Coronavirus: Gaza copes efficiently despite severe resources shortage

Voluntary campaign to disinfect houses in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip to as a precautionary step against the coronavirus in Gaza (Mohammed Asad - MEMO)

Motasem A Daloul

Middle East Monitor  /  April 24, 2020

As of 23 April, the number of coronavirus cases around the world has reached 2,699,462 and the number of deaths has peaked at 188,930. The numbers are still multiplying in many countries, posing grave challenges ahead of many countries, including the most developed, with the best medical equipment and economic resources.

There is no need to cite examples of what these countries are doing and the extent of the suffering they are enduring. This article concerns one of the most densely populated areas on earth – the Gaza Strip. It is likely the 40th most densely populated urban area, globally. This article will discuss how it has been dealing successfully with protecting itself from the coronavirus.

Under the Israeli occupation, the Gaza Strip is considered the largest open-air prison in the world. Since 2006, the Gaza Strip has been enduring a strict air, sea and ground siege imposed by Israel and Egypt, and backed by the international community, mainly the Western powers and the US. This coastal enclave has undergone several Israeli offensives, including three major ones during the time of the siege.

The strict Israeli siege, along with the Israeli offensives, caused serious damage in all infrastructures in Gaza, mainly the medical sector, which has been suffering from a severe shortage of medical equipment and medicine, and many of its facilities are in urgent need of renovation in order to be fit for offering basic healthcare services.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza has launched an urgent appeal worth $23 million and has announced that it needs to increase the free ICU beds from 74 to 100, as well as to increase its respirators from 70 to 100, pointing out this is the least required facilities that would help it cope with a possible coronavirus outbreak.

However, the Israeli occupation has always warned that if the Gaza Strip was hit with the coronavirus, it would also be affected. Therefore, Israeli officials have claimed that the Israeli occupation authorities permitted the required equipment to reach Gaza – but that has never been the truth. Just two days ago, the Israeli Hebrew newspaper Maariv revealed that the Israel defence minister had stopped carrying out coronavirus tests, which had been carried out for only two days before it was stopped, and was done without the knowledge of the political leadership.

Under these circumstances, which reflect a bleak situation in the Gaza Strip, Gazan rulers are showing a wise and astute governance in relation to the coronavirus situation. They have been successful in their leadership for several reasons as outlined:

Firstly, the strict protective measures imposed on the Gazan residents, mainly with those who were abroad and have returned home. The government in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, immediately prepared quarantine centres for thousands of people and did not make room for any exceptions, even for senior Hamas leaders. A senior delegation of Palestinian factions appealed to the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, in order to return home after an international tour, but he refused and told them to follow the example of Hamas senior leaders in quarantine.

Hamas believes that the only successful means to win the battle against the coronavirus is to follow strict pre-emptive measures, so is dealing with this issue stringently.

Secondly, the government in Gaza transformed several schools into very well-equipped quarantine centres with hundreds of beds. Several hotel owners donated their hotels to the Ministry of Health to temporarily use as quarantine centres, however, all the rooms in schools and hotels became quickly occupied. The government stopped the entry of the returnees from abroad until it had received a newly built and equipped quarantine centre with 1,000 beds each in a separate room with a separate toilet and hygiene kits, in addition to several other schools which were also prepared to host people for their 20-day quarantine. All of the 1,000 rooms were built by Hamas and under the direct supervision of Hamas leaders in Gaza.

Thirdly, as the Israeli occupation has been unwilling to help Gaza to afford respirators and equip new ICU beds, Hamas did its best to afford the urgently needed respirators and equipment to prepare and equip the 100 ICU beds. Hamas did its best to afford the devices, senior Hamas leader Khalil Al-Hayya informed the media. He did not confirm how his movement funded them and when they were issued to the Ministry of Health, but he affirmed: “We are committed to protect the people in Gaza and maintain their well-being, so we had to do our best to afford all their needs.”

Hamas leader Al-Sinwar’s warning to push the Israelis to live in shelters was a response to the Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, when he announced that any medical aid to be allowed to Gaza must be following the release of the Israeli soldiers, or the bodies of the Israeli soldiers, captured in the Gaza Strip. I think this is the warning that pushed the Israeli occupation to allow the entry of the requested respirators and medical equipment through the World Health Organisation.

The fourth point of success relates to Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh’s continued mobilising support for the Palestinians of Gaza. I was told by a Hamas leader that when the Qatari Emir pledged millions of US dollars to the Palestinians, Haniyeh asked him to send the assistance allocated to Gaza separately because the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has its own sanctions imposed on Gaza, does not send the portion of the assistance allocated to Gaza.

Another area of achievement concerns the fact that the government in Gaza, run by Hamas, is not plagued with corruption like in the West Bank or the neighbouring states. There is no need to mention the corruption in the neighbouring states, but in the West Bank for example, the PA governor of Bethlehem has stolen shipments of aid offered by charities for the families of the people in quarantine.

The sixth and last point: the Palestinians in Gaza, even the political rivals, trust Hamas’ ability in dealing with threats. For example, Hamas’ opposition who criticise it, acknowledge its ability to afford security inside the besieged enclave and they recognise its efforts. During this time of the coronavirus, all of the Gaza residents, including the rivals of the Hamas’ government are helping it carrying out its duties, because it is universally-believed and recognised that it is a serious threat and that Hamas is the only body able to tackle it.

Gaza has registered only 17 coronavirus cases; all of them contracted the virus either from other countries before returning to Gaza, or from the security services who were guarding them in the quarantine centres. Nine cases have recovered and the others are recovering well, according to the Ministry of Health.

Motasem A Daloul is MEMO’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip