By Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine
Last weekend, the devastating news broke for the people of Palestine of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the densely populated Gaza strip.
It is important for everyone in the labour and solidarity movements to understand why this is truly a nightmare situation for the people of the besieged Gaza strip, and why these 1.8 million people are particularly vulnerable.
The UN has previously warned that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020, and now 13 years of an illegal blockade mean that Gaza’s fragile healthcare system is already stretched to a point that it is hard for us to imagine. Covid-19 means it will now be placed under a simply unbearable strain.
Alongside this, the situation in Gaza is one of malnutrition on the rise, poorly controlled non-communicable diseases, dense living and housing conditions.
There are deep levels of poverty, the power supply is sporadic and sources of drinking water are largely contaminated.
Older people are without access to proper nursing and healthcare.
At the current time, Israel has restricted testing kits to the strip, where there are only 60 working ventilators and 2,800 hospital beds. Stocks of essential drugs are already chronically low.
As health officials have warned this week, this now means that under the current illegal Israeli siege of Gaza, containment and treatment of Covid-19 will be simply impossible.
Like all other people around the world, Palestinians have a right to access health treatment, and at this dangerous time, the international community has a duty to help uphold this right, meaning that Israeli restrictions must end.
The UN, Medical Aid for Palestine and many others have reported the denial of this right in recent years, and said the situation urgently needs to change in this regard. This change is now more important than ever.
And as Michael Lynk, a UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Palestine, has said this week, Israel is legally responsible for providing health services to ensure the safety of Palestinians in the occupied territories during the fight against the coronavirus.
He clearly stated: “The legal duty, anchored in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, requires that Israel, the occupying power, must ensure that all the necessary preventive means available to it are utilised to ‘combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics’.”
He added that he was “particularly worried about the potential impact of Covid-19 on Gaza.”
For these reasons, all governments internationally, including Britain, must use all their diplomatic power to ensure that Palestinians have access to all the healthcare they need, and that the siege of Gaza ends immediately.
The international community must say clearly that the denial of medicines and other basic resources by the Israeli government to the people of Gaza is a form of collective punishment and illegal under international law.
Lynk has previously noted that Israel is already in “profound breach” of its international obligations with regards to the right to healthcare of Palestinians living under occupation.
If Israel does not fulfil its obligations, there can be no doubt that many innocent people will die unnecessarily, and awful harm done to countless others.
Labour members have expressed amazing support for Palestinian rights at our last two conferences.
Now we must be part of the growing and crucial international calls for an end to the siege of Gaza and in support of the Palestinian people’s right to access healthcare.
Our international solidarity at this vital time can lead to thousands of lives being saved.