It’s been described as a scene “straight out of a horror film,” after a sick Palestinian man was dumped on the side of a road near an Israeli checkpoint on the outskirts of Beit Sira village, west of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
“He had an extremely high fever. He could barely move his body and he was struggling to breathe,” an eyewitness told Middle East Eye.
The man was a Palestinian day laborer who works in Israel. After he had shown symptomatic signs of having the coronavirus, his Israeli employer called authorities, who then picked him up and dropped him on the Palestinian side of the Separation Barrier.
If the international community was in need of a warning for how Israeli authorities will treat the Palestinian people during the coronavirus crisis, then it just got one that’s blinking red.
Israel has been ethnically cleansing Palestinians for more than seventy years, so there’s no reason to think a viral pandemic will change either its reckoning or current course.
Israel has been ethnically cleansing Palestinians for more than seventy years, so there’s no reason to think a viral pandemic will change either its reckoning or current course. Only now, a new enemy is stalking the West Bank and Gaza, one that will hit the latter especially hard given multiple Israeli military campaigns have shattered much of the Strip’s civil and social infrastructure.
Eight years ago the United Nations predicted Gaza would be “unlivable” by 2020, a forecast that must now be measured as a best-case-scenario. Indeed, conditions in the besieged Palestinian territory have been hostile to sustainable life since 2014, the year Israel’s military dropped more than 20,000 tons of explosive ordnance on the Strip during its 51-day siege that summer.
In 2012, the enclave’s unemployment rate was a tick below 30 percent. Today, it’s 55 percent, with roughly half of the two million residents, most of whom are refugees, existing on less than $5 per day, while being constrained by a brutal Israeli blockade, which denies them freedom of movement and opportunity.
Things are rapidly slipping from dire to disastrous, however, with the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MOH) announcing its first known case of coronavirus on Saturday, after two Palestinian patients had returned from Pakistan via Gaza’s Rafah-Egypt border.
The two men have been quarantined, but Gaza’s already shattered healthcare system is ill-equipped to handle a pandemic outbreak. The territory has fewer than 3,000 hospital beds, which represents only one bed for roughly every 1,000 Palestinians, and only 50 or so life-saving ventilators suitable for adults. More worrisome still is the fact that most of the territory’s medical equipment is either out of date or broken beyond repair.
“The Gaza Strip has been under strict Israeli siege for the past 14 years, which has affected all aspects of life in a devastating way, including the health system.”
“The Gaza Strip has been under strict Israeli siege for the past 14 years, which has affected all aspects of life in a devastating way, including the health system,” Dr. Basem Naim, a former Palestinian Minister of Health and resident of Gaza, told Inside Arabia. “It’s ill-equipped to provide even basic needs that are required in the face of a terrible epidemic like coronavirus,” he said.
For years, Israel has deliberately targeted Gaza’s healthcare system as a means to break the will of Palestinian resistance. It does this by intentionally cutting Gaza’s power supply, which is meant to exert pressure on Hamas, but instead punishes ordinary Palestinians and prevents hospitals from attending to those in desperate need of medical attention.
Dr. Naim explained how hospitals in Gaza, which depend on 24-hour access to electricity, are unable to perform life-saving surgeries. He added that some facilities, including Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, have ceased doing operations altogether. The United Nations revealed that Gaza is receiving only 120 megawatts of the 400 megawatts of electricity it needs every day to meet basic humanitarian standards.
Whereas other countries around the world are doing their best to “flatten the curve” in order to save their healthcare systems from being overwhelmed with patients, the healthcare system in Gaza was on the verge of total collapse, even before it had identified its first coronavirus patient.
“The healthcare system in Gaza was on the verge of total collapse, even before it had identified its first coronavirus 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,” observes the Israeli based human rights organization B’Tselem.
Compounding the looming catastrophe is the fact that Gaza is essentially an open-air prison and one of the most densely populated and impoverished places on earth, with more than 6,000 residents per square kilometer, which guarantees the rapid spread of the virus.
“One of the main challenges now is how to finance the needs, to face this new catastrophe, in the presence of Israel embargo,” said Naim. “We call on the international community to assume its responsibilities towards Gaza’s people, and urge an end to Israeli occupation and siege.”
That Israel is dumping a very ill, suspected Palestinian coronavirus patient by the side of the road as though he were a discarded animal adds extra urgency to Dr. Naim’s plea.