During the Oslo Peace Process era from 1994 until 2000, the Palestinian Authority had been given authority to establish the Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians were given some elements of sovereignty. But most power was hold by Israel. Israeli military were remained in Gaza. Israeli settlements never been dismantled. Israel controlled the borders and roads and constructed fencing surrounding Gaza. In reality Gaza was sealed from the outside world. Israel control flow of people and goods to and from Gaza. The Second Intifada in September 2000, worsened the condition of Gaza. Israel placed more road blocks and crossing points. Palestinians lost freedom of movement and Gazan economy started to decline from day to day.
In 2004, Israel started to implement the “Disengagement Plan” from Gaza due to several strategic concerns. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was behind Israel’s withdrawal plan from Gaza. In 2005, Israel left Gaza without handing over of power to the Palestinian leadership at that time, Mahmoud Abbas. Five months after the Israeli disengagement, Hamas won the popular vote in the Palestinian Legislative Council and formed a new Palestinian government led by Ismail Haniyeh. Rejection of the election results in Gaza by the international community, Israel and Palestinian Authority (PA) prompted three major consequences which destabilize Gaza for years. First, Israel increased sanctions and restrictions over the economy of Gaza. Second, the international community withdrew financial assistance to the PA in Gaza. Third, eruption of arm clashes between the PA and Hamas in 2006 in Gaza and the West Bank. This civil war ended for a while with Saudi intervention in 2007. However, Hamas took over the security and government buildings in Gaza and the PA formed an emergency government in the West Bank.
Hamas political power in Gaza intensified Israeli attacks into Gaza, starting in 2006. Israel carried out many military operations against Hamas, such as; Operations Summer Rains and Operations Autumn Clouds. In 2008, Israeli war with Gaza intensified when Hamas rocket attacks towards Israel increased. Israel launched the Operation Cast Lead which ended with a ceasefire in 2009. Gaza’s infrastructure and buildings were severely damaged in the war. Israel’s economic blockade further increased inclusive of naval blockade to cut off Gazan contact with the outer world. Gaza blockade was exposed to the international community when Israel’s naval blockade the “Gaza Flotilla” and the “Mavi Marmara” took place in 2010. In May 2011, Israel reduced its harsh policy against Gazans when the opening of Rafah was implemented for a short time to allow Gazans travel to Egypt. But trade remain prohibited until now. Gaza remains isolated from the West Bank and the outer world for decades. The Covid-19 pandemic in Gaza is lesser than Israel because Gaza has been under shut down for a long time. Israel imposed land, aerial and naval blockade over Gaza in order to weaken the Hamas government.
Israeli blockade over Gaza at one point keeps Gaza safe from widespread attack of the virus. At the same time it brought dire implications to Gaza’s fight against the pandemic. By 26 September 2020, Gaza recorded 1,646 cases of Covid-19 with 19 deaths. Meanwhile Israel recorded 217K cases with 1,441 deaths by September 2020. The figure in Gaza is comparatively lower than Israel because of the Israel blockade over Gaza. Restriction over the Gazans’ mobilization across the border, hinder the widespread of the pandemic. But in the long run, the Israeli blockade will not give advantage to Gaza and the people. Gaza faces many threats in the medical field which can increase the vicious threat from the Covid-19 and future pandemics.
In addition Gaza faces energy crisis and clean water crisis. Inadequate access to safe water for sanitation, and hygiene services are noted widely. High density of population in Gaza is another threat to face cruelty of the pandemic. Overcrowded condition in the refugee camps caused impossibility to enforce social distancing. Gazan only can use electricity for a half day. Gaza does not have enough hospitals and ICU beds. Currently Gaza only have only 63 adult ICU beds with ventilators in the government hospitals. Nearly half of the essential drug list at a zero stock level. They also in the shortage of test kits, ventilators, drugs, and medical consumables. Condition also can get worse in the densely populated areas like the refugee camps.
Israeli blockade for 13 years already thrown Gaza in economic turmoil. Half of Gaza’s population was living in poverty even before the pandemic. Gaza is not prepared to face the outbreak of pandemic. In the water crisis environment, keeping oneself hygiene is hard to be expected from Gaza population in the fight against the pandemic. Less than 4% of fresh water of Gaza is drinkable and the surrounding sea is polluted by sewages. Millions of litres of sewages are discharged into the coast of Gaza every day. Gaza people are vulnerable to be infected in large numbers if the pandemic break out without control. This is a serious situation not only for Gaza but to Israel.
Covid-19 free Gaza brings positive impact to Israel because Gaza is connected by land with Israel. Israel never want to have spill over of the pandemic in its territories. Therefore, Israel relaxed the blockade for the first time in 13 years, willing to reduce the intensity of blockade to fight the pandemic. Since the beginning of the crisis, Israel has allowed entry of critical supplies and equipment into Gaza. Examples of critical supplies include swabs for collection of samples and other laboratory supplies required for Covid-19 testing and personal protective equipment to protect health workers. Israel also starts to allow health workers and other personnel involved in the Covid-19 response to move in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.
This cooperation does not mean Hamas-Israel war is ended. War occurs as usual business in Gaza. In fact Gaza and Israel have been in a daily war since President Trump delivered the Deal of the Century. Hamas-Israel war continues although both factions are facing a mutual enemy. Israel should concentrate in destroying the corona virus with its economic and scientific capabilities. Israel need to employ better strategy to safeguard the people in Israel and in the occupied territories. Israel cannot neglect the Gaza Palestinians in the time of the pandemic. Israel should realize that the Corona Virus is more dangerous than the war with Hamas. Understandably the Corona Virus does not know how to differentiate the Israelis from the Palestinians.