Healthcare Inequity and the COVID-19 Crisis in PalestineThe COVID-19 crisis in Palestine is worsening due to conflict in the region. Palestine is comprised of two territories that are separated by Israel. This includes Gaza and the West Bank. With Israelis preventing Gazans from leaving the area, Israeli soldiers are destroying agricultural lands that are vital for the Palestinian economy.

Palestinians, specifically those living in Gaza, have lived their entire lives relatively isolated from much of the outside world. A wall that was erected along Gaza’s borders prevents Palestinians from leaving the territory and subjects them to Israeli discretion. Help from NGOs and humanitarian aid can reduce the COVID-19 crisis in Palestine.

Pre-Pandemic Healthcare in Palestine

One consequence of the Israeli occupation is the scarcity of healthcare providers and resources in Palestine. In order to access Israeli health facilities, Palestinians must obtain travel permits, but these permits are frequently denied. There are 300,000 Palestinians living without access to adequate healthcare in the West Bank. The few healthcare facilities that do exist in the occupied territories face equipment and medicine shortages. The effort to increase the number of health facilities in Gaza has been hindered by Israeli refusing to grant construction permits and restrictions on medical imports and exports.

Impacts of COVID-19 on Palestinian Healthcare

The COVID-19 crisis in Palestine devastated its already inadequate Palestinian healthcare system. Gaza and the West Bank have a total of 375 ICU beds and 295 ventilators between them, for a population of over three million. The lack of available resources has severely hindered pandemic response in the territories, with health officials halting COVID testing in June due to a shortage of test kits in Gaza.

The sole laboratory in Palestine capable of processing COVID tests was forced to close as it lacked sufficient equipment. Household resources such as hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and even soap are scarce in Gaza and the West Bank. This is due to the lack of financial means. In addition, Palestinians don’t have the luxury to use social distancing to prevent the spread of the pandemic as the territories are severely overcrowded.

The ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict has exacerbated the severity of the COVID-19 crisis in Palestine. In July 2020, Israeli forces destroyed a quarantine facility in the West Bank, thus further decreasing the amount of pandemic-response resources available to Palestinians. Moreover, hospital space that could be used by COVID patients is largely occupied by the high volume of people seeking treatment for injuries acquired from conflict with Israelis.

Israel has also imposed restrictions on medical supplies, subsequently reducing treatment capacity in Gaza. In April 2020, Israeli authorities destroyed a Palestinian COVID testing center. It has been reported that water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are also casualties of Israeli attacks.

Aiding Pandemic Response in Palestine

The World Health Organization published an updated COVID-19 Response Plan for Palestine in April 2020. This plan involves increasing testing capacity, providing additional hospital beds and educating the Palestinian public about virus prevention. It also aims to increase the amount of personal protective equipment available to health professionals.

Palestinian healthcare providers rely heavily on humanitarian aid and NGOs such as Anera. Anera works towards increasing healthcare access in Palestine by distributing medication, wheelchairs and funding to healthcare providers in Gaza and the West Bank. In addition, Doctors without Borders or, Medecins Sans Frontieres, provides medical care such as trauma support, mental health services, surgeries and treatment for burn patients in the occupied territories.

The COVID-19 pandemic and other preceding disease-outbreaks have often been referred to as “great equalizers,” as they are able to affect all people. Yet, as noted by Dr. Stephen Mein, low-income populations and racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to contract these diseases. Socioeconomic disparities and political situations such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict prevent pandemics from becoming equalizers. This is because disadvantaged groups are disproportionately being impacted.

In the case of Palestine, tensions between Palestinians and Israelis have had devastating effects on the pandemic-response. The isolation of Gaza and the West Bank should have prevented the COVID-19 situation in Palestine from escalating so rapidly. Yet, the lack of funding and medical resources as well as political tensions and overcrowding in the territories, have resulted in many potentially preventable fatalities.

Although the COVID-19 crisis in Palestine remains a critical issue, the number of daily COVID cases has been continuously declining. Support from organizations such as Anera has alleviated pressure from the Palestinian leadership.

– Maariyah Kharal
Photo: Flickr

July 8 marks one year since Israel launched an offensive against the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The resulting 50 days of conflict left 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis dead.

The fighting particularly devastated civilian areas. Israeli airstrikes in Gaza reduced 18,000 homes to rubble and left hundreds of thousands in need of emergency assistance.

