THE GAZA STRIP is a space apart. For over a decade and a half, it has been hemmed in and besieged by Israel, abetted by Egypt in its cruel endeavor. The siege has reduced the territory’s inhabitants to the barest level of existence, even as Israel, one of the greatest military powers on earth, regularly surveilles and uses the slightest sign of resistance as a pretext to bombard the 2-million strong population. The people of Gaza live in deplorable conditions, deprived of potable water, fuel, electric power, construction materials, and a vast range of ordinary goods, while waiting for another Israeli escalation. Immobilized in an area of 365 square kilometers, they are robbed of the ability to travel and of most other elements of human freedom.
All of this takes place daily in a vacuum, a space of exception and of silence about these and other daily infringements on human dignity that are rendered banal by the insidious propaganda generated by Israel and its enablers in the Western media. Driven by an unceasing emphasis on Israel’s security, this false narrative stigmatizes and maligns the utterly insecure population of the Gaza Strip. Most of them are descendants of Palestinians driven from their homes in what is now southern Israel in the mass ethnic cleansing of 1948.
The struggle of Gazans to resist these appalling conditions—whether peaceful as in the protests of the Great March of Return, or violent—is invariably coded as aggression by Israel and its media partners, which casually label them as “terrorists” and thereby unworthy of sympathy or even attention, let alone relief from their ordeal. At best, theirs is seen as a tragic humanitarian case. In the essay that follows, Ghassan Abu-Sittah emphasizes the demobilizing logic behind this approach, for as he points out, “[h]umanitarian interventions are constituted as the opposite of political ones.”
As Abu-Sittah explains, the drive towards elimination and the increasingly restrictive enclosure of the indigenous population that is the essential dynamic of settler colonialism provides the best explanation of what Israel is doing in, and to, Gaza. He expands on this insight, laying bare the cold logic behind Israel’s policies towards the Gaza Strip in particular, and the whole of Palestine in general, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Abu-Sittah belongs to a well-known Gazan family, with a large network of relatives, colleagues, and friends in the territory. He is a distinguished plastic surgeon trained in the UK, who for many years taught at the American University of Beirut while also volunteering as a reconstructive surgeon in the Gaza Strip, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, and, most recently, after the Beirut port explosion of 4 August 2020. In consequence, he has had extensive experience with the treatment of war wounds and reconstructive surgery. Thus, he knows from extensive personal experience, as do few others, the intimate, human cost of the savage trauma that has been inflicted on Gaza over a decade and a half, largely out of the sight and hearing of the world. In the essay that the Institute for Palestine Studies publishes here to fill a gap in public understanding of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, Abu-Sittah connects this trauma to the broader health and nutritional circumstances resulting from the Israeli siege.
As this essay went to press, the first community transmission of Covid-19 was reported in the Gaza Strip, now totaling almost two hundred cases, originating with a family of four in al-Maghazi refugee camp after contact with a visiting family member who tested positive after departing from Gaza