The first anniversary of Gaza’s Great March of Return has now passed and Israel is counting down the days to an election that will determine its next government. Egypt and the United Nations have scrambled to head off a major armed confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and so cross-boundary projectile and warplane fire have gone silent.
Thus “relative calm” reigns over the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Israel’s military occupation approaches its 52nd year.
“Relative calm” – the meaninglessness is baked into the phrase – being that Palestinians are still deprived of their basic rights, which are treated as subject to negotiation even by the UN.
Those deprived rights include Palestinians’ very right to life.
A protester was fighting for his life Friday night after being critically injured by an Israeli military sharpshooter during Great March of Return demonstrations earlier in the day, Gaza’s health ministry said.
Nearly 60 were injured by live fire during the day’s protests, according to Al Mezan, a human rights group in Gaza, and more than 40 others were directly hit by tear gas canisters.
More than 200 Palestinians, including 43 children, have been killed during Great March of Return protests since their launch 53 weeks ago.
“Killed in clashes”
In the West Bank this week, two Palestinians paid with their lives the cost of maintaining Israel’s settlement colony regime, which has claimed nearly 40 Palestinians in that territory and the Gaza Strip so far this year.
Muhammad Ali Dar Adwan, 23, was shot and killed by soldiers who had raided Qalandiya refugee camp early Tuesday. Israeli media stated that Adwan was “killed in clashes”; the man’s family said he was shot at close range while “getting into a vehicle near his home,” as reported by Ma’an News Agency.
The following day, Muhammad Abd al-Fattah, 23, was shot and killed by an Israeli settler at Huwwara checkpoint near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
Yehoshua Sherman, an Israeli settler, said that Abd al-Fattah was holding a knife and tried to open his car door and attack his teenage daughter.
“I went outside and with the help of a driver who was behind me we neutralized the terrorist and thankfully we weren’t hurt,” Sherman told Israeli media.
In a place where street executions have become commonplace, there will be no investigation of Sherman and no state authority will question whether Abd al-Fattah posed an imminent threat to life that would justify the use of lethal force against him.
Instead, Israel’s defense ministry has authorized the construction of a new road serving settlers in the area that will allow Israelis to bypass Palestinian villages. Another Palestinian was killed by an Israeli motorist driving through Huwwara village in 2017.
Israel claims to build such roads for security purposes but they are an integral part of its settlement infrastructure in the West Bank, built in violation of international law, which forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to the territory it occupies.
Gaza hospitals “on brink of collapse”
Death by direct fire is not the only way that Israel’s occupation deprived Palestinians of their right to life this week.
On Tuesday, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel stated that a Gaza toddler died the previous night after Israel denied a travel permit to his mother, and thus she was unable to take him to East Jerusalem for medical treatment.
Palestinians in Gaza requiring treatment in the West Bank or Israel have their cases referred to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which pays for the treatment, and then on to Israel, which has the final say in whether an individual may travel.
Patients who require multiple procedures and follow-up care are repeatedly subjected to bureaucratic delays and sometimes even interrogation and arrest.
Gaza’s already overburdened healthcare system has been brought to the “brink of collapse” due to the staggering number of casualties during Great March of Return protests, UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, recently stated.
Chronic electricity shortages in Gaza, which has been under Israeli-enforced land, sea and air blockade for 12 years, has come close to seeing hospitals shut down altogether.
Most of the 11,000 healthcare employees working in government facilities in the territory have not received regular payment since July 2014, and receive less than half of their salaries every 40-50 days, according to the World Health Organization.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, reeling from a financial crisis after Israel withheld $138 million in Palestinian tax revenue, recently announced that it would no longer refer patients in Gaza to Israeli hospitals, instead routing them to facilities in the West Bank and other Arab countries.
A spokesperson for the PA’s health ministry told Al Mezan, a human rights group in Gaza, that the move was intended to cut inflated health costs.
Al Mezan welcomed the effort to nationalize healthcare but warned that the measure could affect patients’ health, particularly those needing life-saving treatment.
“This concern is underscored by the state of Gaza’s impoverished health sector, which is characterized by a lack of medical equipment, medicines and medical supplies, and lack of adequately-trained personnel, which results in long waitlists and inability to provide care,” the group stated.
“Patients’ rights to healthcare, physical integrity and life are paramount and must be kept out of any political dispute. These rights should be a priority on the national agenda,” Al Mezan added.