“Governments must put human rights and dignity at the centre”
Raji Sourani, The Right Livelihood Foundation, May 8, 2020
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.