45 people from all over the world joined our online conversation with Hossam Madhoun and his daughter, Selma, in Gaza on Friday 27th March.
Many initiatives were discussed. Action around the issue of education and the availability of resources was one focus.
Making a coherent response through sending letters demanding that Israel lift its blockade was another.
see below for links referred to in the online conversation
Here is a ‘model’ letter which you might adapt:
To whom it may concern
Regarding the likely impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on the people of Gaza and the necessity of ending the blockade of the territory by Israel
We demand that our political representatives make urgent representations to the Israeli Government to end the blockade of the Gaza Territories since it exacerbates the potentially catastrophic impact of the Coronavirus on the population there.
The blockade by land, air and sea has, over the past decade and a half, severely weakened the ability of the Gaza population to deal with the impact of the virus especially as it has involved the blocking of medical equipment, medicines and building materials. Large sections of the population have no access to clean water and this is made worse by the severity of the electricity cuts, supply is on for only 4 hours per day. The medical services have also been incapacitated by three large-scale armed conflicts in the past decade. The economic situation remains disastrous with 45% unemployment (60% amongst under 25year olds), 70% of the people are food insecure. The territory is one of the most densely populated in the world with 2 million inhabitants in a total area of 365 square kilometres/141 square miles, 70% are refugees. 13,000 people are homeless.
People in Gaza will find the recommended required strategies of social distancing for prevention and self isolation in the case of infection almost completely impossible.
There are only between 60-100 ventilator/respirators in Gaza. The Israeli Government announced that it was sending hundreds of testing kits. It has sent 200.
The United Nations has declared the Israeli actions in and around Gaza to be illegal since they constitute ‘collective punishment’ of an entire population.
We call on our political representatives to demand that the Israeli government face its responsibility as the occupying power and lift the blockade.
Hossam Madhoun, Child Protection Programme Organiser for a large NGO in Gaza and Co-Director of Theatre for Everybody sent this information about the Coronavirus in Gaza:
The Gaza Strip in the Days of Corona – Update March 28, 2020
Notes from Hossam Madhoun after online gathering of 45 people organised by Az Theatre on Friday 27th March
- Every person who comes into Gaza is required to go into quarantine.
- There are three quarantine centers that are currently full (~1400 people)
- There are approximately 2000 people in quarantine at home. The numbers grow exponentially (as in the rest of the world)
- The Hamas announced that it is planning on building additional quarantine centers.
- The conditions in the centers are difficult:
- Many people in a room (up until 8)
- Low level hygiene
- Lack of food
- Unprofessional care
- 118 tests have been undertaken that were marked ‘suspicious’ (unclear what this means)
- There are 9 known cases as of today. There is a fear that the real number is much higher
- There is a serious shortage of hygienic materials, gloves etc.
- In the past, Israel transferred hand sanitizers, but stopped providing this due to needs here in Israel
- These products can be purchased in India, but the shipment will take at least one month.
- The WHO has sent tests, but there are not enough (less than 1000)
- There is money (from the Emirates and Qatar among others). The problem is finding a source for supply
- There are not enough medical staffs. The Hamas is trying to increase the staffs. Meanwhile, they have added 80 people to the medical and para-medical teams.
- There are 59 respirators in Gaza. Twenty of them are used by people who do not have the virus. In any event, the number of respirators is much too small to handle an outbreak of the pandemic.
- The parts of the existing respirators are dual-purpose and, therefore, hard to attain.
- Gaza is competing with all the countries in the world over the respirators, gloves and safety suits. Gaza is usually at the bottom of the list.
- There is one factory in the West Bank that is producing the suits, so there is some hope that Gaza will be able to purchase them from there. However, Israel is also trying to purchase suits from that factory.
- The situation in the hospitals is better than it was a year ago/half a year ago. Most of the hospitals are directly connected to the power station in the Gaza Strip. They also have electricity 24 hours a day. However, there are hospitals that have electricity 14 hours a day (or on for 8 hours, off for 8 hours)
- The power stations are working better than they did in the past – all of the turbines have been replaced and they are no longer dependent on an Israelis source; they receive fuel from Qatar.
- The water situation has not changed; it remains very bad. There is no possibility of drawing water from the coastal aquifer. Most of the population depends upon water donations and on mineral water.
