Intensive care nursery in a Gaza hospital. Photo by Gisha
Intensive care nursery in a Gaza hospital. Photo by Gisha

March 22, 2020. The first cases of COVID-19 discovered in Gaza are cause for resounding alarm given living conditions in the Strip. Following decades of Israeli occupation, including thirteen years of suffocating closure, the dire state of basic civilian infrastructure and essential services, inadequate even in “normal” times, now poses a threat to human life.

For years, Israel has enforced a permit regime that severely restricts movement of people and goods to and from the Strip. The closure policy has been a central factor in the deterioration of living conditions for Gaza’s two million residents. Most tap water is unfit for consumption and electricity is only available intermittently; the health system is lacking, the economy is on the verge of collapse, and the rate of unemployment is astronomic.

The ongoing, comprehensive control Israel wields over countless aspects of life in Gaza comes with responsibilities toward its residents, including an obligation to protect basic rights and living conditions in the Strip. Despite this obligation, Israel has, for years, chosen to do the opposite. As a result, the civilian population in Gaza lacks the means for dealing with the scope of the crisis now facing it.

Given the immediate threat of COVID-19 spreading in Gaza, all parties with influence over life in the Strip, including Israel as well as the governments in both Gaza and Ramallah, must ensure that civilians are afforded the greatest possible protections to the most basic right to life and to health. The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza has called on the international community to compel Israel to remove the closure in light of an acute shortage in ventilators, ICU beds, medicine and protective equipment available in the Strip in the event of a wider outbreak.

Gisha calls on Israel to remove the closure on Gaza. Israel must rescind existing limitations on exit of goods from the Strip and enable the entrance of all items needed by local authorities. Items Israel defines as “dual-use,” including communications equipment, medical equipment, raw materials, and machinery necessary for the economy to function must be allowed in without delay.

Governments all over the world, Israel included, are currently contending with a lack of adequate tools for coping with a pandemic of these proportions. Nonetheless, Israel must prioritize to the greatest extent possible the protection of all those living under its control, its own citizens, but also Palestinian residents of the occupied territory, the West Bank and Gaza.