The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in early March 2020, after the discovery of seven cases in Bethlehem linked to a tourist group from Greece. In response, the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency, imposed a citywide lockdown, and enforced a curfew. Between March and June, there were only 665 registered cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza, 180 cases among Palestinians in Jerusalem, and limited cases among Palestinians in Israel. However, the onset of a second wave from July resulted in rapid growth of the number of cases. By the end of November 2020, the territories, including east Jerusalem, had reported nearly 85,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 714 deaths.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has put in measures to slow the spread of the virus, including giving medical consultations by phone, delivering humanitarian assistance to avoid overcrowding at distribution centres, and blending school with remote learning. However, these measures have been criticised for being insufficient to prevent the spread. On 10 November 2020, the spokesperson for UNRWA reported that the agency had run out of cash on hand to keep vital services going amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous concerns, meanwhile, have been raised regarding healthcare provision in the OPT, particularly in Gaza, where medical infrastructure is chronically under-resourced and has, in the past, faced militarised attacks–as well as the effects of years of suffocating blockades. In April, it was reported that between the three hospitals located in East Jerusalem, there are only 22 ventilators and 62 beds prepared for coronavirus patients. Moreover, attempts by Palestinians to mobilise community health initiatives have been met with crackdowns on the part of the Israeli police.
At the end of August 2020, 355 Palestinians–including two minors–continued to be held in administrative detention in Israel Prison Service (IPS) facilities, according to B’Tselem. Administrative detention is permitted under Article 285 of Military Order 1651, which is part of the military legislation applying in the West Bank; the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law (Unlawful Combatants Law), which has been used against residents of the Gaza Strip since 2005; and the Emergency Powers (Detentions) Law, which applies to Israeli citizens. According to the Palestinian NGO Addameer, administrative detention is used almost exclusively to detain Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), although Israeli citizens and foreign nationals can also be held as administrative detainees by Israel.
In November, the Palestinian Detainees Committee reported that the Israeli Prison Authority (IPA) had sealed all sections in Gilboa’ prison in central Israel and cancelled all visits from detainees’ families, after more than 80 detainees in the prison tested positive for coronavirus. Conditions within the prison have previously been criticised for being overcrowded and dirty. In March, the Israeli government released approximately 400 offenders from prisons throughout Israel for a 30-day house arrest, after which they were officially released from prison.
- Addameer, “Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association,” July 2017, http://www.addameer.org/israeli_military_judicial_system/administrative_detention
- Al-Monitor Staff, “Dozens of Palestinian prisoners in Israel test positive for COVID-19,” Al-Monitor, 3 November 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/prisoners-hamas-israel-prison-gilboa-coronavirus-tzalmon.html
- B’Tselem, “Statistics on Administrative Detention,” 13 October 2020, https://www.btselem.org/administrative_detention/statistics
- IMEMC News, “Israel Seals Gilboa Prison As Dozens Of Palestinian Detainees Contract Coronavirus,” 10 November 2020, https://imemc.org/article/israel-seals-gilboa-prison-as-dozens-of-palestinian-detainees-contract-coronavirus/
- Medical Aid for Palestinians, “MAP Responding to COVID-19 Outbreak in Gaza Amid Fears of Health System Collapse,” 11 September 2020, https://www.map.org.uk/news/archive/post/1157-map-responding-to-covid-19-outbreak-in-gaza-amid-fears-of-health-system-collapse
- J. Sudilovsky, “East Jerusalem Scrambles to Prevent COVID-19 Outbreak Before Ramadan,” +972 Magazine, 22 April 2020, https://www.972mag.com/east-jerusalem-coronavirus-ramadan/
- WHO, “WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard: Occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” 23 November 2020, https://covid19.who.int/region/emro/country/ps
- I. Zonshine, “Israel to Release Hundreds of Prisoners to Curb Coronavirus Spread,” The Jerusalem Post, 28 March 2020, https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Israel-to-release-hundreds-of-prisoners-to-curb-spread-of-coronavirus-622611
- Magen David Adom Medical Workers at a Drive-Through Testing Site at the Entrance of an East Jerusalem neighbourhood on 2 April 2020, (Yonatan Sindel, Flash 90, “East Jerusalem Scrambles to Prevent COVID-19 Outbreak Before Ramadan,” +972 Magazine, 22 April 2020, https://www.972mag.com/east-jerusalem-coronavirus-ramadan/)