A worrying surge in COVID-19 cases is once again placing immense pressures on Palestinian health services in the West Bank. The World Health Organization estimates that there are currently 20,203 active cases in the West Bank, with the high caseload driven by the arrival of highly infectious UK and South African variants of the virus. There has been a 34% increase in the daily rate of deaths from COVID-19 since the beginning of March.
The whole West Bank has been placed into lockdown, with no movement between governorates permitted except for medical personnel, essential goods and food. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports that 90.5% of all dedicated COVID-19 beds and 93% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds are now occupied, with cases still increasing. Hospitals in some areas are now operating beyond capacity, with ICUs in the Ramallah governorate at 115% occupancy. Meanwhile, movement restrictions and the diversion of resources are also affecting people’s ability to access other vital healthcare.
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and our partners on the ground are continuing to monitor the situation and are working hard to ensure the continuity of essential healthcare services. Our mobile clinic in partnership with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society is helping to by providing essential primary healthcare medicines and COVID-19 health education to isolated and marginalised communities across the West Bank including in the South Hebron Hills.
Despite the increasing strains on the Palestinian health system, the programme of vaccinations available for Palestinians remains piecemeal, glacially slow, and dependent on intermittent international donations. While more than five million Israeli citizens have now received a vaccine – including those living in illegal settlements in the West Bank – fewer than ten thousand Palestinians living under its military occupation have received the same. Israel has begun vaccinating the approximately 100,000 Palestinians with permits to work in Israel and its settlements, but continues to refuse to meet its legal duty as an occupying power to ensure all Palestinians under its control can access a rapid, comprehensive and equitable system of vaccination.
Gaza’s first community COVID-19 cases are only the latest crisis in a pan-regional humanitarian emergency affecting Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and Lebanon
With the discovery this week of community-transmitted cases of COVID-19 in Gaza, for the first time in its 35 years Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is responding to a humanitarian emergency among Palestinian communities across all three areas of operation: the West Bank, Gaza and the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon. The agency warns that without a significant boost of international financial and diplomatic support, this multi-layered, pan-regional crisis constitutes an existential threat to the health and wellbeing of the Palestinian people.
A HEALTHCARE EMERGENCY ACROSS GAZA, THE WEST BANK, AND LEBANON
On 24 August the Ministry of Health in Gaza declared that it has discovered the first cases of COVID-19 outside of quarantine centres, with four individuals infected within the densely-populated refugee camp of Maghazi. A 48-hour curfew has been declared as local authorities scramble to identify and isolate any further cases in the community and prevent further infections. On 26 August, nine new cases were identified in Gaza as the infection continues to spread.
“If we were already struggling to keep the most vulnerable people in Gaza alive, what hope do we have in the face of a COVID-19 outbreak? Gaza simply doesn’t have the resources to respond.” – Gaza Director Fikr Shalltoot
This development comes amid Israel’s closure of the Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing since 11 August, suspending the import of fuel, which has caused Gaza’s only power plant to close down and left residents with as little as four hours of electricity per day. Hospitals are now heavily reliant on backup generator power to keep services running and critical patients alive. Frequent power cuts are causing damage to essential equipment such as incubators for new-born babies. There is less than one month’s supply of 45% of essential medicines and 31% of medical disposables left on shelves. With almost half of the population (46%) living below the poverty line and 68% of households food insecure, lockdown measures needed to contain the disease also threaten the welfare of many vulnerable families.
Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Director of Programmes in Gaza said: “Even before this news, Gaza’s health sector was running out of basic life-saving medical supplies. Last week I received a call from the Ministry of Health warning that without an urgent shipment of surfactant – a drug for treating babies suffering breathing difficulties – the lives of tens of new-borns in neonatal intensive care units are at grave risk.”
“If we were already struggling to keep the most vulnerable people in Gaza alive, what hope do we have in the face of a COVID-19 outbreak? Gaza simply doesn’t have the resources to respond. Only through a significant injection of international support can we avert catastrophe in Gaza.”
