The UK media has largely ignored the effect of the coronavirus pandemic in Palestine, which have been made significantly worse by the policies of the occupying state of Israel. Israel has a long tradition of preventing access to essential medical supplies in the occupied territories: in 2007, when Hamas ascended to power in Gaza and took control of the territory, Israel and Egypt instituted a blockade of food and medical supplies. This blockade has continued during the pandemic, leading to critical shortages of ventilators and other medical supplies in Gaza while infection rates soar.
The economic impact of coronavirus on the Palestinians is immense. Nearly 60% of workers in Gaza and the West bank are in the restaurant, hotel or service industries, and their jobs are heavily reliant on tourism. Even prior to the pandemic there was an employment crisis within the occupied territories, and the pandemic has only increased the numbers of unemployed. Total unemployment in the West Bank is now 19%, and unemployment in Gaza is registered at 49%.
Israel itself has the second most prolific vaccine program in the world. However, its plans to roll out the vaccine are discriminatory. Despite obtaining 8 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the vaccine will only be distributed in Israel itself. Only those Palestinians living within Israel will be given access to the vaccine, and those living within the occupied territories will be excluded. Although Israeli and Jewish settlers within the occupied territories will also be vaccinated, no provision whatsoever has been made for the roughly 5 million Palestinians living within these territories.
As an occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure “public health and hygiene in the occupied territory”. Israel is also required by its 1995 interim agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation to combat “epidemics and contagious diseases”. However, instead of doing so, Israel is once again discriminating against the Palestinians.
The impact on the Palestinian population will be a higher of infections, resulting in death for some and Long Covid for many others. For the wider world, uncontrolled spread of the virus means a greater chance of a vaccine-resistant strain developing.
Additionally, it is clear that even an international pandemic is not sufficient reason for Israel to cease its incessant bombing of Gaza. On Christmas day, so-called “Hamas targets” within Gaza were bombed by Israel after two rockets were intercepted. Although Israel blames Hamas for the rocket fire, no group has yet claimed responsibility. Despite the Israeli government stating that only military targets were struck during the bombing, images were posted by Palestinians on social media which showed that civilian facilities were also hit.
In international solidarity with the Palestinian people, we must demand an end to the occupation, the bombings and for the border crossings to be opened so medical supplies, equipment, tests and vaccines can enter. Gaza, in particular, is overcrowded and impoverished. Half of its two million residents live below the poverty line and ninety per cent lack access to clean water.
The solution to the ongoing crisis is the establishment of a secular, democratic republic within Israel-Palestine, in which all religions and nationalities are represented. However, due to the many threads binding the Israeli state to global imperialism, it is clear that such a solution is only possible as a result of a successful socialist revolution. Israeli and Palestinian workers must unite to bring down the capitalist system, in order to build a truly representative democratic state in which all workers are treated equally. Unite against Israeli apartheid! Towards a secular socialist state in Palestine!