Updated: Sep 18
By Blake Fox
The Gaza Strip is home to 1.6 million Palestinians and is roughly the size of Philadelphia, PA. Ninety percent of Gazans lack clean drinking water, and the territory has suffered from a severe electricity crisis for the past five years. For years, since Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, won Gaza’s election in 2005, Israel has had a blockade on Gaza. The blockade is in place to try to prevent Gaza from acquiring arms to use against Israel; and the drinking water and electricity issues are mainly due to Hamas diverting so much of the funding it receives toward supporting terrorism.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Gaza’s population was already at high risk of developing diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and cancer, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. In March 2020, Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories, stated that “Gaza’s population is...a physically more vulnerable population.” Now, Gaza is facing a rising number of COVID-19 cases.
COVID-19 has ripped through much of the world and has been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization. In the United States, convention centers were turned into makeshift hospitals, some medical centers are rationing medical equipment, and, as of mid-May, close to 100,000 people died of the disease. Throughout the world, the situation remains dire, with hundreds of people dying each day.
If some of the world’s wealthiest countries are struggling to contain COVID-19, then how is Gaza faring? According to a May 23rd article in the Times of Israel:
“A 77-year-old Palestinian woman succumbed to COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, becoming the Hamas-run territory’s first coronavirus death. The woman, who suffered from other chronic health problems, entered Gaza from Egypt on Tuesday and was placed immediately in an isolation facility as is required of all arrivals, the Strip’s health ministry said.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip had remained below 20, with Gaza’s borders with both Israel and Egypt closed [by the Hamas government] to prevent the spread of disease. But in recent days, around 1,500 Palestinians who were stuck in Egypt were allowed to return via the Rafah crossing, while smaller numbers were permitted to enter from Israel.
Preventive measures put in place to contain the virus have been relaxed in recent weeks, with cafes and restaurants in Gaza allowed to reopen. Khalil al-Hayya, a senior official with the Hamas terror group, which runs the enclave, told a press conference Thursday that authorities were considering imposing a curfew. The border with Egypt would be re-sealed until at least the end of June, he added.”
A major outbreak of this disease in Gaza would be catastrophic. Majdi Thuhair, the spokesperson for the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, stated, “If the virus enters Gaza and spreads, it will get out of hand….”
There is an overwhelming consensus among the Israeli people that the Jewish State should assist Palestinians in fighting COVID-19. Polling by the Truman Institute for Peace of the Hebrew University found that 63% of Israelis support helping the Palestinian Authority in fighting COVID-19. Similarly, Gisha, a left-wing Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO), has called on Israel to open more border crossings from Gaza and to alleviate restrictions on medical supplies.
Israel has assisted Gaza in fighting COVID-19 by providing the Gaza Ministry of Health with 200 COVID-19 testing kits. However, the Gaza Strip has struggled to implement rapid testing and ran out of working tests in mid-April. At that time, Gaza was provided with five additional testing kits by the World Health Organization (WHO). These kits could test approximately 500 people. One Israeli official stated on record that Israel would consider treating Gaza’s first patient diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel. Nothing to that effect has happened, yet. However, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a military unit in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), worked with the Palestinian Authority to provide Gaza with 1,000 medical gear kits and 100 liters of alcogel. However, in April it was reported that the entire Gaza Strip had less than 100 ventilators.
The world as a whole has also begun to take action to help Gaza during these unprecedented times. The World Health Organization is desperately trying to provide Gaza with antiseptics to intravenous fluids in an attempt to fight COVID-19. Qatar also pledged to provide Gaza with $10 million to fight the pandemic. A group of eight US Senators, including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Sherrod Brown, called on the United States to restore foreign aid to Gaza.
Gazan doctors have long sounded the alarm about the territory’s shortage of medical supplies, and there are fears that social distancing in Gaza may be close to impossible because of the Strip’s population density. Many Gazans have called on Israel to end the blockade, but to no avail. Israel has shown a willingness to keep Gazans safe, but remains clear that it will not risk Israel’s own safety and security.