In the occupied West Bank, Israel’s de facto annexation, settlement expansion, home demolitions and settler and military violence against Palestinians continue unabated. Palestinian communities in Area C are suffering worsening humanitarian conditions as their livelihoods, movement and access to essential resources and services are restricted. A surge in COVID-19 cases is compounding threats to health and lives, particularly in the Hebron area that is the current epicentre of the pandemic in Palestine. More than 25,000 cases have now been reported in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, with over 500 cases being reported each day.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the devastating explosion in Beirut on 4 August compounded the country’s severe economic and political crisis. Currency devaluation, unemployment, power cuts and food shortages disproportionately affect marginalised people including Palestinian refugee communities, driving families further into poverty and food insecurity. With several major Beirut hospitals damaged in the blast, others, including those run by MAP’s partners, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, are having to deal with increased patient load amid a chronic shortage of basic resources.
On top of this, COVID-19 is now spreading rapidly in the country. There has been a 180% increase in cases since the explosion and more cases were detected in August so far than all months combined since the pandemic began. Healthcare resources are dwindling and lives endangered, with the country reporting more than 500 new cases every day. There have been 242 COVID-19 cases and eight deaths so far among Palestinian refugees, though MAP fears the virus may soon spread rapidly amid the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the country’s refugee camps.
HEALTH NEEDS THREATEN TO OUTSTRIP AVAILABLE FUNDING
Since March, MAP has been responding to the coronavirus pandemic across all areas by prioritising infection prevention and containment. MAP has provided hygiene kits to quarantined families, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Palestinian health workers, and antiseptics and disinfectants to help prevent further spread of the disease. MAP is also supplying out-of-stock medicines and disposables to Gaza’s hospitals, including for treatment of respiratory diseases.
“The international community must urgently increase their aid to the Palestinian people and to humanitarian organisations responding on the ground”- Programme Director Dr Andy Ferguson
With Palestinian communities across the region hit by multiple simultaneous crises, demands for healthcare and other essential services threaten to rapidly outstrip what local and international organisations can provide. Despite the immediate and generous response from individual supporters and members of the public, MAP and other local and international actors are struggling to provide all that is needed. An immediate boost in humanitarian funding from states, including the UK, is needed to stop this pan-regional healthcare emergency spiralling out of control.
Funding is needed to help Palestinian communities respond to the pandemic and to provide essential medical supplies and training for other urgent and ongoing healthcare needs. A concerted multilateral diplomatic effort is also needed to address the chronic injustices of occupation, displacement, discrimination and blockade that have long undermined Palestinian health, dignity and healthcare.
MAP Director of Programmes Dr Andy Ferguson said: “In the midst of a global pandemic, our teams and partners on the ground are also having to respond to multiple man-made crises that threaten to overwhelm Palestinian healthcare systems and to rapidly drive down health and wellbeing status of Palestinians across the region. The international community must urgently increase their aid to the Palestinian people and to humanitarian organisations responding on the ground, in order to give them a fighting chance to avert total calamity.”
The permanent team of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) in Lebanon has been responding with local partners to the massive explosion on 4 August which devastated much of Beirut. More than 220 people are known to have died and 7,000 have been injured.
One of our local partners, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), sent its ambulances and volunteers to support rescue efforts and treated dozens of wounded Palestinians, Syrian and Lebanese people at Haifa Hospital in Beirut’s Burj el Barajneh refugee camp.
PRCS ambulance driver Ajmal told MAP: “It was difficult driving, with rubble on the streets blocking our way. The destruction and number of injuries was unbelievable.”
Many Burj el Barajneh residents came forward to donate blood.
Ibrahim, a PRCS pharmacist, was inside Haifa Hospital: “I was called to the hospital as the emergency room stock was running out and they needed supplies from our reserves. Some of the wounds were simple but others were complicated, such as one which needed five different threads to suture. Thanks to all who have helped us secure medicines and medical supplies.”
