Israeli-Palestinian conflict

COVID-19 in Gaza: Health-related obligations under international law

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The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to unparalleled challenges across the globe. In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), these challenges are compounded by the pre-existing situation of prolonged occupation.

In Gaza, the pandemic also takes place in the context of a 13-year-old blockade imposed by Israel, which has led to a chronic lack of access to essential goods, to the erosion of essential services including health care, water and sanitation, as well as to widespread impoverishment. This land, sea and air blockade exacerbates the vulnerability of Gazans to COVID-19: not only does it undermine the capacity of local authorities to fight against the virus, it also hampers patients’ access to adequate health care and dramatically exacerbates the social, economic and other effects of the crisis on the population.

This legal brief clarifies the international obligations of the responsible authorities in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic in Gaza, with a particular focus on the obligations of Israel, as the occupying power, and Hamas as the de facto local authority in Gaza.

The analysis mostly focuses on health-related obligations, with a shorter treatment of rules pertaining to the protection of livelihoods and education. The brief underlines the importance of not only complying with obligations related to the immediate public health, economic and social crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also of ending pre-existing violations.

The scope of the obligations of the responsible authorities under IHL and IHRL is a function of the control they exercise over different aspects of civil life in Gaza.