30, 2020. Left: to of the Masdar news network, March 30, 2020).
Hamas operatives stand in front of a large Palestinian flag in al-Shuhadaa Square in Rafah (Palinfo Twitter account, March 30, 2020).
Burning the Israeli flag (Twitter account of journalist Hassan al-Aslih, March 30, 2020).
The aid from Qatar (Facebook page of the Qatari reconstruction committee, March 24, 2020).
UNRWA's new method for distributing food: from UNRWA centers to the homes of Palestinians
- While Hamas has focused most of its attention on trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip, this past week a rocket was fired into Israeli territory. It is unclear which organization fired it. It was the first rocket fired during the past month. In response the IDF attacked a number of Hamas posts. No casualties were reported, either as a result of the rocket fire or the IDF attack. In Judea and Samaria Palestinians continue to throw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah focus most of their attention on trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the PA territories.
- The mass return march which was supposed to be held in the Gaza Strip on March 30, 2020, to mark Land Day and the second anniversary of the return marches, was cancelled because of the COVID-19 crisis. Symbolic activities were held instead (Palestinian flags were waved, Israeli flags were burned, traffic was halted and drivers blew their horns). In the PA territories a few activities of low intensity were held.
The spread of COVID-19: Overview
- So far 107 Palestinians have tested positive for COVID-19 in the PA (as of March 31, 2020), with 10 in the Gaza Strip. The PA and the Hamas administration have instituted a series of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, but Hamas has not yet imposed a general lockdown and the response of the residents of the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria has been partial. In ITIC assessment, at this stage the situation in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria is under control. However, as time passes a severe humanitarian crisis is liable to develop, with significant consequences for the Palestinians themselves and their relations with Israel. International organizations and members of the Hamas administration have repeatedly warned of such a crisis.
- Senior Hamas figures reiterate accusations that Israel is to blame for the spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip (in certainly instances accompanied by veiled threats). Officials in the PA and Fatah have also spread the libel that Israel is “waging biological warfare” by deliberately spreading the virus and infecting Palestinian facilities. The PA and Hamas also accuse Israel of not providing proper conditions for the Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails. In ITIC assessment, in the (entirely possible) scenario of an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, the accusations are liable to be translated into rocket fire attacks from the Gaza Strip and an increase in popular terrorism in Judea and Samaria.
- On March 30, 2020 (the 44th Land Day) a mass return march was supposed to be held in the Gaza Strip. Other events were also planned for the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria. However, the events were cancelled because of the COVID-19 crisis. The Palestinian public was asked not to go to the return camps, but rather to fly Palestinian flags from their roofs and balconies, to burn Israeli flags and to post the pictures to the social networks. In the Gaza Strip a siren was sounded for five minutes, during which all traffic halted. In addition, a number of balloons were launched into Israeli territory carrying Palestinian flags.
The Gaza Strip
- Khaled al-Batash, chairman of the Supreme National Authority for the Return Marches and the Struggle Against the Deal of the Century, held a press conference in the return camp in eastern Gaza City. He announced the cancellation of the main event planned for Land Day and replacing it with a number of symbolic activities. He reiterated that the return marches would continue and expand (Shehab, March 30, 2020).
- Hamas called on Palestinians to obey the Supreme National Authority’s instructions. Hamas said there was no way to liberate the land except by “the path of resistance” (i.e., violence and terrorism), and there was no future for negotiations (Hamas website, March 30, 2020). Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, gave a Land Day speech Day in which he said that all of Israel’s attempts to change the identity of the Palestinian lands would not succeed and that the land would remain the jewel in the crown of the struggle (Hamas website, March 30, 2020).
- The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) issued an announcement stressing its resistance to the “deal of the century” and similar plans whose objective was to eradicate the Palestinian cause. The PIJ stressed its resistance to the normalization of relations with Israel, and called to activate popular committees to oppose normalization and boycott Israel (PIJ website, March 30, 2020).
Right: Land Day cartoon by Palestinian cartoonist Alaa al-Laqta. Left: Land Day cartoon. The graffiti on the wall reads, “For the sake of Palestine, stay at home” (Shehab Twitter account, March 30, 2020).
