Every place in the world is in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. The disease does not discriminate: people of every race, gender, class and identity are susceptible and have contracted the coronavirus. Even so, there is a clear difference in vulnerability based on wealth and privilege, which determine access to testing, proper health care and the ability to isolate oneself to reduce the virus’s spread.
Early in the outbreak, both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government declared states of emergency, severely restricting the movement of people and promoting—even mandating—physical distancing. Many have credited the PA’s actions with curtailing the virus’s spread in the West Bank. As of April 14, there were 288 confirmed cases in the occupied Palestinian territories, 13 of them in Gaza. The risk of contagion remains high, due in large part to inadequate health care access and high population densities, especially in Gaza and in refugee camps in the West Bank.
The two most advanced Palestinian hospitals — Augusta Victoria Hospital and Maqassad Hospital — are both located in East Jerusalem. Even without the pandemic situation, Israeli permit systems limit access to these hospitals for Palestinians who live outside Jerusalem. Now, when movement is severely restricted, these hospitals are not accessible for them at all.
Gaza, with its population of 2 million Palestinians—most of them refugees who depend upon the health care services of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—is especially at risk. Medical clinics are not equipped to deal with an outbreak, many supplies are prohibited from entry, Palestinians in Gaza need permits to seek care elsewhere, and, because the population is so highly concentrated, the virus could spread rapidly, with devastating and tragic impact.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated many key needs of Palestinians and has foregrounded aspects of their lives under occupation and blockade that must be addressed to ensure them access to necessary services and care. In late March, eight U.S. senators addressed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting the administration’s plans for safeguarding Palestinian health and humanitarian needs.
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