West Bank and Gaza are trapped between pandemic and siege

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The Israeli occupation seized tents in the West Bank that were being used as emergency clinics reports Yousef Asfour, Palestinian activist living in the Gaza strip

In Gaza, we understand what being under a blockade is like. More than two million people have lived under siege for over ten years, it is one of the most crowded places in the world and has experienced three wars that have destroyed infrastructure including hospitals and health centres.

The there are only 15 ventilators for two million people, and not enough test kits. The Israeli media joked, “Because of our siege of Gaza, we blocked the coronavirus from entering”. But in the end, the coronavirus entered
through the Rafah checkpoint with Egypt with two Islamic preachers who had been in Pakistan.

Now the number of infections is growing. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the health ministry can treat only 100-150 patients. While Israeli hospitals can carry out 10,000 tests per day, in Gaza they can do only 50.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Palestinian government considered isolating people in an open zone outside Gaza City, but Israel refused to allow anyone on that land, so schools were used instead. Gaza receives electrical power only for four hours per day, and fresh water twice a week, but because of the siege there is not enough water, and no alcohol gel. The Israeli blockade has created more than 50 percent unemployment.

Agricultural workers can only work on part of their land because the remainder is under observation by snipers. The situation facing the West Bank can be gauged from the action of the Israeli occupation
which, on 26 March, seized eight tent structures from the town of Ibziq in the Jordan Valley, two of which were, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, to be used as emergency clinics.

The group described the action as “especially cruel”. “As the whole world battles an unprecedented and paralysing healthcare crisis, Israel’s military is devoting time and resources to harassing the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank that Israel has attempted to drive out of the area for decades, “Shutting down a first-aid community initiative during a health crisis is an especially cruel example of the regular
abuse inflicted on these communities.”

The tents were confiscated despite the United Nations warning that the Palestinian health system was ill-equipped to cope with an expected rise in Covid-19 cases. Two million Palestinians live in the West Bank — the same as Gaza’s population. But despite the apartheid wall, checkpoints and settlements, Palestinians there have more space, and they have a Palestinian National Authority that is not under siege unlike in Gaza.

At first, Israel rejected the Palestinian demand that all labourers from the West Bank be tested before they return from working in Israel. But when Palestinians pointed to a factory near Jerusalem as a possible source of the outbreak, Israel said it would establish a procedure for testing Palestinian labourers suspected of having been infected by the coronavirus in Israel.

Palestinians began isolating the coronavirus when the virus appeared in Bethlehem. The city was put under quarantine, while shut schools and universities were closed. As a result, seven Palestinians from Bethlehem
were found to have been infected. Even before the closure, Israel declared that no one could enter or leave the cities and villages of the West Bank.

Palestinians working in Israel had to choose either to remain at home or tostay in Israel. If they decided to stay at home, they would have no money or food. If they stayed in Israel, they would have money but would have to sleep without shelter.

When the number of infections rose, and the first death was that of a woman infected by her son who worked in Israel, they decided to stop all Palestinian going to work in Israel or the settlements.

In the West Bank, there are more hospitals, more equipment, more test kits and ventilators, than in Gaza, but that is still not enough. Now is the time to end the siege of Gaza and free Palestine.