Gazans Returning From Israel Fear They'll Bring Coronavirus Back With Them

Palestinians with permits to leave are Gaza staying put, and cancer patients treated in Israel are required to be kept isolated upon their return

A woman enters Gaza through the Rafah Crossing, March 2020.
IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Transport drivers from East Jerusalem are the only sign of activity at the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza. “The people from Gaza are afraid to come here,” says one driver.

Drivers say that since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, even Gaza residents who hold special permits to enter Israel are avoiding doing so for fear of becoming infected. The Palestinian health system says no one in Gaza has been infected with the virus yet, though it is clear that it is only a matter of time.

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“I was afraid to enter Israel but I had no choice,” says Rabab Nagar, 42, a Gaza resident returning home through the crossing, which is only open for humanitarian cases. A mother of four, she has cancer and must enter Israel for treatment at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem.

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“I slept here for two days and now I’m going back,” she says, with a mask on her face. “I’m not afraid for myself personally, but now when I return to Gaza I’ll have to stay in isolation for 14 days, far from my family. Everyone’s afraid that I’ll infect them because there are no cases in Gaza at all. People don’t want to get close to anyone who was in Israel. I miss my children. That’s what happens when there's an occupation – no one goes in or out, there are no tourists and no one to bring the disease to us. No one wants to enter Israel. All we can do is rely on God.”

A school in Gaza closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, March 2020.
IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Faima, another cancer patient, was also heading back to Gaza. She is 44 and has five children. “I’m scared, of course, only Allah can help,” she says through her mask. “Gaza is a prison, but now it’s a prison that helps the public because no one comes into the Gaza Strip. There are no tourists anyway, and everyone is keeping away from the people from the international organizations out of fear they’ll infect us. I am weak, but others can be saved. I’m mostly scared now to go into isolation because I was in Israel. I won’t see my children. Everyone used to want to work in Israel, to go to Israel, but today no one wants to come here. I don’t have a choice.” 

Nachshon Gal, who volunteers with On the Road to Recovery, an organization that helps transport people to medical care, is driving a 48-year-old cancer patient and her son back from Ichilov Hospital to Khan Younis. He and his two passengers are all wearing masks and gloves. “We’re not afraid to go back in to Gaza,” says the son. “Why aren’t there any sick people in Gaza? Because no one goes in or out,” says Gal.

Abdel Karim, another Khan Yunis resident, ha been working in construction in Israel after receiving a special permit. He says he is returning to Gaza because he has no other option.  “First of all, the permit I had expires in two days, and who knows what will happen,” he says. “Suddenly the prison of Gaza has become the best thing there is.”