Arabs living in the Palestinian Authority-governed areas (PA) of Judea and Samaria are becoming increasingly hostile towards foreigners amid the first cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus and fear of a further outbreak.
A German woman working in Ramallah told TPS she felt “extremely uncomfortable and unwelcome,” and was concerned there could be assaults on foreigners with workers from abroad having been abused on the streets of many Palestinian Authority cities. Another German woman was spat at in Nablus (Shechem) and told she was “bringing corona to Palestine.”
“The atmosphere is incredibly hostile,” she said, stating that there were “no more calls of ‘Welcome to Palestine’, just plain rejection.”
Signs put up in buses now state that foreigners will no longer be allowed to use the services, while some foreign workers have been refused access to areas under PA-authority.
TPS has learned that police are specifically looking for foreigners in at least two cities, Shechem (Nablus) and Jericho, checking passports of every “non-Palestinian” they encounter.
There have also been cases in which the police were specifically searching for foreigners they know to be living in the Palestinian Authority, attempting to find them at their homes or workplaces.
Aside from passports, the police are asking for documents issued by the PA’s Ministry of Health stating that the person in question has not been infected with coronavirus. While the ministry offers no information on the document and where to have it issued, TPS has received reports from Europeans in Ramallah that the document simply does not officially exist.
It currently remains unclear what is happening to the foreign citizens who do not have the papers required.
In efforts to identify the whereabouts of foreigners, the PA has established a hotline for citizens to call to inform the authorities. Of the three numbers listed in PA press releases, one connects directly to the PA police force.
Dr. Leila Ghanem, the governor of the Ramallah area, published a press release informing locals that hiring and/or hosting foreign tourists is now banned, a message that has been circulated to all hotels and landlords of apartments and student homes.
PA tourism police and relevant authorities will be “conducting inspection tours to ensure that this is applied,” Ghanem added, stating that anyone violating the instructions would “face legal accountability.”
While the governor declared that the decision would not include foreigners who had spent “a long time” in the area and had not left since the global spread of the coronavirus, TPS has received reports to the contrary: In fact, the Palestinian Authority is not distinguishing between tourists and foreigners with residency status, such as foreign workers, students, and interns.
At present foreign citizens are currently only being allowed to leave areas under PA control for Israel, if they can prove they will remain in the country for under six hours. As a result, diplomats are exploring options of how to get their citizens out of the area.
Expecting a complete lock-down of the PA-governed areas of Judea and Samaria after Thursday, there has been a scramble to get foreigners out of the PA.
European diplomats have been angered by the lack of information provided to them and their citizens by the PA and ever-changing regulations, diplomatic sources said.
Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases in the PA has risen to 26, with 25 cases in Bethlehem alone.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced Monday there were ongoing discussions with the Jordanian government with a recommendation to close the border crossing over the Allenby Bridge “in the next few days,” to curb the spread of the virus.
Such a move would have to be enforced by Israel, which controls the western side of the border.