In the days following the explosion, Palestinian and Lebanese volunteers have worked hand in hand to clear streets and homes of debris.
MAP’s partner Naba’a has provided food parcels to affected families. An estimated 300,000 people, including 80,000 children, have been made homeless, with damage estimated at $15 billion. Injuries and damaged homes are likely to take a long time to rehabilitate, and will require both local and international action.
How MAP is responding
MAP has been overwhelmed by the generosity of our supporters to our Beirut emergency appeal, enabling us to respond swiftly to healthcare needs. Already, MAP is procuring $50,000 of essential medical supplies for PRCS hospitals, including surgical, anaesthetic and X-ray supplies, lifesaving fluids and antibiotics, flamazine (for burns) and antiseptics/disinfectants. This support comes on top of the $100,000 of personal protective equipment and other infection control supplies we have already provided to PRCS hospitals to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. These hospitals are chronically under-resourced and were already struggling as a result of the economic crisis in Lebanon.
Though the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut were spared the worst of the physical damage, residents – in particular children – have nevertheless been seriously affected by this terrifying event and its stressful aftermath. Through our partnership with UNICEF, MAP continues to support local organisations to provide mental health and psychosocial services to children, women and families.
Coming as it does on top of multiple crises – including COVID-19 and the country’s economic collapse – MAP knows that the impact of this latest catastrophe will be wide-ranging and long-term. It will affect Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese residents of the city alike. We are discussing with our local partners what additional support MAP can provide, with a likely focus on preserving and building trauma/emergency surgical capacity within the PRCS hospitals.
The epicentre of the West Bank’s ongoing spike in COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases is the Hebron governorate, accounting for 82% of all confirmed active cases. The World Health Organization has confirmed 11,800 cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank, almost four times higher than at the beginning of the month (3,315 cases on 2 July). Hebron has been the hardest hit, with hundreds of infections recorded each day and sadly the highest number of deaths.
Amid this crisis, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has started a new partnership with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) to provide a mobile clinic for marginalised communities in Area C of the Hebron governorate.
“The mobile clinic serves as a lifeline to at least 2,736 people living in isolated communities in Area C of Hebron, where there are no permanent healthcare facilities as the Palestinian Authority is not allowed to build here and there is no regular public transport to take residents to towns and cities to access healthcare.” The supervisor of the mobile clinic, Dr. Suhail Aqabna, told MAP.
Even before the outbreak of COVID1-9, these communities were extremely isolated and marginalised and were the target of Israeli occupation policies including home demolitions and destruction of basic infrastructure, settler violence and land confiscation. With extremely limited resources, high levels of poverty and food insecurity, these communities are extremely vulnerable to the global coronavirus pandemic.
A critical part of the mobile clinic’s work is providing community members with masks and disinfectants as well as awareness raising sessions on COVID-19 and the importance of preventative measures to restrict further transmission. “During the first weeks of our visits, many people thought of COVID-19 as a myth, and did not take the precautionary measures, such as social distancing, seriously. However, we now see a change as many people are asking us to provide them with hand sanitising gel and masks”, the clinic’s rehabilitation specialist explained. “At the moment we are following up -through home visits- including to several people with disabilities who have chronic diseases. We are the only medical provider able to reach these communities due to the spike of cases in coronavirus”, he added.
The mobile clinic consists of a team of seven, a general practitioner, lab technician, gynecologist, two health workers, a driver and a rehabilitation specialist. They work six days a week. The communities they visit are Ghwain Alfoqa, Birin, Arab Alfreijat, Shweika, Zanuta, Anab Alkabeer and Wadi ar Reem.
