As in the specious claim that Israel is refusing to help Palestinians in the West Bank contain the coronavirus, similar lies are being disseminated about Israel’s treatment of those in Gaza. The Guardian reported, for example, “An Israeli blockade, in place since 2007 although eased in recent years, has limited the import of medicines and other essential items” (Harriet Sherwood, “Gaza confirms first coronavirus cases as West Bank shuts down,” The Guardian, March 22, 2020).
In fact, medicine and surgical equipment has been flowing into Gaza. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) reported that in 2019, “800 trucks providing medicine and medical equipment had entered the Gaza Strip…an increase of more than 60 trucks compared to the year of 2018” (Adam Levick, “COGAT contradicts Guardian claim on Gaza medicine ‘restrictions,’” UK Media Watch, March 24, 2020).
Between March 15 and March 21, 2020, a total of 2,547 truckloads of goods entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel. This included 116 tanker trucks of fuel, 206 tons of medical supplies, 393 tons of agriculture products, 11,457 tons of food, and 48,667 tons of building materials (@cogatonline, March 22, 2020).
The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the receipt of test kits and medical equipment from Israel requested by medical personnel in Gaza. “Handling the coronavirus outbreak takes precedence over any political consideration, and without help from Israel, Gaza would be in a very difficult situation in the case of an outbreak,” said a ministry official (Daniel Siryoti, “Why is the Gaza Strip calm these days? Hamas knows the answer,” Israel Hayom, (March 10, 2020).
Nevertheless, the radical fringe organization, IfNotNow is circulating a petition demanding Israel end the blockade aimed at protecting Israeli citizens from terrorists, and provide medical supplies such as “Coronavirus test kits, ventilation devices, and medical masks” or the blame for deaths will “lay squarely with the Israeli government” (IfNotNow, March 26, 2020).
Like most critics of Israel’s blockade, IfNotNow ignores the fact that one border is controlled by Egypt, which has its own security concerns. In January, Egypt began to build a wall above and below ground on the border; nevertheless, nothing should prevent medical supplies from being transferred to Gaza from Egypt. None are being sent. Actually, Hamas created an obstacle when it announced on March 14, 2020, it was shutting down the Rafah pedestrian crossing into Egypt (Adam Rasgon, Hamas-run Gaza government shuts Egypt crossing to travelers amid virus crisis,” Times of Israel, March 15, 2020).
As the Palestinian Health Ministry attested, COGAT has been providing Gazans with life-saving medical supplies to fight COVID-19. For example, hundreds of coronavirus test kits have been delivered to Gaza, as well as 20 tons of disinfectants. On March 20, 2020, alone, Israel delivered hundreds more test kits and 1,000 protective medical gear kits to Gaza.
Five days later, more than 3,000 test kits and 50,000 masks from the World Health Organization were delivered to the Palestinian Authority with COGAT’s cooperation. These were likely to be used only in the West Bank since the PA does not control the health system in Gaza (“COGAT delivers 3,000 coronavirus test kits, 50,000 masks to PA,” Jerusalem Post March 25, 2020).
“COGAT and the PA are cooperating closely and effectively to manage the outbreak of the virus,” said Col. Sharon Biton. “All this is part of a continuing series of efforts that COGAT has been advancing together with the Health Ministry in order to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip, and to eradicate the outbreak in the West Bank area” COGAT announced (Celia Jean, “COGAT coordinates the delivery of more coronavirus equipment into Gaza,” Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2020).
Khaled Abu Toameh reported that Israeli and Palestinian health and security officials meet several times a day and created a joint “operations room” to manage efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. Part of that coordination includes training sessions organized by Israel for Palestinian and Israeli medical professionals (Khaled Abu Toameh, “How are Palestinians coping with coronavirus?” Jerusalem Post, March 26, 2020).
