From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Israel's Caging of Gaza Is a Recipe for Coronavirus Disaster
Date March 27, 2020 3:10 AM
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[ The pandemics arrival threatens to make Gaza even more unlivable
under Israeli siege. Humanitarian aid is not enough. The specter of
the coronavirus haunts the strips 2 million Palestinian residents,
half of whom are children,] [[link removed]]

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Jehad Abusalim
March 22, 2020
+972 Magazine
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_ The pandemic's arrival threatens to make Gaza even more unlivable
under Israeli siege. Humanitarian aid is not enough. The specter of
the coronavirus haunts the strip's 2 million Palestinian residents,
half of whom are children, _

Palestinian Health workers spray disinfectant as a precaution against
the new coronavirus in the Al-Omari Mosque in Gaza City. March 15,
2020., Ail Ahmed/Flash90 // +972 Magazine


The Palestinian Health Ministry today reported its first two cases
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coronavirus in the Gaza Strip. For weeks the Hamas-led authority,
which has ruled the blockaded territory since 2007, undertook serious
measures to preempt the arrival of the virus to the strip. Up until
its decision to seal off its sides of the Rafah crossing with Egypt
and the Erez checkpoint with Israel, hundreds of Palestinians who
entered the strip were immediately quarantined to ensure they had no
symptoms of the disease.

These actions, however, are of very little comfort.

It is no exaggeration to say that the prospect of COVID-19 spreading
in the Gaza Strip is terrifying. This year, 2020, is the year in which
the United Nations and other international agencies predicted that
Gaza would become “uninhabitable.” If Israel’s 13-year blockade
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isolation of the strip continued, they warned, Gaza’s most basic
services and its capacity to sustain itself would collapse.
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As the specter of the coronavirus haunts the strip’s 2 million
Palestinian residents, half of whom are children, the world needs to
face an urgent truth: Gaza, which has long been unlivable
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current conditions, will be even more so now that the virus has
reached its people.

For years, international NGOs, and even some Israeli officials
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have warned that Gaza’s health system is on the verge of collapse,
incapacitated by decades of systematic de-development
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siege. All the problems of the Israeli blockade are entangled and
heightened in Gaza’s health sector: a severe water crisis, an
extreme power shortage, high rates of unemployment, and crumbling

Palestinian workers wearing protective masks as they prepare the
quarantine zone to test returning passengers for coronavirus, at Rafah
border crossing in the Gaza Strip, February 16, 2020.
Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90  //  +972 Magazine
As such, Gaza’s healthcare system is not equipped for a COVID-19
breakout. It has a total number of 2,895
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beds, or 1.3 beds per thousand people. It has just 50 to 60
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adults. According to the head of the WHO’s sub-office in Gaza,
Abdelnasser Soboh, Gaza is only prepared to handle the first hundred
cases of the virus; “After that, it will need further support
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The health system is further aggravated by the emigration
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many Palestinian health professionals due to Gaza’s economic crisis.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have left the strip since 2018 alone,
among them dozens of doctors and nurses. A Health Ministry official
declared they would need at least 300 to 400 more doctors just to
close the gap and meet the population’s minimum needs.

Another feature of Gaza’s existence could fuel a mass spread of the
virus: population density. According to scientists, “crowded
[[link removed]] can
increase the likelihood of people transmitting infectious diseases
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— and with an average of 6,028 persons per square kilometer, Gaza
has one of the highest population densities in the world. Its
over-crowdedness is only surpassed by a few places, such as Hong Kong;
but while people can freely move in and out of Hong Kong, the majority
of Palestinians in Gaza are caged there against their will.

Gaza’s eight refugee camps have even higher population densities
than the territory’s average. Take Jabalia, where more than 140,000
Palestinian refugees live in an area of 1.4 square kilometers, or
about 82,000 persons per square kilometer. The camp has access to just
three health clinics and one public hospital. On the land just on the
other side of the fence within present-day Israel — where many of
the Palestinian refugees are from — the density ranges from zero to
500 persons per square kilometer.

In the shadow of the global pandemic, these conditions in Gaza are a
recipe for a disaster. Yet they are not the result of some unfortunate
accident; they are a deliberate product of decades of Israeli state
policy [[link removed]],
consciously designed and maintained to achieve Gaza’s

General view of Palestinian homes and buildings in Rafah, southern
Gaza Strip, February 9, 2020.
Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90  //  +972 Magazine
Most of the 2 million Palestinians living in the tiny strip today are
descendants of 200,000 refugees who fled or were expelled during the
1948 war that created the State of Israel, joining around 80,000 to
100,000 Palestinians who resided in the area at the time.

These refugees believed that their stay in Gaza would be temporary,
but Israel quickly built militarized fences to confine the
Palestinians, and enacted laws to make their displacement permanent.
These included the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law, which deemed
any attempt by Palestinians to return to their land, homes, and
property as illegal. Many Palestinians who tried to do so were shot
and killed by Israeli forces.

When Israel conquered the strip in 1967, it enabled Jewish settlers to
take over 25 percent of the already-small territory, comprising about
40 percent of its arable land. Until Israel’s “disengagement” in
2005, four decades of Jewish settlement worsened Gaza’s
over-crowdedness and prevented Palestinians from building and
expanding within the strip. Since then, repeated Israeli military
offensives decimated Palestinian homes and further displaced tens of
thousands of families.

Put bluntly, the Gaza Strip is in its current shape because of the
logic of Israeli expansionism: the state’s relentless drive to
maintain a Jewish majority at the direct expense of the Palestinians.
Two million Palestinians are trapped in Gaza not because they chose
this life, but because it was forced upon them.

The threat of COVID-19 looming over Gaza is perhaps a last opportunity
to say what many refuse to hear: Gaza’s problem is not a lack of
humanitarian aid, as urgent as it may be. It is territorial,
demographic, and political. It is about who, between the Jordan River
and the Mediterranean Sea, is privileged and who is not; who gets to
live and thrive on the land, and who does not.

Palestinian students walk past a UN distribution center in the Jabalia
refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2013.
Wissam Nassar/FLASH90  //  +972 Magazine
Right now, while Israel’s Jewish citizens enjoy the land and its
resources, Palestinians are denied that same right and barred from
returning to their homeland. And while the international community
largely focuses on the threat of Israeli “annexation” of its
illegal settlements in the West Bank, many do not care about the
unnatural reality experienced by the people in Gaza.

In this time of pandemic and concern for the health of communities
worldwide, it is time to address the full consequences of the unjust
partition of historic Palestine — and that includes Gaza.

Indeed, Gaza encapsulates many of our world’s problems: war,
poverty, displacement, and racism. But it also offers glimmers of
hope, through its humanity, resilience, and resistance.

In this moment — when people in more privileged countries can just
slightly relate to a life in confinement, separated from loved ones,
uncertain about basic needs, and worrying about our collective future
— it is imperative to think of places like Gaza, where people have
suffered much worse for decades, and are at the risk of a far more
devastating blow now that the pandemic has reached their shores.

I write this while thinking about my family in Gaza, who, like many
others, may soon be at the mercy of COVID-19. Although this is the
time to think about survival, it is also the time to ask big
questions, about how we as human beings have failed to prepare for
this moment. If this is not the time to end the blockade of Gaza and
the occupation of Palestine, and if this is not the time to address
the injustices that have rendered Palestinian life to suffering and
pain, then when?

_[Jehad Abusalim is a scholar and policy analyst from Gaza. He is a
Palestine Activism Program Associate at the American Friends Service
Committee, and is currently studying at New York University.]_

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