Overview | March-May 2020
As is the case globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the dominant concern in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in recent months. On 5 March 2020, the Palestinian Prime Minister declared a State of Emergency after the first cases were confirmed in Bethlehem city. Measures included the suspension of most commercial and all educational activities, a prohibition on public gatherings, and strict movement restrictions. The emergency was subsequently extended until early June, but has effectively ended since late May, with banks, government ministries, shops, and public transportation networks reopening. In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-controlled Erez Crossing and Egyptian-controlled Rafah Crossing have been largely closed since mid-March, with incoming travellers sent to quarantine facilities for 14 days, subsequently extended to 21 days. Overall across the oPt, there has been a remarkably low incidence of cases by global standards, with just five fatalities recorded. As of the beginning of June, 630 Palestinians in total are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, including 179 in East Jerusalem, 390 in the remainder of the West Bank, and 61 in the Gaza Strip.
On 27 March, the oPt Humanitarian Country Team released an Inter-Agency Response Plan for COVID-19, which was revised a month later, appealing for US$42.4 million through the end of June 2020. As of end May, 58 per cent of the amount requested has been raised.
Three of the four articles in this Bulletin feature the impact of COVID-19 on areas of humanitarian concern. One of those is Gender-Based Violence (GBV): according to an assessment conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), fears about the virus, economic stress and quarantine measures, have increased household tensions, compounding domestic violence. At the same time, the provision of social services has been curtailed, due to access and other restrictions. To address the needs of survivors and those at risk of GBV, organizations have been providing remote consultations and counselling sessions over the phone. Although these cannot compensate for the suspension of regular services, according to Maha, a GBV victim profiled in one of the articles, they have managed to make her particular situation more tolerable.
Another article in this Bulletin presents the findings of the latest movement obstacle survey, which was initiated in January-February 2020 and recently completed. The article also shows the impact of access restrictions on a Palestinian community in western Ramallah and on farmers owning land remaining beyond the West Bank Barrier. In the latter context, the revocation of permits and the decision not to open agricultural gates during the COVID-19 emergency, have further restricted Palestinian access to such land in the Jenin, Tulkarm and Salfit governorates.
The third article highlights the plight of cancer patients in the Gaza Strip. Due to the longstanding shortage of cancer drugs, these patients have had to be referred to hospitals outside Gaza to receive chemotherapy. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has brought an unexpected positive development, which has eased their situation and will hopefully continue after the emergency: to cope with the additional travel restrictions, a new chemotherapy service has been made available in a private hospital in Gaza, contracted by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
The final article focuses on the situation of people wounded or traumatized in the context of the “Great March of Return” (GMR) demonstrations that took place in Gaza between March 2018 and December 2019. Although the demonstrations have been suspended, affected people continue to suffer the consequences. To support their rehabilitation, humanitarian agencies have appealed for $13.5 million for a range of interventions during 2020, of which, only 19 per cent was secured.
 For additional details on the COVID-19 response, see OCHA’s weekly Situation Report.