The COVID-19 virus was introduced into Bethlehem in late February by two infected Greek tourists. When seven Palestinian cases were diagnosed on March 5, the Palestinian Authority (PA) declared a state of emergency, closing all schools and mosque, and banning entry to foreign tourists.
Israel’s military imposed a complete lockdown on the West Bank on March 7 in agreement with the PA. Israeli minister of defence Naftali Bennett stated that “West Bank-based Palestinians, who happen to work or trade in vital sectors, such as health, agriculture and building, can reside in Israel”.
The first cases in Gaza were diagnosed on March 19 and were from two Palestinians returning from Pakistan. In fact, all the very few subsequent cases in Gaza were from returnees.
On March 22, PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh banned movement between and inside Palestinian cities for two weeks, apart from essential services.
On April 4, the total number of cases across Gaza and the West Bank was 210, many of the latter from returning Palestinian workers infected in Israel. By April 18, the total had jumped to 300 in the West Bank and 13 in Gaza. By May 7, cases in the West Bank had reached 355, with just 20 in the Gaza Strip; the only 2 Covid19 deaths were in the West Bank.
The Palestinian response to Covid19 has been very successful. Given 1.8 million Palestinians live in Gaza, and 2.7 million in the West Bank, this result is significantly better than Israel, with a population of 9.1 million, 15,555 cases and 208 deaths.
But the lockdown of the West Bank, and subsequent loss of work by Palestinians in Israel (where there is around 25% unemployment), is causing severe economic problems for Palestinian families. A further concern is the possible impact of the relaxation of restrictions for Ramadan, which concludes on May 23.
Late last year, the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA), based in Adelaide, began a campaign to raise awareness about the Israeli government’s restriction of Palestinians’ access to water in the West Bank and Gaza. This included Israel’s destruction of pipelines, wells and rainwater tanks, a cap of around 79 litres per capita per day, the extraction of 89% of the West Bank’s water and forcing Palestinians to purchase water from Mekorot, Israel’s water company.
AFOPA’s new campaign has an Australian focus: it aims to expose Israeli companies’ domination of this country’s large irrigation market and their connection to the Israeli military.
AFOPA organised a protest on December 7 in the rural South Australian town of Victor Harbour which raised awareness among agriculturalists, horticulturalists and home gardeners not to buy Israeli irrigation equipment.
The planned location of the next protest was to be at the new Australian Cyber Collaboration Centre, formerly the Royal Adelaide Hospital, because Israeli Ambassador Mark Sofer and the South Australian Premier had announced in December that Israeli technology would help SA with water management and cyber security.
Fighting the virus spread
While, the coronavirus meant that this was cancelled, AFOPA joined an international campaign led by the United States-based Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) to help fight the virus and its effects in Gaza.
Established in 1992, PCRF brings Palestinian children unable to obtain or afford surgical procedures, including paediatric cardiology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, maxillofacial surgery, urology, ophthalmology and vascular surgery to Europe, the US and Asia for free treatment regardless of their families’ religion or politics. It also sponsors hundreds of international volunteer medical teams in thousands in local hospitals and it has built two paediatric cancer departments in Palestine.
PCRF is asking for help to support relief efforts in the Gaza Strip for thousands of hungry children who have been impacted by the military closure and the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
Last week, PCRF distributed 200 food baskets and hygiene kits to handicapped children and poor families most at risk. The project aims to reach thousands of people in the coming weeks.
[Information about AFOPA’s Fighting-Covid19-in-Gaza campaign can be found on its website. Donations are being earmarked for medical and personal protection equipment for front-line health workers in Gaza and in Hebron in the West Bank.]