Palestine Update 347
Palestinians face humanitarian catastrophe from corona virus
The World Socialist Website reports how “Israelis and Palestinians are under various kinds of lockdowns as the corona virus spreads through both of their communities. Health authorities confirmed the first two cases of the corona virus in Gaza this weekend—citizens who had returned from Pakistan and entered Gaza via Egypt. The arrival of the corona virus in one of the most densely populated places on earth heralds a humanitarian catastrophe not just for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, but people all over the world who face similar atrocious living conditions and a lack of healthcare. While hundreds of Gazans have returned home in the past two weeks, just 92 people have been tested, due to lack of test kits, suggesting that the number of cases is far higher. More than 1,270 people are in quarantine in hospitals, hotels and schools after crossing into Gaza from Israel and Egypt.
Two weeks ago, Hamas, the bourgeois clerical group that controls Gaza, closed schools and sent in sanitation crews to patrol the streets and public buildings and spray disinfectant. On Friday, it ordered the shuttering of weekly street markets and wedding halls and closed its borders, saying only patients requiring urgent medical treatment outside Gaza would be allowed to cross into Egypt or Israel.
Israel said it was its closing borders with Gaza and the occupied West Bank to commercial traffic, though some patients and humanitarian staff would be allowed to cross. It has sent a derisory 200 corona virus testing kits to Gaza. Cogat, the Israeli military body that coordinates with the Palestinian Authority, said in a breathtakingly cynical statement, “Viruses and diseases have no borders, and so prevention of an outbreak of the corona virus in Gaza [and the West Bank] are a prime Israeli interest.”
This foreseeable and foreseen disaster comes after Israel’s 13-year-long siege that has rendered Gaza almost uninhabitable, due extreme overcrowding, collapsed infrastructure, lack of electricity and water, poor sanitary conditions and the gutting of an already limited healthcare system. There is a chronic shortage of drugs, and Gaza’s barely functioning hospitals have struggled to cope with the thousands of horrendous injuries and amputations inflicted on Palestinians by Israel’s armed forces during the weekly “Great March of Return” that started two years ago.
We carry in this issue of Palestine Updates news about the situation and how it is affecting various aspects of people’s lives in Palestine.
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Covid-19 arrives in Gaza, where healthcare is collapsing
“The news we’ve feared so much has come. We knew it was only a matter of time,” Dr. Ahmad Mohanna, director of the Al Awda non-governmental hospital, tells us with great concern. We asked him to describe the likely scenario after the announcement of the first two positive Covid-19 cases recorded in Gaza: two Palestinians who came back from Pakistan and are now in quarantine. “We are all working hard: non-governmental hospitals, private ones and the Ministry of Health, we are all following the instructions of the WHO,” he stresses. “However, we must be realistic: we will not be able to handle a possible massive spread of the coronavirus. In the whole of Gaza, we have only 48 ICUs. The ministry will manage to push the number up to 70, but in any case, they are not enough to assist a large number of infected people in serious condition.”
Even worse, Mohanna says, “we need to also take into account the scarcity of doctors and nurses trained to deal with such an emergency.” The health situation in Gaza “is the obvious outcome of 13 years of siege of our territory and three (Israeli) wars against Gaza,” he concludes.
Will be a catastrophe if corona virus spreads within Israeli prisons
The Israeli prison authorities have announced that a number of Palestinian prisoners in Megiddo Prison are infected with the coronavirus. This news will cause great anxiety for thousands of Palestinian families whose loved ones are being held by Israel, including political prisoners who resisted the occupation as well as Palestinians imprisoned for criminal acts.
Palestinian prisoners in particular are at very high risk of contracting the virus in Israel’s prisons due to the conditions in which they are forced to live. Indeed, the risk begins even before they get to prison. When being transferred from court to prison, or between prisons, they are kept in cells meant for a maximum of four prisoners. However, the Israeli guards routinely squeeze more than 20 in each holding cell; with no room to sit, they must stand together. Moreover, they have metal handcuffs on, which are re-used on dozens of different prisoners daily. Without adequate cleaning and sterilisation, these cuffs are potentially a major source of infection.
How a Palestinian shoemaker started the West Bank’s only mask factory overnight
Two days after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Bethlehem, Amjad Zaghir, a shoe factory owner from the Palestinian city of Hebron, realized the West Bank will soon run out of face masks. Less than three weeks later, he is now the only mask manufacturer there. Zaghir’s factory, which he started overnight, now produces thousands of masks a day, and has made him a national hero for helping Palestinians protect themselves from the virus…’I started receiving requests from Jordan, Kuwait, the Gulf countries, and Canada,’ he said. ‘Even Israeli sellers have reached out to me to buy my masks, but I don’t have enough workers. I wish I could supply everyone.’ The material Zaghir has been using will soon run out, however. He has already ordered more, but countries have been closing off their borders to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has also reached Turkey, where the material is set to be exported from. But Zaghir is unperturbed. ‘I am confident I will be able to bring in the materials. I contacted the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, and they in turn appealed to the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, which then contacted customs and other authorities on this issue,’ he said. ‘This is a health crisis, a global pandemic, a state of emergency. It’s not business as usual, which is why I am quite confident they will let me import the goods’.”
They dumped him like trash‘: Palestinian with suspected coronavirus symptoms thrown out of Israel
“The man lying on the ground was a Palestinian labourer who works in Israel. He told Abu Safiya that he had been showing signs of the coronavirus over the past four days, and was recently tested for the virus. That test later came back negative. But before the man, allegedly a resident of Nablus, could receive his test results, his Israeli employer reportedly called the authorities, who picked him up and dropped him on the other side of the Beit Sira checkpoint, which connects central Israel and the occupied West Bank. ‘He told us that they just threw him here on the ground and left him,’ Abu Safiya recounted. ‘How could they do this to someone?” he asked. “It shouldn’t matter if he’s Palestinian, Israeli, or whatever. He’s a human being.’”
Coronavirus: As Israel shuts down, authorities destroy Bedouin crops
Israeli authorities destroyed hundreds of hectares of agricultural land in two Bedouin communities in the Negev desert this week while most other government activities were curtailed to contain the spread of coronavirus. As Israelis were banned from meeting in groups of more than 10 and those flying in from abroad were quarantined, departments overseeing land use in the Negev continued to order evictions and clear land, a move that activists say violated the government’s own ban against large gatherings.
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Rights group warns Gaza’s healthcare will ‘collapse’ in virus outbreak
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has urged intervention “before it is too late” to prevent a healthcare system “collapse” in the Gaza Strip in the case of a coronavirus outbreak. According to PCHR, there is the real risk of “a catastrophic deterioration that would strike the health care sector in the case of a Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak” in the crowded territory.“The healthcare facilities in Gaza are already on the verge of collapse due to the Israeli-imposed closure on the Gaza Strip for the last 13 years, exacerbated by the repercussions of the Palestinian internal division and political bickering”, the rights NGO stated. “All of this has caused a fragile healthcare system in the Gaza Strip, a perpetual shortage of essential drugs and medical devices and insufficient number of specialized health professionals”, is rendering the system “unable to meet the basic medical needs of the Gaza Strip population in normal times”.