The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns the Israeli Defense Minister, Naftali Bennett’s statements linking the entry of medical supplies into the Gaza Strip to combat Coronavirus with the return of Israeli soldiers who have been held by Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip since 2014. PCHR stresses that this bargaining constitutes a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

PCHR considers that bargaining Palestinian civilians’ humanitarian needs for political gains is utterly unacceptable and condemned. PCHR reiterates that abusing civilian needs for gaining political ground is abhorrent, and warns that such a position could carry a direct threat to the lives of civilians in the Gaza Strip, as it could lead to a coronavirus outbreak, bearing in mind the severe shortage of medical requisites and deterioration of the economic situation due to the Israeli-imposed closure for over 13 years.

On Wednesday, Naftali Bennett said in a statement that, “The moment there is talk of the humanitarian world in Gaza – Israel also has humanitarian needs, which are mainly the recovery of the fallen.” And I think that we need to enter a broad dialogue about Gaza’s and our humanitarian needs. It would not be right to disconnect these things … and certainly, our hearts would be open to many things.”

In light of this, PCHR stresses the necessity not to involve Palestinian civilians in the woes of politics, use them as means of pressure to gain political advantages and threatening to impose collective punishments on more than 2 million Palestinians. In this regard, PCHR points out the State of Israel’s long history of imposing collective punishments on Palestinian civilians.

PCHR calls upon the international community and the World Health Organization (WHO) to fulfill their responsibilities to stop these attacks on Palestinian civilians, and to pressure Israel as an occupying power that controls Gaza outlets to provide the essential needs of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, including medical devices, in order to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Under international law, the occupying state is responsible for the lives of people in the occupied land and it has a legal obligation to provide health care to the population under international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention of 1907, which emphasized the responsibility of the occupying state for the safety and well-being of the population of the occupied land.

Likewise, international human rights law under the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The United Nations Special Committee affirmed in its concluding observations on Israeli reports to the Committee that the occupying state is responsible for ensuring the implementation of the convention provisions in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and requested Israel to integrate this aspect in its reports.

Thus, it is evident that providing the requirements to protect the population of the Gaza Strip from the coronavirus pandemic is a legal obligation upon Israel. Therefore, it cannot be bargained or compromised with under the general principles of international law.