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Lives over politics for Palestinians



In a time of rapid global spread of the coronavirus, most countries are able to throw all the resources at their disposal towards limiting their death toll. But this is not the case for the Palestinian enclave of Gaza where 2 million people are crammed into just 141 square miles.

Wall next to Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp (Getty images/Lior Mizrahi )

After almost 14 years under an Israel imposed economic blockade, as well as coming under bombing, most recently on the 27th of March, Gaza is struggling. Medical and food supplies are rundown, many houses are in ruins, power is intermittent, and there are water quality and sanitation issues.

Israel is able to harness the advantages of a technologically and economically advanced country to combat the virus spread within its people. Its Intelligence agency Mossad recently secured 187 ventilators, 25,00 N95 masks, 20,00 virus test kits, 10 million surgical masks and 700 protective suits.

At the same time Israel is withholding $11 million a month in tax revenues belonging to Gaza, the bulk of which in the past was spent on its health system. As of two weeks ago, there were only 65 ventilators and 70 intensive care beds in Gaza according to Physicians for Human Rights.

At the time of writing, Israel where the virus struck first has 8,430 confirmed coronavirus cases and 49 deaths. In the West Bank confirmed cases stand at 225 and one death. In Gaza 12 people are reported infected.

Economically crippled Gaza, with limited outside support, has to find makeshift ways to protect itself against the virus. Its clothing factories are urgently making masks and protective clothing but face limited supplies of material. Gaza has to struggle on two fronts at the same time — containing the virus while dealing with the blockade’s restrictions on goods and movement.


'Israel needs to realise that a virus pandemic is not a time for politics or discrimination. It is a time for protecting lives, all lives.'


Concern has been raised by international aid organizations such as Oxfam that under the blockade, Palestinians in Gaza with its overcrowded refugee camps are open to a rapid spread of the virus. It has led to calls for Israel to lift the blockade and ease restrictions on humanitarian grounds. The United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, Jamie McGoldrick warned last week that a COVID-19 outbreak in the strip could have frightening consequences due to the long-term blockade, overpopulation and limited health resources.

The IfNotNow movement has launched a petition calling for the blockade to be lifted immediately and medical supplies made available to Gaza. Its members are young American Jews opposed to the occupation of the Palestinian territories. ‘With one of the highest population densities in the world, and few medical resources, it (Gaza) is one step away from a public health disaster,’ it says. The petition has 12,425 signatures so far. US presidential contender Bernie Sanders has called for removing the blockade and for Israel to lift its restrictions of humanitarian aid.

The lobby group Australian Palestine Advocacy Network has responded with an email campaign addressed to Foreign Minister Marise Payne calling for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted to allow access to urgently needed medial supplies. It appears as few as 500 test kits have been allowed into Gaza. It puts the case that as the occupying power in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ‘Israel is responsible or ensuring all people have what they need to survive. As the Australian Government is so proud of its close relationship with Israel, the Foreign Minister must use this to call on Israel to take its responsibilities seriously and immediately lift the blockade of Gaza.’

Over the last week Israel allowed 1,000 test kits, protective clothing and disinfectant from the World Health Organisation into Gaza. China is sending 10,000 test kits and a number of critical ventilators. This is still short of what is needed but within Israel itself, where Palestinians are 20 per cent of the population, and in Israel controlled areas of the West Bank, the situation for Palestinians is also dire. Magen David Adom Emergency medical Services has announced it will not test any more Palestinians. Another major medical service in Israel has set up one test clinic for Palestinians and 45 for Jewish communities.

The Palestinian Authority with civil control over parts of the West Bank says there are just 205 ventilators in the territory but if the virus takes hold, 2,800 will be needed. In Israel controlled West Bank, one village erected tents as makeshift clinics only to have them torn down by Israeli soldiers. In the Jordan Valley village of Beit Iksa, settlers have reportedly spat on Palestinian cars to fuel fears about the virus.

While Israel has co-operated well with Palestinian Authority in isolating coronavirus hotspot Bethlehem, politics is dictating its response to Gaza’ plight. It has linked assistance to the return of the bodies of two soldiers killed during the 2014 bombing campaign. Israel needs to realise that a virus pandemic is not a time for politics or discrimination. It is a time for protecting lives, all lives.


Andra JacksonAndra Jackson is a freelance writer and award winning refugee issue specialist. 

Main image: Wall next to Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp (Getty images/Lior Mizrahi)


Topic tags: Andra Jackson, COVID-19, Israel, Palestine, Gaza, West Bank



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Existing comments

The pandemic is a global problem as are human rights. Palestinians have been in lock down now for more than a decade. They are entitled as are all human beings to health, education and freedom of movement and to organise collectively. The Foreign Minister should be supporting these rights and we in the community of Australia need to communicate to her that this is our expectation. IPAN is a national network of organisations working toward a peaceful independent foreign policy which would enable us to step away from blind support for US policies that promote division and conflict.

Annette Brownlie | 07 April 2020  

Doesn't Gaza have a border with Egypt?

Thomas Mautner | 07 April 2020  

Israel is not occupying Gaza. It removed its settlements and soldiers during the time of Arik Sharon's government. It does blockade Gaza to stop import of arms, rockets, construction materials such as cement for use on terrorist tunnels into Israel. If Gaza's leaders changed their policy of destruction of Israel to one of co-operation there would be progress to peace and better health services.

Gerard Tonks | 07 April 2020  

Mossad is not Israel's security agency, but a task-oriented division of Shin Beth aka Shabak. If terrorist Hamas didn't use Gaza's citizens as human shields, launching lethal rockets against Israeli homes, schools, kindergartens and clinics, there would be no bombing of Gaza. Consider the technological skills, cost of materials and time spent preparing and using rockets, I.E.D.s and suicide bombs deliberately aimed at Jewish civilians, including busloads of children. These Gazan resources would produce enough respirators for that people's needs, and an exportable surplus. Good luck with that.

james marchment | 07 April 2020  

We were recently in Israel and visited the West Bank, but not Gaza, as we were not allowed to go there. I completely agree that politics should not be allowed to play a role in this crisis .These ordinary people are being punished for being in the firing line between the unelected and unrepresentative Hamas and Israel or rather its right wing nationalist government . I have the impression from speaking to ordinary Israelis as distinct from the"settler" nationalists, that they do not support such extreme measures by their government, but feel powerless to complain as they would soon be shouted down by the minority ultra right movement as being unpatriotic . I agree with Annette, that we should be distancing ourselves from U.S. policy that supports such inhumane action.

Gavin O'Brien | 07 April 2020  

Andra, thank you for this article about what the Palestinians are suffering during the COVID-19 crisis. It is good to know that a number of human rights and Palestinian solidarity groups and news agencies (eg the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, Al Jazeera, Amnesty International ) are monitoring what is happening to the Palestinian people since the crisis began because very little is being covered in the Australian media.about this. My reading of these sources indicates that Israel is using the corona virus pandemic to commit further repression against the Palestinians. IDF (Israeli Defence Force) soldiers have stolen food aid intended for needy Palestinians during the coronavirus pandemic and beaten the aid workers distributing it, unnnecessarily arrested Palestinian health workers fighting the Coronavirus, demolished a Palestinian COVID-19 field clinic and dropping Palestinian labourers working in Israel off at checkpoints if they have high temperatures. At a check point in Hebron an observer saw an IDF soldiertake an ID from a Palestinian driver, spat on it and then spat on the driver before letting him proceed. All of this is happening at a time when the blockade of Gaza has brought its healthcare system to the brink of collapse Such criminal, irresponsible and inhumane actions which are the mark of a racist and apartheid state should be roundly condemned by all -and especially Australian politicians who are fond of boasting that Australians are fair minded..

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 08 April 2020  

Both Hamas and Israel have political positions to protect but surely both can cooperate from a distance with each other through the Red Crescent. And, as another contributor has implied, Gaza’s border with Egypt can be used for the transportation of assistance. Geopolitical enemies always have backchannels through which to converse with each other.

roy chen yee | 09 April 2020  

The running sore of the Israeli/Palestinian problem continues to fester and worsen. Is there a solution after all these years? If it comes I believe it will come unexpectedly out of left field. All normal avenues of sane persuasion and appeals to better nature seem to have failed. Yet there are good people on the Israeli side, which has the power, as well as the Palestinian, who want an end to the current situation. This is a real litmus test of how we change things in the modern world.

Edward Fido | 17 April 2020  

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