[News] Israeli Apartheid Undermines Palestinian Right to Health Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 7 11:38:56 EDT 2020

Apartheid Undermines Palestinian Right to Health Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Date: 7 April 2020

This year we mark World Health Day as the novel coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) continues to sweep across the globe, disproportionately
impacting those subjected to situations of institutionalised oppression,
discrimination, and injustice. For the Palestinian people, COVID-19 has
brought to the forefront Israel’s apartheid regime
systematic racial domination and oppression over all Palestinians,[i] which
for decades has led to the fragmentation and de-development of the
healthcare system of the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in
the occupied Gaza Strip,[ii] and denied Palestinians the right to the
enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, Israel’s apartheid regime has become more
apparent than ever. In the Gaza Strip, two million Palestinians have
suffered 12 years of illegal Israeli closure, which has undermined all
aspects of life in the Strip and pushed Gaza’s healthcare system to the
brink of collapse.[iv] The closure has led to profound levels of
aid-dependency, food insecurity, poverty, and unemployment, thereby
undermining the right of Palestinians to enjoy the underlying determinants
of health and well-being.[v] Even before the pandemic, the healthcare
system in Gaza already faced severe shortages of medicines, medical
supplies, and equipment,[vi] pushing thousands of patients with
life-threatening conditions to seek treatment outside of Gaza through an
onerous, complex, and opaque permit process by the Israeli occupying
authorities, which severely deprives Palestinians of their right to health,
and in the most serious cases of their right to life. These conditions are
compounded by a chronic electricity crisis, and the contamination of most
of Gaza’s water supply,[vii] which has prevented Palestinians from
effectively mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Currently, the Gaza Strip
has 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19, yet only 87 ventilators for two million
Palestinians, 80 to 90 per cent of which are already in use.[viii] Similarly,
the West Bank only has 256 adult ventilators for some three million
Palestinians.[ix] The situation is compounded in Palestinian refugee camps,
in the occupied Palestinian territory and across the region, where
overcrowding, physical and mental stress, and years of protracted conflict
have made over 5.6 million Palestinian refugees, who suffer food and job
insecurity, more susceptible to the threats of the pandemic.[x]

At a time when governments are telling people to stay at home to limit the
spread of the coronavirus, Palestinians’ efforts to prevent and mitigate
the effects of COVID-19 are being undermined. Human rights violations have
continued, including Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes on both sides
of the Green Line.[xi] On 26 March 2020, the Israeli occupying forces
confiscated poles, sheeting, and other materials that were to be used for
two field clinics, four emergency housing units, and two mosques in the
town of Khirbet Ibziq in the northern Jordan Valley in the occupied West
Bank.[xii] In Jerusalem, Palestinian volunteers involved in local
initiatives to disinfect schools and institutions or distribute foodstuffs
in underserviced areas of the city, in particular the Old City, have faced
arrest by the Israeli occupying forces, with aid materials confiscated.
Even before the pandemic, Palestinian health services in occupied East
Jerusalem suffered years of deliberate neglect and chronic underfunding,
which have weakened the infrastructure and capacity of Palestinian
hospitals to respond to COVID-19. Besides the shortage of testing centres
for Palestinians in the city, Palestinian hospitals only have 22
ventilators for some 350,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, of whom a
third reside in neighbourhoods behind the Annexation Wall.[xiii]

Elsewhere, arbitrary arrests and detention also continue at a time when
governments around the world are being called to release detainees and
those held without sufficient legal basis to reduce overcrowding in prisons.
[xiv] Instead, Israel has taken no adequate measures to improve provision
of healthcare and hygiene for Palestinian prisoners and detainees in line
with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidance for preventing COVID-19
outbreak in prisons.[xv] There have also been reports of at least two
Palestinian workers, suspected of having COVID-19, being left by Israeli
police at a checkpoint in the West Bank without providing medical care or
coordinating with the Palestinian Authority to ensure their treatment.[xvi] As
the public health emergency continues to deepen, Israel has already used
COVID-19 as a pretext to escalate its repressive measures against
Palestinians,[xvii] including through the resort to police brutality under
the state of emergency, racial profiling while enforcing restrictions and
fines,[xviii] and unlawful surveillance by the Israeli intelligence,[xix] as
mass tools of subjugation and control Israel has used against Palestinians
for decades.

In all areas, Israeli apartheid over Palestinians is apparent. In the
Naqab, within the Green Line, 80,000 Palestinian citizens have no access to
emergency medical services, while 56,000 residents of villages unrecognised
by Israel have no adequate access to safe, clean running water. At the same
time, Israel has failed to allocate resources for coronavirus testing and
emergency medical services in the unrecognized villages, following decades
of institutionalised oppression and neglect.[xx] Israel has also shown
reluctance to test Palestinian citizens for COVID-19 or to establish
drive-through testing stations in Palestinian communities within the Green
Line that already suffer poor infrastructure, whereas ambulance drivers
have not been trained to evacuate coronavirus patients to often distant
hospitals.[xxi] In fact, it was only last week that testing centres opened
in Palestinian cities within the Green Line and in occupied East Jerusalem.
[xxii] The apparent disparity in health services and amount of testing
being provided to Palestinians, rooted in Israel’s institutionalised
discrimination, compounds how Palestinians experience the pandemic. To
date, Israel has also failed to test Palestinian workers for COVID-19,
[xxiii] some tens of thousands of whom may soon be expected to return to
the West Bank for the holiday period, with fears that this may fuel an
outbreak should workers fail to isolate themselves.[xxiv] At the start of
the outbreak, Israel even failed to provide real-time COVID-19 updates in
Arabic, further compounding Palestinians’ susceptibility to the pandemic.

COVID-19 has shed a glaring light on the detrimental impacts of Israel’s
apartheid regime on the right to health of all Palestinians. International
humanitarian law requires Israel, the occupying power, to ensure the food
and medical supplies of Palestinians to the fullest extent possible,[xxvi] and
to maintain medical services, public health, and hygiene in the occupied
Palestinian territory, with particular reference to the adoption of
preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of infectious diseases.
[xxvii] At the same time, Israel is bound under international human rights
law to uphold the right of Palestinians to the highest attainable standard
of physical and mental health,[xxviii] including the underlying
determinants of health and well-being,[xxix] which include the right to
adequate food, water and sanitation, housing, and work, and ultimately
require the realisation of the right of the Palestinian people to

On World Health Day, as States continue to respond to the COVID-19
pandemic, Israeli apartheid remains a major impediment to the enjoyment by
all Palestinians of their right to the highest attainable standard of
health. As we take steps to prevent and mitigate the effects of the
pandemic, our organisations underline the root causes of Israel’s
structural and institutionalised oppression over the Palestinian people in
their efforts to develop an adequate response to COVID-19. If
Palestinians’ inalienable rights are to be realised, these root causes must
be addressed. Israel must end its closure of the Gaza Strip and prolonged
military occupation at large, release Palestinian political prisoners
detained in violation of international law, and ultimately dismantle its
apartheid regime over the Palestinian people as a whole. While Israeli
impunity prevails, however, it is the responsibility of all States to adopt
effective measures, uphold international justice and accountability for
Palestinian victims, and bring an end to Israel’s apartheid regime.
For decades, Israel has established and maintained an apartheid regime over
the Palestinian people through a plethora of laws, policies, and practices
designed to systematically fragment, isolate, and oppress Palestinians. A
myriad of movement restrictions, including checkpoints, the Annexation
Wall, and closures have resulted in denial of access to essential services,
including healthcare, and created a coercive environment, which has
deprived the Palestinian people of their means of subsistence and prevented
them from exercising any collective rights. At the root of Israel’s
apartheid regime is the strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people
into four distinct legal, political, and geographic domains, comprising
Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, Palestinians in Jerusalem,
and Palestinian refugees and exiles abroad, whose right of return to their
homes, lands, and property Israel has denied since 1948.[xxxi]
*Signatory organisations:*

   - The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO),
      - Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Mankind
      - Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
      - Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC)
      - Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
      - Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P)
      - Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS)
      - Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society – Aida Refugee Camp–Bethlehem
      - Early Childhood Resource Center (ECRC)
      - Human Rights & Democracy Media Center “SHAMS”
      - MA’AN Development Center
      - Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG)
      - Palestinian Counseling Center (PCC)
      - Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (TRC)
      - Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC)
   - Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
   - Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCPRJ)
   - Community Action Center (Al-Quds University)
   - The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD)


[i] *See *Al-Haq, “Palestinian, regional, and international groups submit
report on Israeli apartheid to UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination,” 12 November 2019, available at:
http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/16183.html. *See also* Rania Muhareb and Nada
Awad, “COVID-19 and apartheid,” This Week in Palestine, April 2020,
available at: https://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/covid-19-and-apartheid/;
Osama Tanous, “Coronavirus outbreak in the time of apartheid,” 24 March
2020, Al Jazeera, available at:

[ii] Al-Haq, “Joint Statement: On Land Day Civil Society Urge
Accountability and End to Israel’s Illegal Closure of Gaza,” 30 March 2020,
available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/16657.html.

[iii] *International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights* (adopted
16 December 1966, entry into force 3 January 1976) 993 UNTS 3 (ICESCR),
Article 12(1).

[iv] *See*, notably, Al-Haq, “Joint Statement: On Land Day Civil Society
Urge Accountability and End to Israel’s Illegal Closure of Gaza,” 30 March
2020, available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/16657.html.

[xiii] Al-Haq interview with Walid Nammour, Secretary-General of the
Jerusalem Hospital Network and Chief Executive Officer at Augusta Victoria
Hospital in East Jerusalem, on 6 April 2020.

[xx] *See *Adalah, “Before disaster strikes: Adalah submits urgent Israeli
Supreme Court petition demanding immediate access to coronavirus testing,
bolstered ambulance services in Bedouin villages,” 1 April 2020, available
at: https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/9948.

[xxiii] *See*, recently, IDAN ZONSHINE, “Israel won't test people with
COVID-19 symptoms unless they've traveled,” The Jerusalem Post, 4 April
2020, available at:
. *See also* Adam Ragson, “PA asks Israel to test thousands of Palestinian
workers before they return home,” The Times of Israel, 2 April 2020,
available at:

[xxv] *See *Adalah, “Israel fails to provide real-time coronavirus updates
in Arabic for Palestinian citizens,” 10 March 2020, available at:
https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/9916. *See also **supra note* vi.

[xxvi] *Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in
Time of War* (adopted 12 August 1949, entry into force 21 October 1950) 75
UNTS 287 (hereinafter ‘Fourth Geneva Convention’), Article 55.

[xxvii] Article 56, Fourth Geneva Convention.

[xxix] CESCR, General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable
Standard of Health (Art. 12), 11 August 2000, UN Doc. E/C.12/2000/4, para.

[xxx] Article 1, ICESCR.

[xxxi] *See*, notably, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
(ESCWA), Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question
of Apartheid Palestine and the Israeli Occupation, Issue No. 1, UN Doc.
E/ESCWA/ECRI/2017/1, Beirut, 2017, p. 4. *See also* Al-Haq, “Joint Oral
Intervention to the 100th Session of CERD for the Review of Israel,” 2
December 2019, available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/16266.html.
*Copyright © 2020 Al-Haq, All rights reserved.*

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