The global crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus has exposed the vulnerability of healthcare systems, even in countries where they usually function well. In the Gaza Strip, the healthcare system teetered on the brink of collapse well before the coronavirus pandemic.
For years, Israel has imposed restrictions on movement of people and goods to and from the Strip that have impaired Gaza’s healthcare system, economy and basic civilian infrastructure. The list of items that Israel defines as “dual-use,” meaning that their entrance into Gaza is heavily restricted, includes types of medical equipment, machinery and spare parts. Restrictions on travel have prevented medical experts and staff from traveling to and from Gaza for professional training and development.
Three human rights organizations, Gisha – Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, and Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights sent an urgent appeal to Israel’s Minister of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), demanding that they immediately reveal information with regard to Israel’s response to the spread of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip. The three organizations also demand that Israel remove any and all restrictions on travel of medical staff and access to medical equipment and spare parts, as well as allow travel of Gaza residents for COVID-19-related medical treatment, and ensure that adequate supplies of protective equipment, medicine and machinery required are available for Gaza’s healthcare system.
Gisha lawyers Adv. Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz and Adv. Muna Haddad, who signed the letter on behalf of the organizations, emphasized that Israel is obligated under international and Israeli law to protect the health and well-being of Gaza’s two million residents given its ongoing, substantial control over the Strip. The letter notes that Israel disregarded the concluding observations of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from November 2019, in which the committee required that Israel grant Palestinian residents of the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly the Gaza Strip, unrestricted access to medical facilities, goods and services, including urgent medical treatment, and enable travel by medical personnel to and from Gaza. In the letter, Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan underlined the committee’s recommendations, stating that “they have become all the more important at this time.”
Gisha, Adalah and Al Mezan are also signatories to the joint statement issued by 19 Israeli, Palestinian and international health and human rights organizations, initiated by PHRI, urging Israel to lift the closure on Gaza, to meet its moral and legal obligations towards all people living under its control, and to take measures to ensure healthcare systems in the Gaza Strip and West Bank receive all the supplies they require to save lives.