Israel's blockade had already crippled Gaza, then came Covid-19

Dec 08,2020

One of the most densely populated areas in the world is facing the Covid-19 crisis entirely alone.

The pandemic has posed a formidable challenge to the so-called "first world", but the Gaza Strip's widespread poverty and 70 percent unemployment, as well as the racial discrimination and institutionalised oppression imposed by the occupiers, make it among the most precarious and vulnerable sites in the world.

Nowhere else faces the same rhythms of structural oppression as Gaza. And so, the worst nightmare for Gaza's people began in August with a protracted lockdown after the first cases of the disease were confirmed there. Residents of the area had to face not only Covid-19's spread, but a deadly pandemic in the context of Israel's siege, oppression and aerial bombardment. 

Having experienced repeated Israeli military invasions and aggressions in the last 15 years, Gaza's people are now undergoing a new kind of massacre: slower, perhaps, without a rain of bombs, but still inflicting devastating damage. Gaza - effectively an open air prison - is home to over 2.13 million Palestinians who are locked in, denied the ability to travel elsewhere in Palestine or the world.

The Gaza Strip is already effectively unlivable, with no clean water available, four to six hours of electricity per day, and a food security crisis. While Israel as an occupying power has a legal duty toward Gaza with or without Covid-19, Gaza, which is fully under Israeli colonial control by air, land and sea, has to struggle alone.

The medical situation in Gaza is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of Israel's siege. According to a UN report in 2018, Gaza was already at "breaking point" as a result of Israel's denial of essential medical equipment to Palestinians in the territory. UN experts called for a large-scale international response to the overwhelming healthcare need of people living in Gaza.

Today, cancer patients and the severely ill are trapped in an extremely precarious situation they could never have imagined. Battling cancer is already too much: having to battle Covid-19 under the conditions of colonial occupation, which can be likened to a never-ending Nakba, is unimaginably difficult.

Palestinians in Gaza are among the most vulnerable people in the world. At the beginning of the pandemic, they made dark jokes about how their imprisonment and lack of movement was for once a silver lining. Doubting that coronavirus would penetrate the blockaded enclave, they expected it would not impact their lives in the same way Israeli apartheid does on a daily basis.

Gazan authorities discovered the first case on 22 March 2020, and by July 5 2020 there had only been 72 cases confirmed, 60 of which were successfully treated, and only one death. By contrast, Covid-19 exerted a heavy toll on neighbouring countries. Yet this situation did not last.

The Gaza government imposed a full lockdown across the territory in late August, a moment the people of Gaza never expected. The virus raised their fears and anxiety, and further damaged the already chronic economic situation. For some in Gaza, it felt like the beginning of the end. Over three months later, and the international community has, unfortunately, yet again failed to come to Gaza's aid, only emboldening Israel's sense of impunity that fuels its war crimes.

As I write, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza has recorded a total of 23,811 confirmed cases, including 142 critical cases and 129 deaths. Urgent hospitalisation is needed by 349 people, but there are only 150 hospital beds available; over 78 percent of all the hospital beds in Gaza are designated for Covid-19 patients.

This is nothing short of a health disaster, and many organisations warn of a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe. Battling Covid-19 requires health equipment, medications, intensive care beds, ventilators, medical oxygen, testing kits, and a health infrastructure which Gaza has lacked for the last 14 years of Israel's blockade. Without enough testing kits and ventilators, and a woefully inadequate general health infrastructure, Gaza's health sector is not only overwhelmed, but is on the brink of collapse.

I fear for my ageing parents, uncles, sick friends, cancer patients, and thousands of people who were already in dire need of health support and access to the outside world, long before coronavirus appeared.

Gaza pleads with everyone, to not normalise such an extreme precarious reality, and to hold Israel accountable for their action, and their responsibilities towards Gaza. The international community has so far failed to stop Israeli crimes against humanity and ensure a basic standard of life in Gaza for over 15 years; collective punishment continues despite being forbidden by international law.

Gaza is in desperate need of immediate proactive solidarity, and actions which are not only symbolic. It should be in the forefront of peoples' minds, and the Israeli occupier must be taken to the International Criminal Court, not only for all the crimes it has committed in Gaza, but also for its negligence in taking any measures to fulfill its duties and responsibilities.

The checkpoints must be opened, and the entry of medical equipment and supplies allowed to meet Gazan patients' needs, in accordance with Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Despite everything, the people of Gaza continue to show great courage, potential and determination to find ways to overcome the Israeli siege, and Covid-19 alike. But will governments worldwide continue to fail them?

The New Arab