September 1, 2020. Today, after three weeks in which it enforced a series of punitive measures on top of the closure it imposes regularly, Israel reversed the bans on entry of fuel, construction materials and other essential goods through Kerem Shalom, as well as the maritime closure in Gaza’s sea space. Today, 12 truckloads of fuel (450 thousand liters) were expected to enter the Strip via Kerem Shalom, which will allow the power plant to resume operation of three of its four turbines. Officials at the plant expect that by this evening, residents will again receive electricity in cycles of eight hours of power followed by at least eight hours of outage. Movement of goods has been restored, subject to ongoing restrictions imposed by Israel at Kerem Shalom.
Starting August 11, Israel had barred entry of construction materials to Gaza and from August 13, it had banned entry of fuel, including for Gaza’s power plant. As a result, the plant shut down on August 18, leading to a further reduction in the overall supply of electricity. On August 16, Israel imposed a full maritime closure, and from August 23 until this morning, it was limiting entry of goods to food and medicine only. During this period of time, the first cases of community transmission of coronavirus were discovered in the Strip. Since August 24, residents have been instructed to stay in their homes and observe social distancing measures. Power supply was down to less than six non-consecutive hours daily. The power shortage was a source of great concern, particularly for Gaza’s healthcare system and civilian infrastructure and services such as water distribution and sewage disposal.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, as of this morning, there were 400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gaza, 319 of which are still active, and five deaths. The European Hospital in Gaza has been set up to treat coronavirus patients. According to reports from health officials and civil society organizations in Gaza, there are currently 245 beds at the hospital, and work is underway to increase capacity to 400 beds. There are only 97 ventilators in Gaza in total, and the World Health Organization estimates that about 60 of them are already in use by non-COVID patients. Gaza authorities are implementing varying degrees of lockdown restrictions in different districts of the Strip. Districts are being marked red, orange or green, depending on assessments about the rate of contagion within the districts. At present, the north of the Strip is marked red, and the rest is orange, except for one district marked green.
For months now, travel via Erez has been a tiny fraction of what it was before Israel imposed a lockdown at the crossing in March, which it continues to enforce under the guise of the pandemic. Years of closure imposed by Israel have resulted in dilapidated basic civilian infrastructure, including Gaza’s electric grid, and an acute economic crisis, which render the Strip ill-equipped to deal with an outbreak of the pandemic. Though it repeatedly chooses to do the opposite, Israel must not, under any circumstances, deliberately undermine living conditions in the Strip. Given its far-reaching and ongoing control over movement and access, it is obligated, legally and morally, to protect the fundamental rights of Palestinians in Gaza.