In the West Bank and Gaza, coronavirus has exposed the impact of Israel’s decades-long occupation – and left many Palestinians without the healthcare they need to survive.For all the suffering it has caused, Covid-19 has also prompted widespread expressions of humanity. A virus without respect for borders, and which kills rich and poor alike, in some ways reveals the inter-connectivity of all people. This has been the narrative even in the Middle East, with Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli government officials are coordinating closely in their response to the pandemic, evoking some praise for this as a moment of coming-together.
The logic behind the approach isn’t complicated. The stretch of territory from Jordan River to Mediterranean Sea, claimed as the homeland of both Palestine and Israel, is at its narrowest point barely fifty miles wiles. Within the stretch of land are 8.7 million Israeli citizens, nearly 2 million of which are of Palestinian heritage. A further 1.9 million Palestinians live in the blockaded Gaza Strip, while 2.7 million Palestinians are in the West Bank, with the illegal settlements of almost 800,000 Israeli settlers dotted amongst them and in occupied East Jerusalem.
The virus, true enough, and unlike the politics, military checkpoints and concrete walls, does not discriminate; it exposes the inescapably mutual interdependence of communities. Whatever the strength of the Israeli pharmaceutical industry, or Israel’s modern hospitals, if Covid-19 takes root in Palestine, Israeli lives will also be on the line. And in this context the consequences of Israel’s 70-year military occupation of Palestinians on healthcare outcomes becomes stark.
More cut-off as it was from the supply chains that carried Covid-19, Palestine has received the same dividend of time enjoyed by more isolated, poorer or blockaded states. That dividend is thought to have expired with the arrival of a group of infected Greek tourists into Bethlehem, and people returning from Pakistan into Gaza, via the crossing with Egypt.
With the head-start now over, both the West Bank and Gaza face the same predicament as poorer countries around the world; depleted healthcare resources, and less economic reserves, with which to withstand the pandemic should it hit full force. There are only 256 ventilators in the West Bank and 87 in Gaza to serve millions of Palestinian people.
Recognising this, the PA in the West Bank has closed tourist sites, and Hamas in Gaza shut mosques and other community sites. China continued its pandemic diplomacy with a consignment of testing kits to Palestine, while Kuwait has promised funds, but the virus will test the resilience with which the Palestinians already survive under military occupation.