Everyone’s mental health is being tested as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we won’t all suffer the same.
From the United States to Palestine, no person should have to suffer constant distress.
And while the global pandemic has caused events, travel, and even people to be canceled, you can join UNRWA USA for an interactive Gaza 5K + Digital Festival on Saturday, September 12, 2020, bringing together community, running, music, and entertainment for a good cause — providing mental health for refugee kids in the Gaza Strip. And now, due to the crisis in Lebanon, a portion of the proceeds from the Gaza 5K will be dedicated to our urgent relief fund for Palestine refugees in Lebanon.
Three siblings from al-Nuseirat refugee camp, Central Gaza Strip, died after fire broke out in their house caused by a lit candle used for light during power outage on Tuesday, 01 September 2020; a manifestation of Gaza’s chronic electricity crisis. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) expresses its deep grieve and sorrow for the death of the three children and reiterates its warning that the electricity crisis will lead to more catastrophic repercussions on the lives of the Gaza Strip residents, including their right to life, security and personal safety, unless urgent and permanent solutions are founded for this prolonged crisis.
According to PCHR’s investigations, at approximately 21:15 on Tuesday, 01 September 2020, a fire broke out in Omar Mahmoud al-Hazin’s house in al-Nuseirat refugee camp, Central Gaza Strip, caused by a candle lit for light during the power outage in his children’s bedroom. As a result, Yusuf (6), Mahmoud (5), and Mohammed (3) burned to death. The three children were transferred via an ambulance to al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah and were pronounced dead upon arrival, according to medical sources. The competent authorities opened an investigation into the incident. The death of the three children increases the number of victims who lost their lives in fires that could have been avoided were it not for the power crisis to more than 30, the majority of which are children.
The Gaza Strip suffers a chronic power crisis since 2007, wherein the best case scenario available power reaches 180 Megawatts (120 MW from Israel, and 60 MW from the Gaza Power Plant), a far cry from its 500 MW minimum need. The power crisis exacerbated due to the shutdown of Gaza’s only power plant since 18 August 2020, after the Israeli authorities banned the entry of fuel needed for its operation. As a result, the power deficit reached 75%, forcing citizens to use alternative means to light their homes due to the power outrage for more than 20 hours a day.
Although the Israeli authorities allowed the re-entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, 01 September 2020, after a Qatar-brokered understanding was reached between Israel and Hamas Movement, and despite that the Gaza Power Plant resumed its operations and power supply hours witnessed an improvement; the power crisis continues with a 64% power deficit.
PCHR expresses its deep sorrow and mourns the death of 3 children, and calls upon:
• The international community to force the Israeli authorities to abandon the policy of collective punishment imposed on the population of the Gaza Strip, and to abide by its responsibilities, as the occupying power of the Gaza Strip to its population, under the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL); and to pressure Israel to allow the entry of all the Gaza strip population’s basic needs, including fuel required to operate the Gaza Power Plant;
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) expresses its deep concern over the repercussions of the Gaza Power Plant scheduled shutdown on Tuesday, 18 August 2020, on all basic services for the Gaza Strip population, especially health and sanitation services, industrial, commercial and agricultural facilities and other services. PCHR reiterates that the Israeli systematic policy of tightening the closure on the Gaza Strip as declared on 10 August 2020, is a form of collective punishment and inhuman and illegal reprisals against Palestinian civilians since 2007.
According to PCHR’s follow-up, the Palestinian Energy And Natural Resources Authority and the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) declared on Sunday, 16 August 2020, its decision to suspend the power plant at full capacity on Tuesday morning, 18 August 2020, as the fuel required to operate the Plant ran out due to the Israeli authorities’ suspension of fuel entry for the seventh consecutive day. The Israeli authorities alleges that their decision to tighten the closure and ban entry of fuel was in response to the launch of incendiary balloons at Israeli outposts adjacent to the Gaza Strip. This will increase the shortage of electric supply by more than 75%.
The shutdown of the power plant will have implications for basic services received by the Gaza Strip residents and will increase the hours of power outage at civilians’ homes to 16 – 20 per day. The power outage will most significantly impact the quality of health and sanitation services, including drinking water supply, sanitation and other services, such as reduction in diagnostic and treatment services at both governmental and private health facilities. Additionally, drinking water supply will be interrupted for long periods, and the power shortage will result in untreated sewage water being pumped into sea. Furthermore, the Gaza Strip’s economy will suffer huge losses as work is suspended in industrial, commercial and agricultural facilities that depend on electricity in their production mechanism, putting them at risk of being shut down and collapse.
PCHR expresses its grave concern over the catastrophic consequences that may result from the disruption of public utilities if power outages continue, which will affect all basic services provided to the public, especially hospitals, water and sanitation facilities; Thus, PCHR:
• Calls upon the international community to force the Israeli occupation authorities to stop using collective punishment policy against the Gaza Strip population and urgently intervene to guarantee import of fuel and all other needs for the Gaza Strip population; and
• Reminds Israel of its obligations and responsibilities as an occupying power of the Gaza Strip under the rules of the international humanitarian law.