Even prior to the crisis, Israel was training Palestinian medical workers. In January 2020, five nurses from the Gaza Strip and 11 from the West Bank were invited to Israel for four days of medical training conducted by Israeli physicians. “I am very happy for the chance to attend this advanced trauma course. In Gaza, we have a lot of problems, and Israel can teach us,” Akram Abu Salah, a nurse from the Gaza Strip told the Jerusalem Post. “It’s different than I thought. The people are very nice. You have Jews and Palestinians working together. It minimizes the gaps between us” (Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, “Gaza nurses train in Israel: ‘We speak of health, not politics,’” Jerusalem Post, January 3, 2020).
This was the first time nurses participated in the training program which, in the past, involved Palestinian doctors and ambulance drivers. Prof. Raphi Walden, president of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, arranges missions of Israeli doctors to Gaza nearly every month to perform advanced surgery and provide training to Gaza physicians.
Meanwhile, the crisis in Gaza and the West Bank has been exacerbated by decisions made by Palestinian officials. Both the PA and Hamas have squandered billions of dollars over the years, preferring to spend their money on terrorism rather than public welfare. The PA spends approximately $14 million a month on salaries for terrorists in Israeli prisons and families of martyrs. Maurice Hirsch estimated that money could buy 387,143 coronavirus test kits or 465 low-cost MIT ventilators (Maurice Hirsch, “Coronavirus and PA financial priorities,” Palestinian Media Watch, March 30, 2020).
Gaza also has financial resources to meet the health crisis. UNRWA expected to spend more than $1 billion in Gaza between 2016-2019, with about $33 million allotted for health care in 2019 (UNRWA, Programme Budget 2018-2019, August 2017, Table 2). In 2017-2018, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) budgeted nearly $16 million, including $6.4 million for health services in Gaza (OCHA). Meanwhile, Hamas has an annual budget of roughly $700 million (Itay, Zehorai, “The Richest Terror Organizations: #3 – Hamas,” Forbes, January 1, 2018), but spends $100 million of that to construct terror tunnels, rockets and mortars (Avi Issacharoff, “Hamas spends $100 million a year on military infrastructure,” Times of Israel, September 8, 2016).
Meanwhile, the PA has not lifted economic sanctions Mahmoud Abbas imposed on the residents of Gaza. “This farce must end immediately,” said Hassan Khraisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. “The sanctions imposed by President Abbas since 2017 have exacerbated the suffering of the people. Abbas has not even issued any order to assist the Gaza Strip. Funds and medical assistance must be provided urgently to the Gaza Strip to prevent the spread of the coronavirus” (Bassam Tawil, “Coronavirus: Why Palestinian Leaders Are Not Helping Gaza to Combat It,” Gatestone Institute, April 1, 2020).
Nevertheless, while the U.S. economy is in tatters and millions of Americans are suffering, groups like J Street want American taxpayers to provide funding to the Palestinians (“Important congressional letters urge trump admin to provide necessary humanitarian assistance to Palestinians battling COVID-19 outbreak,” J Street, March 27, 2020).
A case study of Palestinian gratitude is the objection to an American plan to build a hospital in northern Gaza in December 2019. The PA attacked the project as an Israeli plot to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and exacerbate friction with Hamas. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed the new hospital was “an Israeli intelligence base” (Baruch Yedid, “US-Backed Hospital in Gaza is a Plot Against the Palestinian Authority” Jewish Press, December 2, 2019). Earlier in the year, the PA halted medical referrals for Palestinians to Israeli hospitals, depriving Palestinians of world-class health care (“Ministry of Health stops transfers to Israel: We will undertake to find alternatives,” WAFA, March 26, 2019).
According to Bassam Tawil, “Abbas, like the rest of the Arab leaders, wants the Gaza Strip to be Israel’s problem alone. Abbas is undoubtedly looking forward to a day when he can hold Israel fully responsible for the outbreak of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.” Tawil added, “He is also likely waiting for the UN and many in the international community to join him in blaming Israel and Jews for the spread of the pandemic among his people while ignoring his own responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip” (Tawil, April 1, 2020).
Despite some obstacles, the COVID-19 crisis has forced most Israelis and Palestinians to put aside politics because they know disease knows no borders and it is in their mutual interest to do everything possible to prevent the spread of the disease and minimize the death toll.
Published with permission from Jewish Virtual Library; Myths & Facts