The humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in August and September continued to be dominated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On 24 August, the Gaza Strip detected its first infection cases in the community. In response, the local authorities declared a state of emergency and enforced a lockdown, which has been gradually eased as the rate of transmission decreases. However, these restrictions have exacerbated already poor living conditions and related concerns in Gaza. Mental health is one such concern, as evidenced in the increase in suicide rates, which is the subject of one article in this Humanitarian Bulletin.
A disturbing number of suicides in recent months has highlighted a growing public health issue in the occupied Palestine territory (oPt), particularly in the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of 2020, 24 people, including four women and five children, have reportedly taken their lives, compared to 22 reported suicides in all of 2019. These figures probably do not convey the full extent of the problem in the oPt, where suicide is shrouded in social stigma, ‘shame’ and ‘sinfulness’, as well as potential legal ramifications.
On 26 September 2019, the cleaner at Al Bahrain Elementary Boys School in Gaza city found a suspicious object in the school backyard. The school is run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
Samer Zahdeh, a 35-year-old father of four, resides in Ash Shuhada Street. This is the most restricted part of H2, the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron city, where the Israeli settlement compounds are located. His three-year-old son Adam, suffers from diabetes and requires frequent monitoring and provision of insulin. On 17 July, Adam needed his insulin, but the insulin pen they had at home was broken. Samer rushed to ‘Checkpoint 56’, which controls movement between Ash Shuhada Street and Bab az Zawieh, one of Hebron’s commercial areas in H1 (the Palestinian-controlled area of the city), in order to reach a pharmacy. “The soldiers at the checkpoint told me that I cannot leave. I tried to explain the situation to them, but they told me that it’s not their problem and that I cannot cross until the clashes that were ongoing on the other side of the checkpoint were over”.
Um Fuad, a 45-year-old registered Palestine refugee, lives with her husband and four children in Wadi al Khazrak in the northern Jenin governorate. Her small Bedouin hamlet is one of seven Palestinian communities that make up the Barta’a enclave, located between the Barrier and the 1949 Armistice Line (‘Green Line’), and now physically separated from the remainder of the West Bank.
One is the ongoing pandemic. Since mid-June, the number of COVID-19 cases in the oPt has increased from nearly 700 to some 15,000 by the end of July, with the number of fatalities exceeding to 80. The epicenter of the surge has been the Hebron Governorate, followed by East Jerusalem and the Bethlehem Governorate. The humanitarian community has continued to support the Palestinian authorities’ response to the pandemic by addressing critical gaps in medical supplies and equipment, supporting the operation of quarantine and isolation centres, providing psychosocial support to those in need, and conducting a communication and community engagement campaign, among other activities. Further information and analysis about the pandemic and related humanitarian interventions are available at OCHA’s COVID-19 online dedicated page.
On 19 May 2020, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Authority (PA) considered itself absolved of all agreements and understandings it has signed with Israel and the United States. This decision was in response to Israel’s announcement of its intention to annex parts of the West Bank as early as 1 July, subject to the “full agreement” of the current U.S. administration. The threat of annexation has been widely condemned by the international community and the UN Secretary-General has stated that annexation “would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-State solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations.”
“The dump site here ruined our lives. The air we breathe isn’t clean and the environment we live in isn’t healthy,” said Abu Ahmad, a father of seven, who lives in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, next to an informal dumpsite. “I love Beit Lahia. It used to be an agricultural area, where we could eat what we plant. The water was good as well. Now, the area is damaged, and the aquifer is polluted. I really hate saying this, but I wish I could leave.”
On 16 April, 40-year-old Issa Qattash and his brother were severely beaten and injured by a group of Israeli settlers, while having a picnic with their families in a forest outside of Jibya village (north of Ramallah). “One of the settlers carried a rifle and another an axe”, Issa explained. “My brother Moussa managed to escape to call for help… I laid some time injured on the ground and then the settlers began dragging me out of the area… but then Israeli soldiers arrived and released me, while letting the settlers go.” Fatima Qattash, Issa’s 70-year-old mother, who witnessed the event added: “we were all shocked and scared… the children are still having nightmares!”
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