With over 250 identified COVID-19 Palestinian patients in the West Bank and potentially dozens in the Gaza Strip we, the undersigned organizations, express grave concern in the face of a potential human catastrophe. The Palestinian healthcare system, with a dire lack of equipment, medicines, and training, will be unable to deal with this outbreak. We therefore urge the Israeli authorities to live up to their legal and moral obligations and assist the Palestinian health systems—in Gaza and the West Bank—both with combating the pandemic and caring for those patients who are in critical need of continuous health care that is unavailable in the Gaza Strip.
At such a critical moment, we call on Israel to lift the 13-year closure on Gaza so that inter alia Gaza can equip itself with the necessary medical supplies—both to combat COVID-19 and to care for patients who would usually seek to leave the Strip as their treatment is unavailable locally, notably cancer patients. Where medication and equipment are unavailable because of budgetary shortages of the Palestinian health system, Israel should help ensure the supply of the missing materials, to the greatest extent possible. Moreover, Israel should remove barriers to movement of goods and any other impediments on trade and economic activity that harm public health, as well as help to actively maintain a steady supply of electricity and fuel so that hospitals and the general population can maintain reasonable levels of hygiene.
Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically provides that an occupier has the duty of ensuring and maintaining the “adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics”. We already know that that there is an alarming lack of equipment, including personal protective equipment, consistent with local shortages and compounded by the long-term restrictions imposed by the blockade, as well as insufficient numbers of trained healthcare workers in both Gaza and the West Bank. In addition to its own citizens and residents, Israel must also fulfill its duty to all protected persons living under its effective control, including in Gaza, and take active steps to ensure that they have adequate access to medical care.
We call on relevant international organizations to call on Israel to fulfill its duties and responsibilities to assist the Palestinian health system and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including:
- Ensuring that the relevant medical equipment and supplies are provided to the greatest extent possible.
- Giving assurance that it will allow safe and swift access to Gaza and the West Bank for medical personnel, humanitarian actors, medicine and medical equipment and other inputs critical to maintaining civilian health infrastructure such as hospitals and clinics, as well as, when appropriate, patients needing to leave for urgent treatment.
- Lifting the closure on the Gaza Strip to enable the proper functioning of its health system in face of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Working in close regional cooperation for the safety of all.
The statement was initiated by Physicians for Human Rights Israel.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel
Al Haq – Law in the Service of Mankind
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
Human Rights Watch
Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Medecins du Monde France
Medical Aid for Palestinians
Medical Human Rights Network IFHHRO
Medico International Switzerland
Physicians for Human Rights
Physicians for Human Rights Israel
The Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER)
The World Organization against Torture (OMCT)