“We start our day at 7am to prepare the medications, essential kits and our Personal Protective Equipment, including face masks and gowns. When we reach the community, we use one of the existing facilities, so we have to sterilise it and prepare it for patients. Around 9am we announce to the community that we are open. We try our best to maintain social distancing and avoid long queues. We usually see 20-25 patients a day. All patients with complaints will be examined by the general practitioner and / or the women’s health doctor. The latter follows up with all pregnant women and neonates. Patients are supplied with essential medicines if needed. The lab technician carries out all the needed blood tests. There is an increased need for blood tests now, as all Ministry of Health labs are closed due to the pandemic. In addition, people with chronic diseases, who are at high risk of COVID-19, are asked not to come to the clinic, and we follow up with them through home visits,” the PMRS mobile clinic health worker outlined.
The clinic’s team are working in extremely challenging conditions, delivering essential healthcare in extreme heat at the epicentre of the West Bank’s COVID-19 outbreak, whilst wearing gowns and face masks. Their dedication and hard work is helping to ensure marginalised communities in Area C of the Hebron governate are not forgotten during this global pandemic and have access to the vital healthcare services they desperately need.
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) decries the Israeli government’s intended annexation of significant parts of the occupied West Bank, to start as soon as 1 July, for the intensified widespread and severe violations of Palestinians’ right to health and well-being which it will cause.
Annexation constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and of the post-World War Two international order which prohibits absolutely the acquisition of territory by force. As stated in a robust rebuke on 16 June of the Israeli government’s plan, by a group of UN experts: “The international community has prohibited annexation precisely because it incites wars, economic devastation, political instability, systematic human rights abuses and widespread human suffering.”
The UN experts said that the 53-year-old Israeli occupation has already been “the source of profound human rights violations against the Palestinian people” and outlined a number of them:
“These violations include land confiscation, settler violence, discriminatory planning laws, the confiscation of natural resources, home demolitions, forcible population transfer, excessive use of force and torture, labour exploitation, extensive infringements of privacy rights, restrictions on the media and freedom of expression, the targeting of women activists and journalists, the detention of children, poisoning by exposure to toxic wastes, forced evictions and displacement, economic deprivation and extreme poverty, arbitrary detention, lack of freedom of movement, food insecurity, discriminatory law enforcement and the imposition of a two-tier system of disparate political, legal, social, cultural and economic rights based on ethnicity and nationality…These human rights violations would only intensify after annexation.”
All of these violations, stemming directly and indirectly from the occupation, impact Palestinians’ health and well-being. The experts’ statement was led by Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), who previously documented that Israel is in “profound breach” of its responsibilities with regards Palestinians’ right to health across the oPt.
The consolidation and expansion of settlements, all illegal under international law, is envisaged through annexation. Settlements fuel widespread violations of Palestinians’ right to health and well-being and consequently annexation will exacerbate the damage and suffering they cause. The building and development of settlements can only occur through the confiscation of Palestinian land and resources, to the detriment of the Palestinian economy, environment, livelihoods and well-being. Their development goes hand-in-hand with restrictions imposed by the occupying power on the development of Palestinian infrastructure, including medical centres. No permanent clinic or hospital is permitted anywhere in Area C of the West Bank.
Five negative trends can be anticipated with regards to the worsening impact of ongoing occupation and annexation on the health of Palestinians:
1) Restrictions on freedom of movement
While movement is promoted for settlers through preferential road and supporting infrastructure, it is obstructed for Palestinians, including for ambulances, mobile clinics, patients and health-workers. Journeys to homes, schools, workplaces and relatives are lengthened and prevented, affecting health, education, livelihoods and family life.
2) Loss of property, land and other resources
Further extensive loss of privately-owned Palestinian land and natural resources to undermine Palestine’s agricultural, small industry, extractive and other commercial sectors. Less food to be produced, incomes to continue to fall, aid dependency to increase. Access to water, already discriminatorily controlled by Israel, to worsen for Palestinian communities.
