In this dynamic report, Who Profits monitors, documents and analyzes the unfolding of the Covid-19 public health and economic crisis in occupied Palestine.
The present crisis caused by COVID-19 has laid bare the inequality and violence at the heart of the current global economic system where profit accumulation comes at the expense of our collective rights. As people live in fear and uncertainty of the unfolding crisis’ impact, governments and corporate capital are seizing the opportunity to tighten their control and generate profit.
In this dynamic report, Who Profits will monitor the developments on the ground, providing analysis and sources of the unfolding of the COVID-19 crisis in occupied Palestine. Monitoring developments in Palestine is crucial not because Palestine is an exceptional case, but precisely because it is not. As one political economist put it, Gaza (and Palestine more broadly) may be “the proverbial canary in the COVID-19 coal mine.”
There is no doubt that for Palestinians living under occupation, the acute shortage of testing kits, protective gear and ICU capacity is only the tip of the iceberg. A host of structural issues inevitably compound the virus’ devastating impact.
While it is still too early to tell how the COVID-19 will impact the global and local economy, we can begin by posing the right questions with the following framing in mind:
- COVID-19 is not operating in a vacuum. As it spreads through Israeli-occupied Palestinian and Syrian land, it is interacting with the structures of occupation which, while far from novel, are every bit as adaptive, resistant and continually mutating as any member of the corona family.
- COVID-19 will not function as a ‘Great Equalizer’ – The myth that a pandemic does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, is patently false. An occupied and besieged population and a systematically de-developed economy are particularly vulnerable to both COVID-19 and the economic fallout.
- Desperate times legitimize repressive measures. Declaring a state of emergency often provides the pretext for the introduction of new repressive and exploitative measures and the entrenchment and legitimization of existing ones.
- What happens in Palestine does not stay in Palestine. A key reason Israel is continually looking to diversify its portfolio of repression is that it can later turn it outward for economic profit and political gains.
The report will be updated as the situation continues to evolve. If you have further information or specific queries, please contact us at [email protected] or through the information center.
The COVID-19 global public health emergency has given rise to heightened forms of surveillance in the name of public safety. The Israeli government quickly authorized the Shin Bet security service to apply its considerable powers of surveillance, long used against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, to track the cellphones of confirmed coronavirus patients and those around them.
The experience of controlling, repressing and surveilling an occupied population has long been at the core of the so-called “Israeli advantage” in the Homeland Security (HLS) market. The Israeli military apparatus serves as an incubator, laboratory and high-profile client for Israel’s surveillance industry, which translates Israel’s portfolio of repression into ‘field-proven’ product offerings, marketed not only to traditional HLS clients, but also to municipalities, schools and businesses.
Moments of crisis, such as the present one, generate new business opportunities for Israeli surveillance tech. The notorious Israeli spyware company NSO Group is reportedly developing software to match cellphone-tracking and locational data. BriefCam, whose video surveillance has been deployed in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, tweeted in late March that its people-counting video-analytic capabilities “can help organizations proactively protect” against COVID-19. KMC Systems, an Elbit Systems subsidiary, is already supplying its products to US healthcare professionals.
Gaza’s exceptional vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic is a direct product of decades of Israeli occupation, brutal siege and continued military assaults. Basic preventive measures – social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home – are impossible to follow in Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated regions, already plagued by systematic de-development: extreme poverty, destruction of infrastructure, damaged medical facilities, shortage of electricity and water and a debilitated health system.
Thirteen years of siege by land, air and sea, where Israel controls imports, limiting access to medical equipment, hygienic materials and medicine, compounded by the destruction of infrastructure, has shattered Gaza’s health sector. Equipment such as hospital beds is lacking, with only 2000 beds, with available ones amounting to only 200 beds. Another alarming example is ventilators; there are only 62 ventilators for a population that reaches 1.9 million, with a third already in use.
The spread of the virus in Gaza will worsen an already dire situation. As of 8 April, 13 people have been diagnosed. However, as testing kits in Gaza have completely run out, the real figure may be higher.
Strategies put forward to confront the spread of COVID-19 put a huge strain on the global economy. Worldwide, exploited workers at the lower scale of the labour market are especially affected, masses of workers have been made redundant or forced to continue to work in unsafe environments to sustain themselves and their families.
In Israel, the government took swift measures and imposed additional restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement on both sides of the Green Line and minimized economic activity in sectors deemed unessential. These measures have a particular impact on over 141,000 Palestinian workers dependent on jobs in the Israeli market (in both the settlements and in Israel), due to the systematic de-development of the Palestinian economy.
Dependency on these jobs renders workers uniquely vulnerable to exploitation and precarious working conditions, amplified and exacerbated by COVID-19. Large numbers of Palestinian workers have been made redundant. However, the dependence of key sectors in the Israeli economy on Palestinian labour, as well as Israel’s interest in curbing the total collapse of the Palestinian economy, has led the Israeli government to take exceptional measures; some 55,000 workers retention and future renewal of work permits have been conditioned on them not returning to their families in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for at least a month, a time frame subject to extension according to Israeli economic needs, with no guarantees of adequate accommodations or access to health care.