July 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD
A Hamilton, Ont. member of Parliament is under Twitter fire by Israel’s Embassy and Jewish groups for claiming that Israeli forces demolished a badly-needed COVID testing facility in the Palestinian city of Hebron.
Matthew Green, the NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, tweeted on July 19 that “hundreds” have contacted him with “serious concernsover the Israeli gov’s military stoppage of a #COVID testing centre in #Hebron #Palestine.”
He added: “I condemn this blatant disregard for human life during this pandemic.”
B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa were quick to respond, accusing the rookie MP of spreading “a lie” about the incident.
“Matthew Green perpetuated a falsehood about #Israel demolishing a #Palestinian #COVID19 testing centre,” CIJA said in its response. “That is a lie. Mr. Green should delete his tweet and apologize.
“MPs have a responsibility to deal in facts and verify that what they are spreading on social media is true,” the organization added.
B’nai Brith Canada took to the social media platform to accuse Green of “amplifying lies about Israel.
“A Palestinian #COVID19 testing centre was not demolished,” B’nai Brith stated. “Do your homework before sharing conspiracy theories with your base. While you are at it, kindly delete this tweet & apologize for spreading false claims.”
B’nai Brith also challenged Green to defend his claim in the media.
“If he stands behind this awful and inaccurate tweet, why won’t he defend it in the media? Time to take it down and admit you were wrong,” B’nai Brith said.
As of July 24, the tweet was still up.
The former city councillor did not respond to calls about his statement, including an e-mailed request from the CJR.
Israel’s Embassy in Canada on July 23 tweeted that the facility in question was not in Hebron but in Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts ofJerusalem’s Old City, and that it was “illegally operating.”
The Embassy said it was operating without required municipal permits, and pointed out that there are several health centers close to Silwan that provide free COVID services to anyone.
“There are dozens of health facilities within a 5km radius of Silwan (excluding 7!! major hospitals) legally administering #COVID19tests and treatment to ALL, regardless of religion/cultural background,” the Embassy tweeted.
“Like Canada and its municipalities, lawful permits are required to build new structures, especially ones that administer health care.
“Just as it would not be acceptable for an unauthorized makeshift ‘testing’ facility to be constructed in someone’s front yard in Hamilton, it is also the case in Israel,” the Embassy’s statement added. “Israel and its municipalities will continue to make all possible efforts to fight this virus, regardless of religious and cultural differences in its legally functioning clinics and hospitals.”
One source told the CJR that Israel shut down an unapproved COVID testing centre operating in Silwan on April 14.
On July 23, the Jerusalem Post reported a building was torn down in Hebron, but it was a prospective private car dealership.
Civil Administration bulldozers arrived at the site “and demolished the illegally built structure” on July 21, the Post reported.
“When the civil administration told the Palestinian businessman who built the structure that they intended to tear it down, he informed the Hebron municipality that he was donating the illegally built structure for ‘public services,’” the Post reported.
A source told the CJR that after a stop work order was issued by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories(COGAT), the owner put up a sign advertising the planned construction of acoronavirus testing site in an effort to slowor halt the demolition.
“Contrary to the false claims, this was not a center for coronavirus testing,” an unnamed Civil Administration spokesman told the newspaper. “Also, it was not a health clinic. That’s a total lie.
“We condemn the cynical use of a global crisis at the expense of the Palestinians in Hebron,” he added.
In a tweet on July 22, COGAT stated: “False claims have been made recently that the Civil Administration & the Hebron District Coordination and Liaison Office have demolished or intend to demolish a building site in Hebron designated for COVID-19 testing. Any such reports are unequivocally false & without basis.”
Israel’s Embassy also noted that “clinics/hospitals in Israel, including in Jerusalem, have administered over 166,000 tests per million people to date. These facilities are staffed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians without discrimination.”
The above expands and clarifies a previous version of this story.