Eight years ago, the United Nations warned that the Gaza Strip would not be a “habitable place” by 2020, urging Israel to lift its multi-year blockade against the Palestinian coastal enclave and calling for an “effort Herculean ”to improve basic services. .
But Israel and Egypt continued the crippling air, land and sea blockade imposed in 2007, mainly isolating the land’s nearly two million inhabitants from the rest of the world.
As 2020 arrived, conditions in Gaza were marked by water and medicine shortages as well as a severe electricity crisis, with residents of the enclave receiving only up to six hours of electricity per day, a situation described by some as “not tolerable”.
The coronavirus – which has swept the world this year, infecting tens of millions and disrupting lives in almost every country – has only exacerbated Gaza’s woes.
“The people of Gaza had had enough in their lives, going from one crisis to another without interruption,” said Mahmoud Abu Samaan, 34, an employee of the Hamas-led communications ministry.
“You cannot force people to sit in their homes without electricity, food or money. It’s a blockade within a blockade. “
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gaza has recorded more than 36,000 cases and 310 deaths. The virus has spread rapidly in the congested enclave, where 70% of the population are refugees who live in overcrowded camps.
Hamas, which controls the territory, has suspended Friday prayers in mosques, closed restaurants, wedding halls and receptions. The lockdown has left thousands of people out of work, exacerbating the unemployment rate, which stood at over 50% even before the pandemic.
Abu Samaan said he and his family of four had all tested positive for the virus, but their symptoms were mild.
“I was very scared,” he says. “Not from the virus, but from the terrible health care system here.”
“It is not the coronavirus, but the ongoing blockade that has destroyed our lives.”
Wafaa Abu Kwaik, an English teacher, also contracted the virus, along with her husband and five children.
The 40-year-old said a total of 19 people in her extended family have fallen ill. But Abu Kwaik said she and her relatives had not received adequate care.
“My 62-year-old mother’s condition deteriorated due to her high blood pressure and diabetes,” Abu Kwaik said.
Her mother’s condition was serious, but she recovered after spending 15 days in the intensive care unit.
“The situation was very difficult. There were hundreds of cases a day and not enough beds. Medical staff couldn’t handle these numbers, and most people were deteriorating not from the virus, but from the lack of medical equipment and facilities to treat them.
The Israeli-Egyptian blockade has left Gaza’s health care system in dire straits.
Abd al-Latif al-Hajj, director of international cooperation at the Hamas-led health ministry, said Gaza’s health system had been overburdened for years due to the blockade and three major Israeli military attacks on the enclave.
“This year there is a 47 percent shortage of drugs, 32 percent shortage of medical consumables and a 62 percent shortage of medical laboratory supplies,” he said.
“There is also a shortage of medical staff who work at a limited capacity because they do not receive a regular salary.”
With the COVID-19 outbreak, the situation in Gaza hospitals was “dire,” al-Hajj said, adding that people with other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, were now unable to leave Gaza for medical treatment due to the pandemic. .
Al-Hajj also noted that Israel has already started vaccinating its citizens, ignoring its responsibility to the occupied Gaza Strip.
“Unfortunately, no one can force Israel to fulfill its obligations to the Palestinians,” he said.
Pour oil on the fire
Israel imposed the blockade of Gaza in June 2007, restricting the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory.
The UN has called for an end to the Israeli siege, saying the blockade amounts to “collective punishment of the two million inhabitants of Gaza” – an act prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Egyptian limits on the movement of Palestinians from Gaza across the Rafah border crossing and Hamas’ disputes with the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, have made matters worse.
The Palestinian Authority has restricted financial transfers to Gaza and even called on Israel to cut the electricity supply.
“We have to find new terms to describe the situation in Gaza,” said Omar Shaban, a political analyst based in Gaza.
“The UN declared in 2012 that Gaza would not be livable in 2020. Then came the war of 2014, which lasted 51 days and destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, followed by several military escalations and a suffocating economic blockade.
He added: “In 2020, the coronavirus added fuel to the fire, and the situation here has become catastrophic on all levels.”
In April, 19 human rights groups urged Israel to lift the siege on Gaza so that the territory could equip itself with the medical supplies needed to deal with the pandemic.
‘Gaza cannot go on like this’
Azzam Shaath, a legal researcher at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, said Israel also has a responsibility as the occupying power to care for the Palestinians living in Gaza.
“It must respond to emergency needs, provide equipment and medical care, and implement detection measures to prevent contamination and infections,” he said.
“Israel should immediately remove restrictions on the movement of goods and all other barriers to trade and economic activities that threaten public health.”
He called on the international community to put pressure on Israel to end the blockade of Gaza.
“The international community must understand that Gaza cannot continue like this,” he said.
“What the world has seen this year is what the people of Gaza experienced during the 14 years of the Israeli blockade.”