Now, almost a year later, life in the Gaza Strip has improved little, if at all. Over 100,000 people are still displaced. On May 21, the World Bank released a statement addressing the current situation in Gaza, which it termed, “unsustainable.”

Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, the Egyptian and Israeli governments have sealed their borders with Gaza in an attempt to stop the transfer of weapons to extremist groups. However, these blockades have also severely limited the Gazan people’s access to recovery supplies.

Both the blockades and the 2014 war have shrunk Gaza’s economy by close to half a billion dollars. The World Bank reports that Gaza has been “reduced to a fraction of its estimated potential.”

With the economy essentially cut off from the outside world, the well-educated population of Gaza has nowhere to turn for jobs. Gaza now has the highest unemployment rate in the world, with an overwhelming 43 percent of residents out of work. At the end of 2014, youth unemployment surpassed 60%.

About 1.8 million Gazans are restricted to a region smaller in area than the city of Washington D.C. They cannot leave without permits, and many supplies cannot pass through the blockade.

One Gazan woman lost her five-month-old grandson to exposure in the winter following the conflict. As of Feburary, she lived in the remains of a house destroyed by the war, where she feared for herself and the rest of her family. “This house isn’t adequate. We’re scared it’s going to collapse on us,” she explained in an interview with Vice News.

After last summer’s conflict, the international community pledged $3.5 billion for recovery efforts in the Strip. A year later, little more than a quarter of that money has been dispersed.

The remaining $2.5 billion are desperately needed. Nearly 40% of Gaza’s citizens live below the poverty line. Neighborhoods still lay in ruins, and an overwhelming majority of the population lacks access to electricity and clean water. Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, recently noted, “No human being who visits can remain untouched by the terrible devastation that one sees here in Gaza.”

The World Bank report calls for an easing of the blockade to allow reconstruction materials to reach residents. It also says that the Palestinian Authority must strengthen its leadership to rebuild a Gazan economy that is “on the verge of collapse.”

– Caitlin Harrison

Sources: The Guardian, The World Bank BBC Vice News UN News Centre
Photo: Daily Mail


The world’s eyes are focused on the rockets being fired between Hamas and Israel. This conflict, which was recently escalated after three Israeli teens were found dead in the West Bank, has claimed the lives of 260 Palestinians. To understand the full scope of suffering that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are undergoing, we must focus on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is largely defined by a deteriorating economy that cannot keep up with the rate of population growth. As a result, more and more people in Gaza do not have proper access to essential services for their livelihood. This causes extreme conditions to persist in the Gaza Strip, where 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 45 percent are unemployed.

A United Nations report, called The Palmer Report, concluded that the Blockade of the Gaza Strip is the main cause of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Blockade is a full land, sea and air blockade on the Gaza strip issued by Israel and Egypt since 2007. This puts a severe limit on the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip, preventing the normal functioning of the economy in Gaza.

Israel argues that the implementation of the Blockade is to prevent weapons and military equipment from reaching Gaza and going into Hamas’ hands. Although this Blockade may have successfully prevented military weapons from reaching Hamas, it has also prevented essential goods from reaching the people of Gaza. Claims that Israel’s main motivation in upholding the Blockade is for security reasons have been challenged by cables obtained by Wikileaks. One of the cables stated that in 2008, Israel told U.S. officials “they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” Due to the economic effects imposed by The Blockade on Gaza, its legality has been challenged by many prominent public figures and organizations, such as U.N. envoy Desmond Tutu, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Human Rights Council head Navi Pillay.

As the Wikileaks cable demonstrated, economic punishment is precisely what is happening in Gaza due to the Blockade. Due to the lack of exports and imports, 54 percent of households in Gaza face food insecurity. The Blockade has stopped the entrance of necessary construction material and equipment, preventing the construction of homes that have been destroyed by rocket fire. More generally, the prevention of movement of goods in Gaza has generated poor services and infrastructure that are vital to those living in the Gaza Strip. Half of the population of the Gaza Strip does not have access to water supply due to the lack of proper repairs for a crumbling infrastructure.

Oxfam International and The United Nations Relief and Works Agency have helped thousands of Palestinians by using aid to provide important services and supplies. The importance of these relief agencies is highlighted by the fact that 75 percent of households in the Gaza Strip receive outside aid.

Due to the lack of access to essential services, a crippled economy and constant bombardment, the Gaza Strip is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and the situation is only getting worse with escalating conflict and violence.

– Lucas Vazquez

Sources: OXFAM, Reuters
Photo: PR Watch