Judea and Samaria
- Given the COVID-19 crisis, beyond marking Land Day, activity has been low-key. Palestinian activists launched social media campaigns with the hashtag, #fly_your_flag. As part of the campaign Palestinians were asked to fly the Palestinian flag from their houses and to tweet using the hashtag. According to the activists, the campaign is intended to prevent gatherings of Palestinians (QudsN Facebook page, March 30, 2020).
Notice on the Facebook page of the Palestinian committee to struggle against the fence and the settlements. The Arabic reads, “On Land Day we will wave your flag” (Facebook page of the committee to struggle against the fence and the settlements, March 29, 2020).
- Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh praised the Palestinians, saying their main concern to defend the Palestinian people against the “occupation and the disease,” to strengthen the Palestinians’ firm stance regarding their land in a health, safe way, to protect its resources and struggle against the settlements (Muhammad Shtayyeh’s Facebook page, March 30, 2020). Fatah’s information and culture commission stressed the adherence of the Palestinian people to the land and its defense, and to continuing the struggle (Fatah website, March 30, 2020).
Right: Convoy and PA flag-waving in Ramallah (Wafa, March 30, 2020). Left: Flying the Palestinian flag in al-Aroub (north of Hebron) (Palinfo Twitter account, March 30, 2020).
Rocket fire into Israel
- On March 27, 2020, a rocket was fired into Israeli territory, falling in an open area in the western Negev. No casualties or damage were reported (western Negev spokesman’s unit, March 27, 2020). It was the first rocket fired after about a month of quiet.
- In response to the rocket fire, IDF UAVs and tanks attacked Hamas military posts and subterranean facilities used for Hamas’ activities in the northern Gaza Strip (IDF spokesman, March 27, 2020). The Palestinian media reported an attack on the “Palestine” post of Hamas military wing in Beit Lahia and two “resistance” observation posts in eastern Beit Hanoun and the eastern part of Abu Safia (east of Jabalia). No casualties were reported (Ma’an, March 27, 2020′ QudsN Facebook page, March 27, 2020).
- PIJ spokesman Mus’ab al-Brim responded to the IDF attacks by saying that Israel (“the Zionist enemy”) was inventing weak excuses to justify its aggression, exploiting the fact that the world was busy coping with COVID-19. He called the IDF attack an attempt to intensify the “siege” of the Gaza Strip and the suffering of its residents (PIJ website, March 28, 2020).
Monthly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire
Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits
- Despite the lockdown of most of the Judea and Samaria to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Palestinians continued throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and civilian targets. On March 20, 2020, shots were fired at Border Police fighters during a security activity in the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem. No casualties were reported. The fighters detained a Palestinian suspected of firing the shots (Border Police spokesman’s unit, March 30, 2020).
- Other prominent events were the following:
- March 30, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli bus southwest of Hebron. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, March 30, 2020).
- March 29, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli vehicle at a junction south of Nablus. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, March 29, 2020).
- March 29, 2020 – Stones were thrown at Israeli vehicles on a road northeast of Taybeh. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, March 29, 2020).
- March 28, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli police vehicle in Gush Etzion. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, March 28, 2020).
- March 26, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli vehicle north of Kiryat Arba. The vehicle was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, March 26, 2020).
- March 25, 2020 – Stones and bottles of paint were thrown at an Israeli vehicle southwest of Jerusalem. No casualties were reported. The front windshield of the vehicle was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, March 25, 2020).
- March 25, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli vehicle on the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem road west of Bethlehem. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, March 25, 2020).
Clash between settlers and Israeli security forces in Yitzhar (south of Nablus)
- On March 26, 2020, Israeli settlers threw three Molotov cocktails at a fortified Border Police vehicle at the exit from Yitzhar. One of the Molotov cocktails hit the vehicle. No casualties or damage were reported (Israel Police Force spokesman’s unit, March 26, 2020). In response Israel Commander in Chief General Aviv Kokhavi said that throwing Molotov cocktails was an extremely serious terrorist attack, an attack on the foundations of the nation and an attempt to subvert its institutions. He said the Israeli security forces would act with all the seriousness demanded against that type of event (IDF spokesman, March 27, 2020).
