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How on earth is Palestine supposed to cope with Covid-19 – and where is the international outcry?

Darius Shahtahmasebi
Darius Shahtahmasebi
is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.
is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.
How on earth is Palestine supposed to cope with Covid-19 – and where is the international outcry?
Israel continues to occupy Palestine but is falling far short of its international obligations to help the Palestinian people weather the storm of Covid-19. Can we expect the global community to step in, or will they stay silent?

If Covid-19 is allowed to proliferate throughout the Gaza Strip, the result will be nothing short of chaos. Gaza is full of vulnerable groups and refugee camps, and it has a large number of poor and densely populated areas. The tools the Palestinian Administration needs to combat the virus are already in short supply, as are medical staff. While the number of confirmed cases is significantly higher in Israel, Israel is better equipped with the necessary resources to contain the virus in the longer term.

As of writing, the number of recorded Covid-19 cases in the Palestinian Administration has risen to 466. Two new cases have been recorded in the Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of cases in this heavily populated area to 17. Approximately a week ago, the number of confirmed cases there was only 41 and, at the time, there were concerns that the virus was spreading undetected throughout the Palestinian Administration. All things considered, I’d be greatly surprised if any of these numbers told the whole story. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the low numbers thus far reflect limited testing capacity more than anything else.

As the occupying power, Israel tinkers heavily with the goods and services Palestinians can receive that you or I may take for granted on a daily basis. In the Gaza Strip, electricity is usually available for less than half the day. 97 percent of its drinking water is contaminated with sewage and salt – the supply of which is also controlled by Israel. If Covid-19 begins to spread rapidly across a population of approximately two million people trapped in what is widely regarded as an open-air prison, it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that the number of ventilators it has (currently less than 100) is simply not enough.

Despite all of this, Israeli officials have said that Palestinians have largely abided by the lockdown measures. In fact, Jerusalem’s highest rates of confirmed Covid-19 cases appear to be centered in its most ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. With this in mind, one would expect the Israeli government to have been working closely with the Palestinian Authority to help contain the spread of the virus. No?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially accused Israel of denying Palestinians access to vital medicine (perhaps this is why Trump threatened to defund the WHO). Moreover, according to Electronic Intifada, Israeli occupation forces have been attacking Palestinian communities even throughout the pandemic. Homes and schools have been raided, Palestinians have been detained (including local emergency-committee members), food parcels have been confiscated and assaults have been committed. Israel has also continued to target water, sanitation and hygiene facilities as well as agricultural and livelihood structures in the occupied West Bank as it further cements its plans to demolish Palestinian homes and forcibly remove the Palestinian population. Even up until the end of March, reports indicate that Israel has routinely bombed Gaza during this crisis as well.

Much of this continues to take place without so much as a blink from the UN, or the international community for that matter. While I note that most major Western powers have their own problems to deal with in the face of the pandemic, I can’t help but notice that the US still has the time, energy and resources to continue to build up its naval presence in the Caribbean in a bid to unseat Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.

Ah, but then again, the US has donated a whopping $5 million to the Palestinian Authority to assist in its efforts to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic. This is after the US had already cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinian Administration in 2018 and withheld $75 million in humanitarian aid which was supposed to be delivered this year.

Also on rt.com ‘We did not get a cent’: Palestinian diplomat says US ‘lying’ about promised $5mn aid package to hospitals facing Covid-19

The World Bank has predicted that if Palestine is unable to control the spread of Covid-19 in four months, its GDP will shrink by at least seven percent this year. A quarter of Palestinians were already living on less than $5.50 a day, with about a quarter of their population unemployed.

What we are seeing with respect to Palestine and the blockade imposed on Gaza by Egypt and Israel is a double-edged sword. If the numbers so far have been correct and the number of confirmed cases continues to remain low, it would suggest that we may find ourselves in a situation whereby the Palestinians may be able to avoid an unmitigated disaster. For much of the Palestinian population, the “lockdown” we have all been experiencing globally over the last few weeks is part and parcel of everyday life.

However, this will only be something to celebrate if the pandemic is unable to take root and fails to continue its path of spreading unabated like wildfire. Because if that does happen, the infrastructure simply isn’t there to help the Palestinians cope, nor is the international assistance they require.

Perhaps this is what the UN meant when it predicted that Gaza would be “uninhabitable” by 2020. While this is a vision for the future of the Palestinian Administration which may reflect the deepest desires of Jared Kushner and of Benjamin Netanyahu, one would hope that saner heads can prevail during this calamitous time.

That being said, in a world where increasingly useless celebrities preach to us through a virtual lens to be kind to one another, I can’t say I’m expecting any one of them to speak out in support of the Palestinian struggle any time soon.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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