The global COVID-19 crisis is simultaneously bringing out the very best and the very worst of humanity. This is no more true than in Palestine, whose heroic people this year are marking 72 years of steadfast resistance to occupation, dispossession and lawlessness by the Israeli occupation. Whereas the global pandemic requires all of humanity to rise to the occasion, Zionist reactionaries are using the crisis as a means to further their genocide against the Palestinian people.
In an April 2 letter to the President of the UN Security Council, Dr. Riyad Mansour, Minister and Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, highlighted that crimes against the Palestinian people continue unabated during the pandemic.
Mansour reports, “A state of emergency has been declared [in Palestine] and the country is in lockdown with a view to stemming the virus’ spread, protect our population, and ensure their well-being. Despite limited resources and the hardships and restrictions already being borne under Israel’s illegal occupation, our national institutions are exerting all possible efforts to respond to this health crisis and its immense humanitarian and socio-economic impact.
“Regrettably, however, in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel is exploiting the state of emergency and lockdown to accelerate its illegal settler-colonization plans, including through the continued demolition of Palestinian homes, destruction of crops, and forcible transfer of Palestinian families. At the same time, military raids in Palestinian areas have continued, as have Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian civilians, in numerous instances undermining efforts to combat the pandemic. […] Israeli settlement construction and expansion and annexation threats have continued unabated.”
Other crimes by the Israeli occupiers have directly undermined Palestinian efforts to contain the virus.
These include the destruction of a health clinic under construction, the detention of Palestinian workers disinfecting public facilities and, those involved in public education efforts, and assaulting Palestinians working in local emergency committees created to help detect coronavirus cases. Repeated acts of spitting by dozens of Israeli soldiers at Palestinians’ cars, walls and doorsteps to intimidate residents amid the COVID-19 outbreak have also been reported.
Concern over Israel’s mass incarceration of Palestinians has been heightened during the pandemic. Mansour informs, “Israel is refusing to heed calls for the release of the more than 5,000 Palestinians, including 180 children and 43 women, that it currently holds captive in its prisons and detention centres, despite four Palestinian prisoners having been exposed to an Israeli employee at an interrogation centre who tested positive for COVID-19. […] Israeli jails are overcrowded, lacking minimum health and safety standards, and poor conditions, including the requirement for prisoners to pay for their own medical treatment and blatant medical neglect, have led prisoners to launch several hunger strikes in recent years. Dozens of Palestinian prisoners also suffer from serious or chronic illnesses and are in need of urgent medical care. To make matters worse, Israel removed all doctors and nurses who were previously tending to Palestinian prisoners, leaving only one nurse per prison, yet a further shocking act of medical negligence.
“In this time of crisis, Palestinians also face another consequence of this decades-long occupation – a dilapidated and depleted health care system that is marked by poor infrastructure and sanitation, a shortage of supplies and inadequate equipment. With just 1.23 beds per 1,000 people, 2,550 working doctors, less than 20 intensive care specialists and less than 120 ventilators in all public hospitals, the West Bank will face a public health disaster if the virus spreads further. And, while the health care situation there is bleak, in the Gaza Strip it is catastrophic.
“As noted by OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] on March 26, ‘although the current number of detected cases remains relatively low, the capacity of the Palestinian health system to cope with an expected increase in COVID-19 cases is severely impaired by longstanding challenges and critical shortages … the situation is particularly severe in the Gaza Strip.’ For a population of nearly 2 million, half of whom are children, Gaza has only 56 breathing ventilators for adults, some of which are in disrepair or already in use, 60 intensive care unit beds, and 700 units of personal protective equipment.” News reports on April 8 indicate that Gaza has now run out of COVID-19 test kits.
The Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement on April 1 issued a press release demanding Israel take immediate action to protect food security and prevent economic collapse in the Gaza Strip, including the removal of “ongoing restrictions imposed by Israel on the entry of so-called ‘dual-use’ equipment and materials for which there is an acute need in Gaza’s farming and fishing sectors, and to allow the exit of Gaza-made food products for sale in the West Bank.”