oPt

Social and political determinants of health in the occupied Palestine territory (oPt) during the COVID-19 pandemic: who is responsible?

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Weeam Hammoudeh, Hanna Kienzler, Kristen Meagher, Rita Giacaman

Summary box

  • Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territory has resulted in stunted development, weak and underfunded health and social services.

  • The structural predicament in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) has exacerbated political, economic and social instability during the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • The current situation cannot be detached from the broader context of settler colonialism and the logic of colonisation.

  • Several groups are acutely disadvantaged and marginalised by the COVID-19 restrictions, including women and young people.

  • Mental health is often overlooked in this context and psychosocial support is often unavailable.

  • The lack of long-term development exacerbates the current situation and questions the role of humanitarian and development aid.

  • By questioning responsibility, the COVID-19 pandemic in the oPt may represent an opportunity for justice and freedom for Palestinians.

Background

The Palestinian authority (PA) reacted quickly to the coronavirus outbreak, introducing strict lock down measures to limit community transmission. However, since restriction measures were eased in late May, there has been a massive spike in cases with over 9000 cases by July 18 2020 compared with less than 400 cases at the end of the lockdown. This has created a climate of fear. Since the spike, shorter lockdown measures have been instituted, but have been met with protests due to the lack of economic protection for the population. Going forward, long-term lockdown measures are likely unable to be implemented in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) as the financial and social consequences have had devastating impacts on the nation as a whole.

Why are the impacts of COVID-19 exacerbated in the oPt?

Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has lasted over 50 years, with lack of access to land, water, borders and the freedom of movement of people and goods from one part to another and even within parts of the country. This has resulted in stunted development, also known as dedevelopment, weak and underfunded health and social services. In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, this structural predicament has heightened political, economic and social instability.

During recent months, there has been an increase in targeted attacks by Israel, exacerbating an already fragile political and economic situation. This includes blockade and attacks on the Gaza Strip, demolition of homes and attacks on infrastructure including healthcare facilities in the oPt, and the continued annexation of land. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic is compounded by an already resource scarce setting with a weak health infrastructure. While problematic in itself, the current situation cannot be detached from the broader context of settler colonialism and the logic of colonisation. This has resulted in a double epidemic in the oPt. While the Palestinian Ministry of Health (PMoH) has done the best it can with limited resources, the oPt continues to operate in ‘emergency mode’. Furthermore, the current political context limits the PA’s jurisdiction and control over borders. This has played a key role in securing personal protective equipment and testing supplies, which have been in short supply at different points and possibly part of the explanation for why the sharp increase occurred where an increase in cases largely went undetected as people continued to interact as measures eased. The lack of control over borders and lack of sovereignty in areas classified as B and C, particularly since coordination with Israel has been stopped, have limited the PA’s ability to manage the situation and assure implementation of prevention guidelines in various areas.