An ambulance at Rafah Crossing. Photo by Gisha
An ambulance at Rafah Crossing. Photo by Gisha

May 25, 2020. In the last few days, as the holy month of Ramadan came to a close and Eid Al Fitr commenced, the media reported the first confirmed death as a result of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip. The deceased was a 77-year-old woman with underlying medical conditions, who had spent the two weeks prior to her death in a quarantine facility set up in a field hospital near Rafah Crossing. This comes against the backdrop of an increase in the number of verified cases discovered in Gaza last week. As of Thursday night (May 21), the number of people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the Strip reached 55. Sixteen of these people have already recovered. All verified cases of COVID-19 in Gaza are people who entered the Strip in recent weeks and have been staying in quarantine facilities set up by local authorities.

According to media reports, the de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza announced that Gaza’s pedestrian crossings, Erez and Rafah, will remain closed until June 30 in response to the threat of a further outbreak of COVID-19 in Gaza. Local authorities also issued instructions forbidding public gatherings, including social distancing measures to be applied in mosques.

As of yet, it is unknown whether there will be any exceptions to Hamas’s closures at Erez and Rafah crossings. This uncertainty is added to by the statement made by President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas last Tuesday (May 19). According to his announcement, which came in response to Israel’s immediate intention of annexing areas in the West Bank, backed by the United States, the PA is no longer bound to past agreements between the PA, Israel and the US. Sources in Gaza told Gisha that PA officials there have been instructed to halt all coordination for permits for pedestrian travel at Erez and movement of goods at Kerem Shalom Crossing. It is still unclear how this will develop and what the ramifications will be in practice.

Given its ongoing control over countless aspects of everyday life in Gaza, Israel is responsible for protecting the basic rights and living conditions of Gaza’s residents. We recall that all authorities, including Israel, Hamas and the PA, must safeguard the rights of the civilian population in the Strip, including the right to freedom of movement. Human rights must not be used as bargaining chips at the expense of civilians.

Gisha continues to follow these developments with concern. We call on Israel to urgently publish a plan for responding to the spread of COVID-19 in Gaza, convene the Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing with the Coronavirus, and discuss steps to prevent economic collapse in the Strip and protect food security for its residents.