Pandemic, poverty, racism and annexation: how much more can Palestinians endure?
Image credit: Khadijah Ali

Since 1948, tensions have been continuously high between the state of Israel and occupied Palestinian territories. With the people being pushed into significant, growing levels of poverty and millions losing their homes and lives over the decades, the COVID-19 pandemic is just another austerity they have to endure. This raises the question: to what lengths is Israel willing to go in its quest for dominance over Palestine?

Ample to the onset of the pandemic, the unemployment rate had reached a staggering 52.6% in the Gaza Strip and 17.6% in the West Bank.

In early June, the World Bank warned that poverty in the occupied West Bank may double amidst the repercussions of lockdowns and economic halts. This comes as terrible news above the already harrowing condition Palestinians live in daily.  Ample to the onset of the pandemic, the unemployment rate had reached a staggering 52.6% in the Gaza Strip and 17.6% in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Further increases will inevitably have negative impacts on poverty in the region.

Around a quarter of Palestinians lived in poverty prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. At a poverty rate of 53% in Gaza specifically, the World Bank forewarned an increase to 64% in Gaza and 30% in the Western Bank in 2020. This growth will have long-lasting impacts on the community and the quality of life of the five million people living there.

 In 2019, the people of Palestine celebrated a 0.9% growth in the economy, a mere fraction of what other countries experience and less than half (2.1%) of its neighbouring country’s (Jordan) growth. As a result of the pandemic, the Palestinian livelihood is awaiting a projected drop of at least 7.6%. The immediate and long-term effects are unpredictable as it was naturally assumed that such a drop, above the existent circumstances, is so far-fetched.

Although the interior ministry has assigned a substantial amount of more than $800 million, a mere 1.7% of the aid is received by Palestinian authorities.

 It goes without saying that the impact has been extremely disproportionate between Palestinian and Israeli citizens. Although the interior ministry has assigned a substantial amount of more than $800 million, a mere 1.7% of the aid is received by Palestinian authorities. That is in fact less than a tenth of what a Jewish local authority would receive.

 Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Nazareth and a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism, said: 

“The coronavirus outbreak was a test of Israel’s ability to put aside its security and demographic obsessions and deal with the Palestinians not just as fellow human beings but also as allies in a struggle for the health of both peoples. In that test, Israel has failed dismally.”

In addition to this, Netanyahu has recently announced plans to annex parts of the West Bank. The West Bank is a landlocked territory with a population of three million Palestinians and about half a million Israeli settlers in illegal colonies. With the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, this is a part of the occupied Palestinian Territories. This annexation would amount to institutionalised apartheid as tens of thousands of Palestinians will not be granted the bare minimum of rights, on top of losing their homes and land. 

With the Israeli government’s power and might, one would rightly wonder, why embark on the annexation now?

Starting from July 1st, formal steps will be initiated to annex illegal Israeli settlements and the Jordan valley, in coordination with the United States of America. This comes after a series of land acquirements by the forced and mass displacement of Palestinian People, the annexation of East Jerusalem and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. 

According to a report published by the United Nations in 2013, it was confirmed by the International Court that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem breached international law.

With the Israeli government’s power and might, one would rightly wonder, why embark on the annexation now?

President Benjamin Netanyahu is currently facing trial for three different charges: fraud, bribery and breaches of trust. As he stepped into the Jerusalem District Courthouse on Sunday 24th of May, he became the first sitting Israeli prime minister entering a courtroom as a defendant in a major corruption case.

Netanyahu can face up to ten years in jail if convicted. However, he has endlessly denied charges and claimed that an “attempted coup” was set up by Israel’s supposedly left-leaning state agencies. His claim includes the police, the state prosecution and even the media. In addition to his struggle to win recent elections, Netanyahu’s party believes this annexation will give him a stronger hold onto power.

With several protests taking place in Israel, in support of and against the annexation, it remains a decision with mortifying consequences. The Palestinian people have gone through a lot. There is no telling as to what lies ahead. This is only the tip of the iceberg.