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Israeli press review: Army prepare for closure of West Bank over coronavirus

Doctors call for stop to 'plunder of democracy' under auspice of corona pandemic, while a former Supreme Court judge accuses Knesset of breaking parliamentary principle
Municipal employees spray disinfectant in a children's playground in the Israeli coastal city of Bat Yam, 18 March 2020 (AFP)

Israeli army preparing for shutdown

The Israeli army is preparing for a complete shutdown of towns, cities, and settlements in the occupied West Bank, in a bid to combat the spread of coronavirus, Ynet newspaper reported.

Both the Golani and Paratroopers army brigades are being trained to impose a full closure of the military checkpoints in the West Bank.

A shutdown of the military checkpoint at the entrance of the Shuafat refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem would leave 23,000 Palestinian residents under lockdown, Haaretz said.

Israel’s Home Front Command has already deployed 1,000 reserve soldiers in the coronavirus battle.

"We are increasing the military's role through assistance to local and regional government," Hidai Zilberman, an army spokesman, told Ynet.

"Within our ranks, we are also preparing for mass contamination of troops and are separating teams to avoid such scenarios."

Within the Israeli army, 23 soldiers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 6,500 soldiers have been put in quarantine.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tasked the army on Tuesday with assisting the elderly, providing food and medical products.

In recent weeks, Israel has also engaged its intelligence arms - the internal Shin Bet and the external Mossad - in combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Israel recorded the country's second death due to the virus, also known as Covid-19.

There have been 1,656 infected cases and the country is drafting regulations to limit the movement of Israelis to within a 100-metre radius of their homes.

Doctors fear government coup

Three hundred Israeli veteran doctors and health officials have submitted a petition to President Reuven Rivlin, expressing fear over the halt of the Knesset and the political process and criticising Netanyahu, saying that there were other opinions on how to manage the coronavirus crisis.

The petition's initiator, Yael Faran, said that they were asking Rivlin “to stop the plunder of democracy under the auspice of the corona epidemic”, pointing out that no country currently battling Covid-19 has “a paralysed parliament".

"We are concerned about the paralysis of the judicial system and the deliberate paralysis of the legislative activity," the petition said, though the Knesset resumed on Tuesday to vote on a new draft of coronavirus regulation.

Faran told Walla! NEWS in Hebrew that “there seems to be an exploitation of the medical corona crisis for political needs.

“I do not see the link between the disease and the Knesset that did not meet … now the Knesset committees are being renewed, but everything is a bit tighter. We feel that under the corona, democracy is disintegrating. It worries us a lot.”

Faran said they feared "a government coup in Israel”.

“We will wake up after the crisis to another, non-democratic country,” she said.

She said that Israeli doctors had different opinions on how to manage the crisis, and a discussion should be opened with the Ministry of Health with active Knesset debates.

Israel is forming a coalition government after Rivlin tasked former army general Benny Gantz of the Blue and White political alliance to form a new government after winning 34 seats during March's election.

Broken parliamentarian principle

A former Israeli Supreme Court president, Dorit Beinisch, has criticised Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset since 2013, over his refusal of a Supreme Court request to obey the highest judicial authority in Israel.

Beinisch expressed her worry after Edelstein refused most of the Knesset’s members' demands to have a vote on his replacement, which the Supreme Court issued him an official request to allow.

She said that this would cause “complete chaos and breaking the basic frameworks of the democratic regime”.

"We are in hard times, fighting the epidemic … mechanisms designed to protect this society are falling apart due to phenomena we have never seen before,” Beinisch told the Kan website.

Beinisch said that both Edelstein and the Knesset broke the parliamentarian principle, which is “the rule of the majority”.

“Most of the time there was a legitimate demand, and the Speaker of the Knesset ignored it,” she said.

Edelstein refused to allow the Supreme Court to intervene in the Knesset’s agenda, saying that he would allow the vote on his replacement by Wednesday's deadline.

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.