Last month, Gaza experienced an 84% increase in COVID-19 cases.
You know what would help Palestine & Israel?
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) October 23, 2020
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.
Your participation in and fundraising for UNRWA USA’s signature 5K walk/run event plays a vital role in our efforts to provide refugee children in the Gaza Strip with life-changing mental health care. given the increased needs, A portion of the proceeds from the gaza 5k will also 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;
• All competent authorities to launch awareness campaigns on alternative power options during power outages to reduce the catastrophic impact of their misuse; and
• Parents and families to adhere to public safety standards and keep children away from the risks of alternative lighting methods.
Warning of Gaza Power Plant Shutdown
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.
A father called me. His son is eight months old, a cute boy. He has heart problems. His name is Omar, and he needed to exit for a surgical procedure that isn’t available in the Gaza Strip. He had an appointment for June. I sent a request to the military’s Civil Liaison Administration (CLA) to arrange for his exit, but I received no response. It went on for two weeks. I sent the request again and again and still no answer. In other requests I made, the CLA wrote back: “The Civilian Affairs Committee has to coordinate exits.” I said: “But there is no committee anymore. The Palestinian Authority disbanded it.” They said: “No committee, no exit.”
The child had already missed his May appointment because there was no coordination. He missed his June appointment because the CLA did not respond to his request. Three days before the appointment, he died.
Since his death, I’ve been in a very hard place. My stomach keeps hurting from the stress. When I take a break and don’t answer the phone, I feel guilty. For some reason, I think a lot about his father, who called me after and thanked me. I didn’t understand him. How did he find time to thank me? And for what? His baby died.
It gets worse every day. Two weeks ago, I got a call from parents of three different children, less than a month old, also with heart conditions. They needed an ambulance to get to Erez Crossing. In the past, the Civilian Affairs Committee would arrange for ambulances, but now there’s no committee, so there’s no one to coordinate.
At first, we tried to coordinate through the ICRC, but we found out that the Palestinian Authority decision has caused chaos, and there were no clear instructions on coordinating ambulances. In the past, in most cases, transportation was coordinated by the Civilian Affairs Committee. In any case, I made the arrangement, and the children left.
My dream is for the Gaza closure to be lifted and that I’ll be able to go there, for there to be freedom. The Palestinian Authority should have found another arrangement for patients before making such a big decision, but I don’t criticize the decision itself. Israel is responsible for the crossing and for the millions of people living in Gaza, because, ultimately, it’s the ruling power in the area, at the border crossings. Israel is preventing them from exiting.
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 impact of the new Israeli decisions would deepen the humanitarian and living crises in the Gaza Strip, especially raising unemployment, poverty and food insecurity. Statistics pre-recent restrictions indicate a dangerous unemployment rate at 46%, i.e. 211,300 unemployed workers; this rate is highest among youth at 63%. Also, more than half of the Gaza Strip population suffers poverty, as data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) indicate that the prevalence of poverty among the Gaza Strip population exceeds 53%, and more than 62.2% of the Gaza population is classified as food insecure according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
These decisions fall under the framework of the complete, illegal and unhumanitarian closure policy imposed by the Israeli authorities on the Gaza Strip since June 2007, as the Gaza Strip crossings have witnessed tightened restrictions on the movement of goods and persons.
Regarding commercial crossings, Israeli authorities continue to impose strict restrictions on the entry of goods classified as “dual use materials.” The Israeli authorities officially list 62 items as “dual use items” which contain hundreds of goods and basic materials. The items on the “dual-use goods” list are essential to the life of the population, so imposing restrictions on them contribute to the deterioration of infrastructure and the deterioration of economic, health and education conditions. Israeli authorities also continue to ban the export of Gaza Strip products, excluding limited quantities that do not surpass 5% of Gaza’s monthly exports before the closure in June 2007.
As to the crossing dedicated for movement of individuals, the extreme measures enforced by the Israeli authorities on the freedom of movement from and to the Gaza Strip via Beit Hanoun crossing are still in effect. Since early March 2020, restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Authority continued for the purpose of combating the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). These measures decreased and limited the number of persons and categories allowed to travel, as all categories were banned travel, except for limited humanitarian cases, and only patients are allowed to travel for treatment abroad.
“Governments must put human rights and dignity at the centre”
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.
I am really worried about the lack of coordination between Israel and the Palestinian authority in tackling this crisis. Both of them bear the duty to provide essential health services and apply public health measures throughout this pandemic. However, this is not happening and people affected are not being treated in a non-discriminatory way.
What is the current condition of the health system and the provision of medical supplies?
The health care system in Gaza was on the brink of collapse even before receiving its first COVID-19 patient. It has been struggling for over a decade as a result of the blockade and the destruction of infrastructure by Israel, with shortages in medical devices, drugs, equipment and health workers expertise. Despite we have qualified doctors in Gaza, they are very limited in their work because they are completely disconnected from the outside. Public health conditions are extremely poor, including lack of water and electricity.
In such a critical moment, it’s more important than ever that Israel lifts the closure on Gaza, so that it can equip itself with the necessary medical supplies to combat the pandemic. As enshrined in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the occupying power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining the “adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics”. Therefore, in addition to its own citizens and residents, Israel must fulfil its duty to protect people living under its occupation. However, at the moment, medical supplies in Gaza are coming from international actors only.