- Even with the improvements in the electricity supply to the sewage facilities, there are still many problems concerning waste and sewage treatment.
- There are many cases of illness due to the water situation.
- It is unclear whether there are fewer breathing problems because there is less need to use generators.
- The Gaza Strip needs, now more than ever, to depend on local production. The fishing industry has become an important source of food and income.
- Israel returned fishing boats to Gaza that they had previously taken away; however, most of these boats are not in a usable condition. Organizations have asked permission from Israel to let in boat motors, fiberglass and ropes for fishing in order to rejuvenate the fishing industry.
- Concerning agriculture – there is a demand that Israel allows in ‘dual-purpose’ materials that can increase the ability of Gazan farmers to meet the dietary needs of the population. One of the fights now is over letting in fertilizer.
- 80% of all the products are bought from Israel. This is the reason that Israel (in addition to the blockade) remains the key for Gaza to be able to increase its production of products for the local population. 20% comes mainly from Egypt.
- Hamas announced that it is stopping marketing its agricultural products to Israel and the West Bank. The economy in Gaza is dependent upon income from selling its products outside its borders. The reason for forbidding this export is tied to the desire to prevent increasing prices in Gaza. This decision has internal logic, but it will not be able to last in the long-term.
- Organizations asked Israel to allow Gaza to market processed food products to the West Bank (canned goods, olive oil, spices etc.). As of today, Israel only allows exporting of these products to countries outside of the region.
- All of this is relevant only if it possible to still work (that is, there is no lock-down/quarantine).
- There are major communication problems in the Gaza Strip. There is a great need for equipment. Without this equipment, Gaza could find itself without the possibility to have internet, which has become the main way in the world to continue to provide education, engage in hi-tech and to market products, due to the Covid-19 virus. Israel has never allowed 3rd or 4th generation of networks into the Gaza Strip. Organizations have demanded that Israel change these restrictions so that society can function.
- The Erez terminal is closed most of the from both the Israeli and Gaza side. Everyone who enters Gaza goes into quarantine. All of the movement of workers from Gaza into Israel has stopped. There is no arrangement for workers to remain in Israel during this crisis.
- The Rafiah crossing is open, but there are rumors that it will close soon.
- Kerem Shalom and Salah-el din are the only crossings that are open now (for specific merchandise – construction materials and gas for cooking)
- Small numbers of critical patients can still come into Israel from Gaza for treatment.
- The Ministry of Health has established a committee in Gaza to deal with the lack of doctors, hospitals and equipment. However, they cannot supply what they need.
- If products are purchased, they can enter via Kerem Shalom.
- Help for Gaza is dependent on Israel explicitly allowing such help to be given (border crossings, treatment ship, etc.)
- There is a Palestinian-Israeli committee that works together on certain issues, but it only works in the West Bank. There does not appear to be an Israeli official in charge of managing the Corona crisis in Gaza. We should try to learn if there is an Israeli politician who is willing to work on this crisis.
- The Gaza Strip and the West Bank remain separated from one another (due, in part, to the Israeli government’s policy). Therefore they cannot work together on this issue, even if they wished to do so (which is unclear). The economic systems are separate. For example, Gaza farmers cannot simply sell their produce in the West Bank.
- Israeli organizations are calling for lifting the blockade on Gaza, due to this crisis.
- It is important that Israel allows Gazans – especially medical staff – go to the West Bank so that they can get training, as well as get a little time off. It is also important to be able to let patients out so they can get needed medical treatment.
- It is important for Israelis to learn from Gazans what is happening here – in terms of Covid-19 and in general. A campaign is needed that will convince Israelis that the outbreak of the virus in Gaza is also ‘our problem.’
- There is a need to find movers and shakers who have the clout and the money and the network to make a difference in Gaza (e.g., Bill Gates). It is important to get this story into the media and keep it there.
- Gaza is now facing a real humanitarian crisis. It is no longer ‘theoretical.’ This message needs to get out to the world.
Here are links that were referred to during the online conversations:
THEATRE FOR EVERYBODY: https://www.facebook.com/TFEPalestine/
GAZA IN CONTEXT: http://www.gazaincontext.com/
WE ARE NOT NUMBERS: https://wearenotnumbers.org
WHO TWITTER: @WHOopt
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