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Shortage as Policy: The First 100 Days of the Coronavirus Crisis in Israel

Physicians for Human Rights Israel
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Gvt. pushed for lockdown and disproportionate violations of privacy, including travel bans and using security agency to surveil people under the guise of COVID measures.

Today, PHRI releases its report Shortage as Policy: The first 100 days of the coronavirus crisis in Israel. The report describes and analyzes the Israeli government’s policy during the first hundred days of the coronavirus outbreak in the country and its impact on all population groups living in it or under its control: status-less individuals, prisoners, residents of Israel’s socio-economic periphery and Palestinians in the OPT.

The Israeli government’s response to the coronavirus crisis was shaped by three deep trends that have marked its policy and practice in the last few decades: accelerated privatization and underfunding social services, marginalization of disempowered populations, and the institution of centralized, non-transparent policy that disproportionately limits rights and freedoms.

During the coronavirus crisis, the public reaped the fruits of the short-sighted policies successive Israeli governments have followed for decades: Lack of preparedness and understaffing in public health services, family clinics and hospitals. The need to “flatten the curve” with an underequipped health care infrastructure led to severe damage to the economy and an equally severe blow to the availability and quality of health services during the corona pandemic.

When the crisis began, public discourse was replete with the saying that the virus does not discriminate between people and that everyone was in danger of infection. However, not only has time shown that the disease affects people with preexisting conditions and the elderly more harshly, but it has also exposed how vulnerable some of Israel’s most marginalized communities are: Higher infection rates in communities living in poverty and crowded conditions, communities excluded from health services such as migrants and asylum seekers living in Israel without status – both of which required special responses, and communities in which testing and public education campaigns came late, such as the Arab public in Israel.

This state of affairs originates in the exclusion of certain populations from the National Health Insurance Law, budgetary erosion of public health services and the inequitable private medicine that developed as a result, as well as lack of oversight from the Ministry of Health on institutions that influence living conditions for disempowered populations. All of these resulted in the creation of ‘bubbles’ of (no)-health, which is destructive also in normal times, but during a pandemic mean that the health of everyone is put at risk and nobody is safe.

The country’s lack of preparedness led to disproportionate limitations on rights and freedoms, without transparency, parliamentary oversight or proper public discourse. While restrictions did slow the spread of the virus during the first wave, the same result could have been achieved by other means while protecting the economy and human rights and preserving public trust.

The conclusions of the report are clear: To address the crisis on the one hand and build a fair society that practices solidarity on the other, funding for health and social programs must be increased; all people living in Israel should have the same access to public health care, public trust should be built through participation, transparency and fairness, and disempowered populations and civil society must be represented in policy-making processes.

The implications of Israel’s past policy, which unfortunately continues into the present, are crystal clear now that Israel is in its second lockdown: Hospitals are overloaded, businesses are closing down, the unemployment rate is soaring, civil rights are disproportionately violated and public trust in institutions assigned to handle the coronavirus crisis is rapidly deteriorating. This is why, especially now, it is crucial to offer an alternative worldview that will, sooner or later, serve as the basis for building an egalitarian and healthy society.