A month ago, I checked my inbox, and my stomach sank. An older woman from Gaza wrote to me: “Please, I have an urgent appointment at a hospital in the West Bank – radiation therapy for uterine cancer. Civilian coordination has stopped. I don’t know how I’m going to get out of here. The disease is eating away at my body. I grow weaker every day. I feel death is coming, that it’ll be here any minute. Please help.”
The Palestinian Authority cut off ties with Israel in response to the annexation plan. They’ve disbanded the Civilian Affairs Committee – a Palestinian Authority agency that was responsible for coordinating Palestinians’ exit permit applications with the Israeli military.
Since then, Haneen, my Gaza permit intake colleague, and I have been coordinating exit and ambulance transportation for patients. These are things the Civilian Affairs Committee used to do. This situation is impossible. There are only two of us. The phone starts ringing at 8:00 A.M. and doesn’t stop until nighttime – dozens of patients in critical condition from Gaza – cancer, brain and heart disease, people who have to get out, who need coordination.
In our conversations, the patients keep saying: “The treatment isn’t available in Gaza.” They send me medical documents, and I reassure them and say, “I understand.” It’s very difficult for me when they try to prove they are sick, that they’re getting worse, that they have a right to exit, because it’s their most basic right, the right any patient has to get proper treatment.
On Wednesday, 12 August 2020, Israeli authorities announced new restrictions on the movement of goods entering the Gaza Strip and reduced the fishing area, in alleged response to the launch of incendiary balloons towards Israeli settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Kamil Abu Rukun, stated that pursuing to security consultations, it was decided to immediately stop the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip and reduce the permitted fishing area from 15 to 8 nautical miles until further notice. Abu Rukun added that “These decisions were made in light of the ongoing violence and launch of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory.”
This decision followed the Israeli authorities’ former decision to close Karm Abu Salem crossing issued two days ago (starting from Tuesday, 11 August 2020) except for the transportation of goods for vital humanitarian cases and fuel.
The decision suspending the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip deepens its electricity crisis and increases its 64% power deficit (pre-suspension decision). In the best case scenario, the Gaza Strip available power reaches 180 Megawatts (120 MW from Israel, and 60 MW from the Gaza power plant), a far cry from its 500 MW minimum need.
In light of the Israeli decision, it is expected that the power deficit would reach 76% after the power plant shuts, raising the hours of power outages to 16 – 20 hours per day.
This development bears warning to the impact on the lives of the 2 million Gaza residents, as their homes and workplaces will turn into hell, preventing them from leading normal lives due to the high heat and humidity. Most significantly, as the electricity crisis intensifies, basic services are expected to rapidly deteriorate, particularly health and sanitation services, including drinking water sources and sanitation services.
Furthermore, reducing the fishing area negatively affects and undermines the livelihoods of 4,160 fishermen and 700 workers in professions associated with the fishing sector i.e. the main providers for their families (a total of 27,700 persons). Even before this decision, Gazan fishermen already suffered an inability to fish and sail freely in the allowed fishing area due to the recurrent Israeli attacks at sea, the entry ban of equipment and necessary supplies for fishermen. Consequently, hundreds of fishermen are effectively unable to provide their families’ basic needs, such as food, medicine, clothing, and education.
The timer is now ticking on Israel. While Israel historically put Palestinians on the slow burner, gnawing at their lands and livelihoods, time was in Israel’s favor as the world turned a blind eye. Those days are over.
Israel must now choose, allow the state of Palestine to emerge, or have it imposed upon them. The traditional options of two-states vs. one state of Israel without equality for all its citizens have passed long ago. Israel can accept Palestine in all the occupied territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, or ultimately be forced to accept Palestine from the river to the sea.
For us Palestinians, like any normal human beings on this earth, it is natural for us to expect to be viewed as a people worthy of our rights, freedom, and independence. The days when this can be ignored are over too.
Today, all have been exposed to the naked eye. Thanks to decades of denial by Jewish Israeli citizens and the Jewish diaspora, US President Trump and his messianic entourage of Jared Kushner and David M. Friedman, Israel’s state-sanctioned settlement enterprise, financier Sheldon Adelson’s fanaticism, Christian Evangelicals bent on personally witnessing the Armageddon, and none other than Israel’s own extremist prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation frenzy, a frenzy on steroids attempting to divert his path to jail on three corruption charges.
To force the timer to tick even faster, outgoing Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, in an interview with Stephen Sackur of the BBC Hardtalk program, proudly proclaimed, “I represent not only the people of Israel, I represented [sic] the Jewish people in the U.N.”. He went on, “We [Jews] do have biblical rights to the land. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, or Jew — you read the Bible, you read the stories of the Bible — it’s all there.” It got worse. He went on to say, “This is our deed to the land. That’s biblical.” This from Israel’s top international diplomat! Regardless of how one views the Bible, it’s a religious text, not a document that can be submitted in a case of international law.
The further back Israel goes in time, the faster today’s timer is ticking. Below I will touch on three momentous developments lubricating the timer.
