UN: Israel is legally responsible for safety of Palestinians

Before the closure - pilgrims wear masks to protect themselves from coronavirus in Bethlehem (Wisam Hashlamoun - Anadolu Agency)

Middle East Monitor  /  March 21, 2020

Israel is legally responsible for providing health services to ensure the safety of Palestinians in the occupied territories during the fight against the coronavirus, a senior United Nations official has announced.

“The legal duty, anchored in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, requires that Israel, the occupying power, must ensure that all the necessary preventive means available to it are utilised to ‘combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics,’” according to UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory, Michael Lynk.

Lynk added: “At the heart of the efforts to contain and roll back this pandemic by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas must apply an approach centred on human rights.”

He continued: “The right to dignity requires that all persons under their authority should enjoy equality of access to health services and equality of treatment.”

According to a statement that Lynk issued on Thursday, he expressed his concerns that initial publications to increase awareness about the spread of COVID-19 issued by the Israeli Ministry of Health were almost exclusively in Hebrew.

This means that the Palestinians, whether in Israel or in the occupied territories, do not benefit from these important publications.

“Any restrictions on human rights – such as access to health services or freedom of movement – must be strictly justified, proportionate and should only be curtailed for a length of time no longer than necessary and in a non-discriminatory manner,” Lynk stressed.

The special rapporteur has previously noted that Israel is in “profound breach” of its international obligations with regards to the right to healthcare of Palestinians living under occupation.

Regarding his concerns on Gaza, he expressed: “I am particularly worried about the potential impact of COVID-19 on Gaza. Its health care system was collapsing even before the pandemic. Its stocks of essential drugs are chronically low.”

Its natural sources of drinkable water are largely contaminated. Its electrical system provides sporadic power. Deep poverty amid appalling socio-economic conditions is prevalent throughout the Strip.”

“Gaza’s population is also a physically more vulnerable population, with malnutrition on the rise, poorly controlled non-communicable diseases, dense living and housing conditions, an elderly population without access to proper nursing care and high smoking rates.”