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Covid-19 in Occupied Palestine

In a departure from my usual Muzzlewatch focus on efforts to censor BDS and more “pro–Palestinian” and anti-Zionist points of view, I’m putting on my day job hat as a spatial/social epidemiologist to talk about certain aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic as it plays across Palestine and Israel.  This will be an ongoing series that will track the effects of the pandemic in Israel/Palestine. Clearly, this worldwide event will have repercussions that are far reaching and very unpredictable.

The first thing to understand is that we are in extremely early days for the pandemic.  As of this writing, there are 6,360 cases in Israel, 33 deaths while in Palestine, 155 cases, 1 death.  This will increase very rapidly on both sides of the green line. Obviously, the resource drained West Bank and the open air prison Gaza are at terrible risk as has been discussed here at length, but as is obvious, borders are really not something COVID-19 recognizes.

Age pyramid for the West Bank and Gaza Strip

Age pyramid for the West Bank and Gaza Strip

The most important issue has to do with medical care capacity, and Palestine simply does not have the resources to deal with any kind of serious surge in emergency care, intensive care, and follow-up recovery care.  At this writing, most of the serious cases and deaths are in older populations, and in this regard the population age pyramid for the West Bank and Gaza may actually be favorable. When compared to the age of Israel’s population we can see that there are far more young in Palestine.  At this writing, older people have a far higher risk of serious illness and death compared to younger populations, (although, it does appear that relatively younger adult populations, ages 25-44 are also at risk of hospitalization in the U.S.). On the other hand, although younger people may have mild illness or be asymptomatic, these people still remain infectious.  We don’t know exactly what this will mean as the pandemic proceeds.

Age pyramid for Israel

Age pyramid for Israel

The larger issue, however, has to do with the artificial borders and the micro-spatial control of Palestinian movement.  Bad enough in “normal” times, the inability for Palestinians to deploy medical resources as needed; to properly organize the population per the requirements of social distancing and rational quarantine; and to properly track and test people, will predictably result in excess serious illness and death, above and beyond what might occur in a less obstructed scenario.  If Israel slaps a hard curfew/quarantine on Palestine, similar to what occurred in 2002 during the second Intifada, it will become extremely difficult to respond to the developing pandemic, even to the point of not allowing ambulance/EMT freedom of movement.

A walled-off population, whether the permeable membrane of the West Bank or the prison context of Gaza, will function to make the coronavirus much worse for Palestinians, as well as for Israelis because there will be this massive reservoir of disease that can easily be passed between the contiguous populations. The patchwork nature of the West Bank shows how actual separation will be very difficult to maintain as Palestinians and Israelis essentially live side-by-side. This situation will be made worse by the lack of medical resources available in Palestine. Serious Palestinian illness is often treated in Israel proper and we can easily imagine a situation where a “hard” quarantine makes such healthcare unavailable.  In addition, as Israel’s health care system gets overwhelmed, there will be even less capacity for all people across Israel and Palestine.

“Israeli forces steal coronavirus food aid for needy Palestinians, beat aid workers”
The New Arab, April 1, 2020

“Occupying Israeli forces have confiscated food and medical aid trucks being sent to Palestinians under COVID-19 lockdown in occupied East Jerusalem.

“Israeli forces on Tuesday evening withheld a convoy of food aid for Palestinian families in need who have been left without income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The food truck was delivering aid to families in the southern Jerusalem town of Sur Baher, before it was raided by Israeli forces.

“After stealing the aid, the army distributed the food between themselves and other policemen, a volunteer told The New Arab’s Arabic language service.

“Four of the volunteers were arrested and were beaten by the occupying forces.

“East Jerusalem is in Area C, which means it is under full Israeli administrative and military control.

“Palestinian Jerusalemites have repeatedly complained of Israeli neglect during the coronavirus crisis.

“Because the Palestinian Authority is unable to coordinate, Jerusalemites have launched civilian relief initiatives for those under lockdown.

“Israeli forces regularly confiscate aid meant for Palestinians.

“Last week, Israeli authorities entered a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank to confiscate materials designated to build a clinic to deal coronavirus.

“Officials from the Israeli Civil Administration came to the village of Khirbet Ibziq with a military escort, bulldozer and two trucks equipped with cranes on Thursday morning to demolish community clinic and emergency housing, according to Israeli human rights monitor Btselem.

“According to the group, the officials seized poles and sheeting designated to form eight tents, two for a field clinic, two for a mosque, and four for emergency housing for people evacuated from their homes. A power generator, as well as supplies of sand, cement and cinder blocks to be used for the floor of the tents were also confiscated.

“Ongoing illegal occupation”
“Israel has occupied the West Bank illegally since 1967, and commits various abuses against Palestinian civilians, human rights groups say.

“More than 600,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in constructions considered illegal under international law.

“The Oslo agreement of 1995 divided the occupied West Bank into three: Area A, Area B and Area C.

“Area A is under the administrative and security control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Area B’s administration is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, with Israel controlling security. Area C is under full administrative and security control of Israel.

“Israeli forces and settlers routinely harass Palestinians in the occupied territories through harming and killing civilians, demolishing homes, poisoning livestock, vandalising property and other forms of violence.”

(Source: Mondoweiss)

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