I was 22 in 1993 when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn to officially begin the peace process that many hoped would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. I’ve been arguing for a two-state solution — first in late-night bull sessions, then in articles and speeches — ever since.
I believed in Israel as a Jewish state because I grew up in a family that had hopscotched from continent to continent as diaspora Jewish communities crumbled. I saw Israel’s impact on my grandfather and father, who were never as happy or secure as when enveloped in a society of Jews. And I knew that Israel was a source of comfort and pride to millions of other Jews, some of whose families had experienced traumas greater than my own.
One day in early adulthood, I walked through Jerusalem, reading street names that catalog Jewish history, and felt that comfort and pride myself. I knew Israel was wrong to deny Palestinians in the West Bank citizenship, due process, free movement and the right to vote in the country in which they lived. But the dream of a two-state solution that would give Palestinians a country of their own let me hope that I could remain a liberal and a supporter of Jewish statehood at the same time.
The horrific police murder of George Floyd, caught on a cell phone by a teenager who then posted the harrowing footage on social media, is only the latest reminder that the civil rights struggles of the past century have not translated into safer streets—not even safer homes–for Black people in the USA. Yet in this deeply painful moment, there is also a sense of cautious hopefulness, as Americans of all races, but also as people globally, are taking to the streets with one message: “Black Lives Matter.”
And from Ramallah to Haifa to the Gaza Strip, Palestinians in the homeland are joining the global denunciations of the system of racial supremacy that has too long held down an oppressed people who taught the world that justice is indivisible, and that none of us can breathe until Black people can breathe. This video compiles some of their statements of solidarity, including “We see you,” “your pain is our pain,” and affirming the belief that justice will prevail.
The Black Lives Matter slogan, “Defund the Police,” is also resonating in all corners of the globe, along with denunciations of the blanket criminalization of Black people, and of the racist underpinnings of American law enforcement, which has always placed property over humanity. A much-needed discussion is taking place in homes, on social media, and in the streets, about the very identity of the police institution, with its beginning as slave patrols. As I wrote elsewhere: “With their origin as runaway slave patrols—always prioritizing the property of whites over the lives of African Americans, the US police forces have been racist for centuries […]Their behavior today, as they form a weaponized wall protecting banks and shopping malls, rather than the protestors rising up against centuries of injustice, is a direct evolution of their initial mandate—to protect the privileged and their wealth, from the violently dispossessed, those who have been looted of their land, and the fruit of their labor.”
This is why the Black Lives Matter demands are not accommodationist, asking for body cams or a better accountability system. Rather, the message is clear: “Defund the Police” is about dismantling a system that is so essentially racist it cannot be reformed.
Arab Americans, themselves no strangers to law enforcement violence, are also expressing their solidarity with the Black struggle, in individual statements, in works of art honoring Black lives, and in hosting fundraisers to benefit the Movement for Black Lives, and It is our duty to defend Black lives,” a “rebellion of love” is afoot.
For now, we must make sure this is a movement, not a moment. So let us keep taking to the streets, joining in the rebellion of love against racism. The police, today’s enforcers of racial supremacy, must be abolished, because (as the contributors in this video affirm): Black Lives Matter.
On the evening of 21 March 2020, Gaza’s health ministry confirmed the first two cases of COVID-19. Overpopulated and impoverished, the Gaza Strip faces particular vulnerability in the context of the pandemic. A potential large-scale outbreak of the virus would constitute another enormous strain on Gaza’s population, already affected by more than a decade of Israeli blockade, causing extreme poverty, harsh living conditions, dysfunctional infrastructure and a fragile healthcare system. Furthermore, Israel’s over half-century-long occupation of Gaza involved systematic human rights violations against the Palestinian population, including the use of excessive lethal force against protesters and prolonged administrative detention without charge or trial.
It is in these exceptional circumstances that 2013 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Raji Sourani has been tirelessly working to defend and promote human rights. As the most prominent human rights lawyer based in the Gaza Strip, Sourani established the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights to document and investigate human rights violations committed in the Occupied Territories, and has defended countless victims before Israeli courts. For his activism, he has been imprisoned six times by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
At the time of writing this article, 19 people in Gaza were tested positive with COVID-19. Giving the enormous challenges that this pandemic poses to the Palestinian population, we asked Sourani to give us more details about the situation in the Gaza Strip, where he currently resides.
What is the current situation in Gaza, and what are your major concerns?
Israel’s more than a decade-long closure of Gaza severely restricts the movement of people and goods. We have been in isolation for a very long time, and we know very well the implications of such an exceptional situation, that is now affecting most of the world.
At the moment, 19 people in Gaza are positive to coronavirus, 160 people in Jerusalem and 250 in the West Bank, mostly workers coming from Israel. The response to the crisis in Gaza has been mainly focused on prevention – by immediately quarantining all those coming from the outside – and on health education, including social distancing, personal protection, and hygiene rules. However, being Gaza one of the most densely populated places on earth, it became soon clear that home quarantine is not effective, and authorities have been using hotels, schools, hospital sections and health facilities to quarantine all those who have symptoms.