By J. Taylor Basker
The Pandemic has not only caused illness and death to Palestinians but provides an opportunity for Israel to increase its persecution and policies of destruction in Palestine. International law mandates that Israel, as the occupying power, is responsible that Palestinians have full medical care. However, it has made it difficult for Palestinians to survive COVID-19 due to a longtime policy of weakening the medical system in Gaza and the West Bank under its 53-year-old occupation. Military raids and restrictions on imports make the donor-dependent medical system vulnerable, causing shortages in equipment, medication and staff. Attacks on Palestinian medical facilities continue. Between 2008-2014 the Israeli bombardments of Gaza destroyed 147 hospitals and clinics, 80 ambulances, and injured or killed 145 medical workers. Israel’s blockade restricts medical supplies and equipment including supplies and equipment for chemotherapy. Cancer patients need a permit to get treated.
In the West Bank there are only 225 intensive care beds for three million people, and only 120 in Gaza for 2 million. There are only 6,440 hospital beds for all of Palestine. The healthcare sector has been decimated by Israeli policies that make it totally dependent on the donor community and Israel for supplies and equipment. Israel received good press in March for “allowing” 50,000 internationally donated masks and 3,000 tests from the World Health Organization to the West Bank, but the quantities were much below what is needed for five million people.
Israel takes advantage of the Pandemic and Trump’s last days in office to increase its policies of demolishing homes. Over 500 homes were recently destroyed making nearly 900 Palestinians homeless, almost half children. It has destroyed or confiscated medical, water, and agricultural facilities in Palestine, attacking its ability to respond to the Pandemic. Meanwhile, there are more illegal land-grabs by settlers and Israeli military, since Palestinians cannot organize group protest actions.
A protest against the persecution of Palestinians during the Pandemic was held Nov. 13 at the Consulate of Israel on Second Avenue in NYC. Frank Romano & I handed out leaflets and engaged in discussions, including with Israelis. Farid Bitar, Palestinian poet, whose new book Screaming Olives is coming out soon, read his amazing poem to all including the police who were very friendly. (There were a large number of police present, way outnumbering the protestors!). In the rain, Farid was a voice for the threatened village of Khan al-Ahmar, the end of occupation and prisoners arrested with no charges as Maher al-Akhras, who has been shacked to a bed for 92 days and on hunger strike who says in Farid’s poem he “is hungry for Palestine” “You can chain me, torture me, rape me but you cannot break me” Farid proclaimed for him.
Meanwhile Pompeo is visiting illegal settlements, and declared that the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement) is anti-Semitic. This must include President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who put sanctions on Israel when it illegally invaded Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1956.
Farid Bitar reading his poem for Palestinian prisoners in front of Israeli Consulate, NYC. Photo by J. Taylor Basker, Nov. 13, 2020.