Right: Border Police vehicle damaged by a Molotov cocktail. Left: The fire caused by the Molotov cocktail (Israel Police Force spokesman’s unit, March 26, 2020).
Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria since January 2019
Support for the Gaza Strip
Distribution of funds from Qatar
- On March 31, 2020, Mohammed al-Emadi, chairman of the Qatari committee for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, announced that payment to needy families in Gaza would begin. He said payment of $100 would be made to 100,000 needy families through the branches of the post office bank. Elaborating the new arrangements necessary in light of the current situation, he said this time payments would be made over a period of two weeks. Gazans will receive notification of the specific dates they can receive payment to prevent crowding at post office branches (Facebook page of the Qatari committee for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, March 30, 2018).
People wait in line for the distribution of funds from Qatar, keeping their distance from one another (Twitter account of the Masdar news network, March 31, 2020).
- Previously, Mohammed al-Emadi announced that the Qatari reconstruction committee, in cooperation with the Qatari Development Fund, had begun providing aid to Palestinians in quarantine centers in the Gaza Strip, part of Qatar’s donation of $150 million. The aid includes food, basic electrical appliances, blankets and mattresses, and the fuel necessary to provide the centers with electricity. In addition, there are food packages for the families of some of the people in quarantine (Facebook page of the Qatari reconstruction committee, March 24, 2020).
- Salah al-Bardawil, a member of the Hamas’ political bureau, said the Qatari aid is part of the $35 million Qatar donates to the Gaza Strip every month. He said some of the money is allotted to the ministry of health and a larger amount goes towards repairing the social and economic damages caused by the so-called “siege” and the halting of work. He said the closedown of the schools, businesses, activity in the markets and reception halls financially harmed many people in many areas, and those people need support to ease their hardships (Palestine Online, March 28, 2020).
Distribution of support to Palestinians killed and injured in the return marches
- Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for the ministry of the interior in Gaza briefed journalists on March 29, 2020. He said that on March 30, 2020, the ministry of the treasury, in collaboration with the ministry of social development, would transfer the March allotments for the wounded and shaheeds of the return marches. He said payment would be made through the branches of the post office bank (Safa, March 29, 2020). Every person had to be certain he went to the correct branch at the correct time. According to reports, to prevent crowding, each person entitled to aid had received an SMS with the date payment would be made to him (Safa Twitter account, March 30, 2020).
Renewal of distribution of UNRWA aid
- UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said that on March 31, 2020, UNRWA would renew the distribution of food to refugee families in the Gaza Strip. He said distribution would be conducted by contractors with whom UNRWA had signed contracts, and they would bring to food directly to the families’ homes. UNRWA would defray the delivery costs (sabaq24, March 30, 2020). Note: On March 22, 2020, UNRWA suspended the delivery of food after the first COVID-19 case was detected in Gaza, saying delivery would be renewed when a more secure method could be found (al-Andalou News, March 23, 2020).
Palestinian terrorist Theresa Halsa (Umm Salman) dies in Jordan
- Fatah issued a mourning notice for Halsa. It stressed that she was a Jordanian from Karak whose mother was from Acre; a Jordanian Christian who joined Fatah in her youth and an operative in the Black September organization. According to the notice, she was a model of a woman who fought in the front ranks of the “resistance” (official Fatah Facebook page, March 28, 2020). The PLO’s Executive Committee issued a mourning notice for her, saying she was the head of the association of the wounded of the Palestinian revolution, who “was an embodiment of the highest sacrifice for the sake of liberation from the occupation” (Wafa, March 28, 2020).
Right: Theresa Halsa (official Fatah Facebook page, March 28, 2020). Left: Mourning notice for “militant” Theresa Halsa (official Fatah Facebook page. March 28, 2020).
 For further information see the ITIC bulletins issued last week monitoring the campaign against COVID-19 in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. ↑
 A significant attack is defined by the ITIC as involving shooting, a vehicular attack, the use of IEDs, or a combination of the above. Stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians are not included. ↑