Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights in letter to Chairperson of Knesset Coronavirus Committee: Convene the committee for urgent discussion on Israel’s plan for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Gaza

On April 23, 2020, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), sent a letter (Hebrew) to the chairperson of the Special Committee on Dealing with the Coronavirus, Member of Knesset Ofer Shelah. In the letter, the organizations urge MK Shelah to convene the committee as soon as possible for an urgent discussion on Israel’s plan to address the threat of a further outbreak of COVID-19 in Gaza, and steps to prevent economic collapse in the Strip. The organizations also requested that the committee summon representatives from the Ministry of Defense and the unit of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to present the planned measures.

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, partially as a result of ongoing movement and access restrictions enforced by Israel. In the letter, Gisha and PHRI list some of the immediate steps Israel could take to ensure the continued functioning of Gaza’s healthcare system, underlining the need to remove restrictions impeding economic activity in order to protect food security for Gaza’s residents.

For years, Israel has imposed restrictions on movement of people and goods to and from the Strip that have impaired Gaza’s healthcare system, the 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.

Members of Knesset Mtanes Shehadeh and Tamar Zandberg, both members of the Knesset’s special coronavirus committee, also submitted written requests to Ofer Shelah demanding that the committee address Israel’s plan for addressing COVID-19 in Gaza. On April 26, Member of Knesset Ofer Cassif sent an official query (Hebrew) to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, requesting to know what the ministry’s plans are for preventing the spread of the pandemic and ensuring that Gaza’s healthcare system is equipped, and asking whether steps to remove restrictions on access to dual-use items to benefit Gaza’s economy had been considered. The Defense Ministry must respond to the query within 21 days.