The spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip will be a massive disaster, resulting entirely from the unique conditions created by more than a decade of Israeli blockade: a failing healthcare system, extreme poverty, dependence on humanitarian aid, dysfunctional infrastructure and harsh living conditions that compromise public health – even before exposure to the new virus – combine with overcrowding to form a nightmare scenario.
Yesterday, two Palestinians from the Gaza Strip were reported sick with COVID-19. According to media reports, they were placed under quarantine immediately upon returning from Pakistan. They are currently in a field hospital in Rafah set up by the Gazan authorities.
All countries, including Israel and other states with modern healthcare systems, fear their health systems will be stretched thin or even collapse if faced with thousands or tens of thousands of infected patients. The healthcare system in the Gaza Strip was already on the brink of collapse, even before receiving its first CODVID-19 patient. Already, it cannot meet the population’s needs due to an acute shortage of medicine, equipment, doctors and professional training. Under regular circumstances, Israel allows a fraction of patients in need of medical care to leave the Gaza Strip – to the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Israel or other countries. Now, even this faint possibility will not exist.
In accordance with the policy it has implemented since carrying out the “disengagement” plan in 2005, Israel refrains from assuming any responsibility for what is happening in the Gaza Strip and treats it like a foreign country. Yet Israel bears full responsibility for the reality in Gaza. After decades of occupation in which it avoided any investment there, and after more than 12 years of blockade, Israel has turned Gaza into the biggest open-air prison in the world. The Gaza Strip is now in the throes of a humanitarian disaster – created entirely by Israel.
This policy has forced the nearly two million residents of Gaza into abject poverty. The economy has long since collapsed and residents are trapped in a closed, limited job market with an unemployment rate of more than 70% among young people and around 80% of residents relying on humanitarian aid. The infrastructure has also collapsed: almost all pumped water in the Gaza Strip is undrinkable and electricity is provided for only a few hours a day, preventing the water and sewage systems from functioning properly.
The creator of this reality is responsible for the health of the two million people living in Gaza. Israel will not be able to deflect the blame if this nightmare scenario turns into a reality that it created and made no effort to prevent.