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April 4, 2020

Gaza’s new conflict

Opinion

April 4, 2020

At a time when everyone was celebrating the arrival of a new decade, a rare once-in-a-100-year event took the world by surprise: a major global pandemic named COVID-19.

Governments around the world struggled to fight the virus, taking extreme measures to contain it with nearly one billion people now living in confinement. At first, Palestinians followed up on the pandemic with sighs of relief thinking that the virus will never reach them, especially in Gaza, where two million people have been living under a suffocating siege for more than a decade. Alas, their worst fears have been realized: the discovery of dozens of Coronavirus cases in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

In 2012, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees warned that the Gaza Strip would be uninhabitable by 2020. Years of a devastating siege and a series of military conflicts taking the lives of thousands struck the enclave with misery and poverty, bringing youth unemployment up to 75 percent and the economy to its knees.

The current healthcare and sanitary system in the Gaza strip are extremely exhausted, lack basic resources, equipment and material that would be necessary not only to fight a major pandemic, but to simply treat normal day-to-day patients. A major outbreak of Covid-19 in the Gaza strip would lead to nothing less than a disastrous effect and would likely cause a death toll higher than all previous military conflicts combined.

On March 26th, 2020, the United Nations announced that it would facilitate the delivery of a total 1200 Covid-19 testing kits to Gaza’s hospitals to help fight the outbreak. Nearly 1636 people who arrived in Gaza via the Rafah Crossing border or the Beit-Hanoun (Erez) checkpoint have been placed in mandatory quarantine in 22 centers around the Gaza Strip, including schools, hotels and healthcare centers; 505 more people are currently in confinement at home.

In the Gaza strip, every individual has an average of 0.18 square meters of personal space, which would place Gazans into involuntary clusters of interconnected social networks. One person can easily transmit the disease to scores of family members and neighbors living nearby, in houses that are glued side by side to each other. At one of the most densely populated areas in the world, the average family has nearly 6 members on average and most of the population lives in extended family homes of 20 members and more. More strict measures must be taken to contain the virus or catastrophic consequences will ensue the like of which Gaza has never seen before.

When the news of confirmed cases broke out, Gazans started taking precautionary measures to protect themselves and their family members from infection. However, with the lack of sufficient resources and equipment, Gazans had only one other way to cope with stress: cynicism and dark comedy.

From Facebook posts to Twitter hashtags, Gazans reacted to the irony of being advised by the Palestinian Authority not to travel, whilst living under siege and prohibited from doing so for more than a decade. Others reacted with sarcasm to isolation notices to close down businesses and shops and go into confinement, wondering how they would provide for their children when there is little commercial activity in an ailing economy, even before the arrival of the virus in the first place.

Excerpted from: 'Gaza’s New Conflict: Covid-19'.

Courtesy: Counterpunch.org