3) Settler attacks, detention of children and demolitions
Already perpetrating a surge in attacks with impunity, settlers will be emboldened to carry out yet more. The attacks cause loss of life, injuries, damage to crops, orchards, homes and vehicles, with self-evident impact on health and well-being. Abusive and illegal arrests and detentions of Palestinian children already occur primarily adjacent to settlements, causing harm to mental health, schooling and family income. Demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures to increase, fuelling an even more hostile environment and probable expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and lands.
4) Exacerbated risks to vulnerable groups
Worsening socio-economic circumstances to hit disadvantaged groups hardest. Bedouin communities and others in Area C, people with disabilities (through access to education, employment, essential services etc), breastfeeding mothers and young children to suffer worsening rates of malnutrition. Mental health to deteriorate, risking higher rates of attempted and successful suicides, and more domestic abuse. MAP and its partners will continue to work alongside these made-vulnerable Palestinian communities and groups, striving to alleviate the worsening impacts of occupation and annexation, while also calling for the political drivers of such suffering to be condemned and addressed.
5) Threats to dignity
Systematic inequality and loss of dignity alongside chronic impunity for historical and ongoing injustices to be ever more tangible, causing daily and accumulative indignity for Palestinians. As stated by the UN experts above:
“The morning after annexation would be the crystallisation of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st century apartheid.”
MAP is deeply concerned by the scale of the potential further harm to Palestinians’ health and well-being, which relentless occupation and annexation will cause. The UK government and the entire international community must be resolute in opposing the annexation agenda of the Israeli government and in supporting Palestinians’ right to health and well-being, as well as to the most basic principles of international law.
Warde Abu Hadid, who worked with Eyad as a trainer at the Centre’s kitchen, witnessed his killing.
“It is true that Eyad was 32 years old, but he was my little child, the most genuine and pure personality. He excelled in all the skills needed in the kitchen, personal hygiene, and he was fully independent. He was ready to finish the training and start the Supported Employment Program in February, but due to the coronavirus lockdown, it was postponed.
“We usually start working at the kitchen around 6:30 am. I was walking last Saturday at that time in the Old City, where our centre is located. Suddenly, I heard a number of soldiers shouting, and I looked behind and I saw Eyad running towards me and calling my name. The soldiers started shooting towards us. Eyad managed to reach me and he said “Ms Warde tell them I am with you” and then he was lying on his side and he was bleeding.
“I started screaming, in Arabic and in Hebrew “Stop he has a learning disability!”. A group of soldiers approached us and asked us “Where is the gun?”. I said he is with me and we have no gun. Then three bullets were fired at point blank towards Eyad, who was already bleeding on the floor.
“I was in full shock. Eyad came to seek my protection, but I could not protect him. At that moment, tens and tens of soldiers rushed towards us. Two female women started aggressively inspecting my body looking for a gun. I was speechless. We had no guns. I was dragged to an investigation room, I thought they were going to shoot me. They just killed Eyad for no reason, and I thought they would kill me next. I was terrified. They kept me until noon at the interrogation, I told them what happened, and they let me out.”
Israel’s systemic failure to ensure meaningful investigation or accountability for killings has been highlighted by the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, as well as by MAP and partners in its Chronic Impunity report with regards attacks on the health sector.
MAP conveys its condolences to the family and friends of Eyad Hallaq and calls on the UK government and the international community to ensure that there is a prompt, effective, independent and thorough investigations into Eyad’s killling and that the perpetrators are held to account.
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is greatly concerned that a widespread outbreak in Gaza could be catastrophic for the two million inhabitants. In one of the most densely populated places in the world, social distancing measures are near impossible to maintain. Israel’s illegal 13-year closure has left 80% of the population dependent on humanitarian aid, particularly food assistance, and accelerated the de-development of healthcare such that it lacks the essential equipment, drugs, supplies and human resources needed to treat a widespread outbreak of coronavirus.
Beyond Gaza, in the West Bank and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Palestinian communities also remain extremely vulnerable to the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
Dr Andy Ferguson, MAP’s Director of Programmes, has warned: “We’ve all seen the number of cases and number of deaths from COVID-19 rise exponentially throughout the world. Every death is a tragedy. In the occupied Palestinian territory and refugee camps of Lebanon our greatest fear remains the rapid and uncontrollable spread of the infection through communities almost defenceless as a result of overcrowding, poverty, malnutrition, a high prevalence of chronic disease and health systems already at breaking point. We must do all we can to mitigate those risks.”
MAP is continuing to do our utmost to prevent the further spread of the disease and avoid the nightmare scenario of the Palestinian health systems becoming totally overwhelmed. Our emergency response is prioritising infection control and the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers. Meanwhile, we are helping hospitals prepare to care for more patients with severe COVID-19 disease through the supply of critical care drugs and consumables.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, MAP has provided to Gaza 430 hygiene kits, 4,552L of disinfectant alcohol gel, 2,000 PPE suits, 10,500 sterile gowns, 84,000 face masks, 65 eye protection glasses and 500,000 latex gloves.
In the West Bank we have delivered 204 PPE kits for health workers to the Ministry of Health. In Lebanon MAP has provided 287 PPE kits to five Palestine Red Crescent Society Hospitals and procured face masks, antiseptic lotions, and gloves so our community midwives can safely conduct individual health education sessions.
These infection control and hygiene measures have helped prevent widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 that would inevitably overwhelm Palestinians’ healthcare services. But with the crisis predicted to last for many months, such interventions will need to be sustained to avert disaster.
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is carefully monitoring the situation with regards to Coronavirus (COVID-19, or 2019-nCoV) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Israel and Lebanon. We are currently engaged in contingency planning with regards to potential impacts on our programmes and the need for additional support to health services, and will update supporters as this develops. We will also update supporters with any relevant changes to fundraising challenge events as necessary.
SITUATION IN THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY AND ISRAEL
Currently there are seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the occupied Palestinian territory. The latest local updates from the World Health Organization (WHO) are available on their website here.
The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced a 30-day “state of emergency” on 5 March, closing schools, restricting non-essential travel between areas, and canceling foreign tourist reservations and international conferences. MAP has therefore suspended visiting medical missions to the West Bank for this period.
There are 16 confirmed cases in Israel. The latest global updates from the WHO are available here.
SITUATION IN LEBANON
Currently there 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Lebanon. The latest local updates from the WHO are available on their website here.
MAP’s community midwives are taking precautionary preventive measures including hand washing, antiseptic lotions, and gloves, and are conducting individual health education sessions for beneficiaries. They have already received hard copies of the WHO printed corona virus material and are reporting daily to our Maternal and Child Health centres and visiting beneficiaries in the camps as usual.
TRAVEL AND HEALTH ADVICE
The latest travel advice from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office regarding COVID-19 is available on their website here.
The WHO’s health and prevention advice to the public is available here, and advice from NHS England here.
On the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return” demonstrations, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) warns that urgent international action is needed to protect lives and prevent the further collapse of Gaza’s health system.
One year ago, Friday 30 March 2018, the “Great March of Return” began in Gaza. Initially intended to last for six weeks, but continuing today, this series of widespread civil society-organised demonstrations in Gaza demands the realisation of Palestinians’ rights, including the return for Palestinian refugees displaced between 1947-9 and the lifting of Israel’s unlawful closure.
Ahead of the first day of the protests, Israeli security forces positioned more than 100 snipers on the perimeter fence with Gaza. That day alone 15 Palestinians were killed and 1,416 injured.
Since then, Israel’s shocking – and often lethal – use of force against protestors has continued. Over the past year, over 260 Palestinians have been killed and more than 29,000 injured. More than 7,000 people have been shot with live ammunition, causing devastating injuries, particularly to lower limbs. Among the casualties have been medical first-responders. Three health workers have been killed and more than 600 injured by Israeli forces while working to save lives in Gaza. MAP celebrates the steadfastness and resolve of Gaza’s medics and is outraged that their safety has been endangered as they carry out their vital humanitarian functions.
Injured protestors in Gaza have entered a health system that the World Health Organization described as being “on the brink of collapse” even before the protests began, beset by shortages of vital medicines and equipment, as well as electricity and fuel to keep hospital generators running.
MAP has been working to support the development of local services to treat complex limb injuries in Gaza since 2013. When the protests began last year, MAP was one of the first organisations to respond, and has provided essential medical supplies including out-of-stock medicines, disposables and over £1 million of equipment for orthopaedic surgery. Along with our partners IDEALS, we have sent seven missions of expert surgeons and rehabilitation specialists from the UK to Gaza to help treat the wounded and train local teams. In 2018, these local and international teams undertook more than 100 surgeries to repair some of the most severe injuries and supported more than 540 patients with complex limb injuries in outpatient clinics.
“The past year has been devastating for people’s lives and healthcare in Gaza. The mass casualties have occurred in the context of a health system that was already buckling under the pressure of 12 years of illegal closure and decades of de-development,” said MAP CEO Aimee Shalan.
In light of the deterioration of the security situation in Gaza this week and the mass demonstration expected on Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the “Great March of Return”, MAP is gravely concerned for the safety of civilians in Gaza. In preparation, our team in Gaza has released 21 essential medicines, 16 disposables, and 3 blood bank items worth over £27,000 to Gaza’s hospitals. We will be monitoring the situation carefully over the weekend’s anniversary protests and respond accordingly.
The independent Commission of Inquiry established to investigate the protests found an “enormous burden of injuries from the protests” and outlined how this has affected healthcare for all people in Gaza:
“Hospitals were forced to divert resources away from ordinary medical needs, such as cancer treatment, obstetrics and routine operations … Approximately 8,000 elective surgeries were cancelled or postponed, resulting in a backlog that will take years to address.”
The Commission found that “the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators was unlawful” in all the cases it investigated – 189 fatalities and over 300 of the 23,000 injuries in 2018 – with the possible exception of two incidents. It described the occupied Palestinian territory as “one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a health worker” and found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers intentionally shot health workers, despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such.” MAP continues to call on the international community urgently step up its support to Gaza to prevent the total collapse of the healthcare system, and ensure that aid spending is matched by political action to address the root causes of these needs.
“MAP is doing all it can to support the provision of vital medical care, but the international community cannot shirk its own responsibility to the people of Gaza,” said Aimee Shalan. “The UK and other influential states must not only take action to address humanitarian needs, but also ensure international law is adhered to and meaningful steps are taken to protect civilians’ lives.”
“The situation in Gaza is fuelled by impunity, which is something that is within the international community’s power to put right.”
A Palestinian resident of Halhoul in the occupied West Bank, working inside Israel, was also killed and 70 Israelis injured by rockets fired from Gaza.
“It has been another day and night very similar to those of the 2014 attacks on Gaza. The airstrikes continued from 4.30pm Monday afternoon till Tuesday morning. A number of buildings in residential areas were targeted at very short notice.” Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Director of Programmes in Gaza
It is reported that Israeli forces targeted and demolished three residential buildings in Gaza, home to three Palestinian families, and five commercial buildings, including Al Amal hotel in Gaza City, 100m from MAP’s office.
Dr. Adnan Al Wahaidi, the Director of Ard El Insan, a local NGO MAP partners with in Gaza to challenge child malnutrition, lost his home in one of the destroyed residential buildings.
In interviews with Al Wattan and Al Jazeera, Dr. Adnan indicated that the building was residential, inhabited by families of doctors, lawyers, and university teachers.
Fikr Shalltoot said Tuesday afternoon that the situation was still very tense though the airstrikes were less intensive than during the night.
The Ministry of Health declared a state of emergency in Gaza.
MAP is in close contact with partners on the ground and is ready to respond should the situation escalate further.
MAP hopes for a swift de-escalation and return to calm.