Just two years ago, the Gaza border with Israel was a deadly front line, with black smoke swirling around thousands of Palestinian protesters as they faced Israeli troops firing live ammunition.
The border fence is much quieter now in the run up to the second anniversary on March 30 of The Great March of Return: protests by Palestinians seeking to regain access to land, now in Israel, from which their ancestors fled or were forced to flee during the country's creation in 1948.
And with the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, organizers and Palestinian armed factions are discussing whether to cancel or reduce the memorial events.
Regardless of what they decide, Gaza's medical facilities have already shifted their focus from protest victims to the pandemic.
With nine confirmed coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, hospitals that were once overwhelmed by gunshot wounds and amputations are now preparing for a very different challenge in a densely populated coastal enclave of two million Palestinians, many of them which live in refugee camps.
A new quarantine center has been established in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, and 42-square-meter (452-square-foot) tents donated by the World Health Organization that once served as trauma stabilization points were have moved to address the problem. new threat
"All the tents and medical supplies that were used during the return marches have been used in the ministry's measures to protect our people against the coronavirus," said Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra.
The head of the WHO office for the occupied Palestinian territories, Gerald Rockenschaub, visited the new Rafah facilities last week as his team delivered supplies for laboratory tests and personal protective equipment.
"Measures have been implemented, but Gaza is a very challenging environment, it is a very busy environment," he said. "There is a shortage everywhere, in medicines, electricity and supplies. We are trying to solve this."
It is still unclear what will happen to the weekly border protests that came to redefine the modern era of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the incompatibility of crowded protests with new health realities is not lost on the organizers of the march. "There is a debate and the larger planned meetings are more likely to be canceled," said a senior organizer.
Gaza medical officials say 215 Palestinians were killed in the two years of border protests, with another 8,000 suffering from gunshot wounds, 88 percent to the extremities.
During that period, an Israeli soldier was killed at the border during sniper protests.
In 2019, researchers from the UN Human Rights Council said that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, with children and paramedics among the victims.
Israel defended its response, described the protests as riots and said it faced attacks instigated and organized by Hamas that governs Gaza.
Last week Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli army, said soldiers remained vigilant against attempts to break the fence.
"We continue to assess the situation and monitor what Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza are doing," he said.
The stated goals of the protests were to end the Israeli-led blockade on Gaza and to give its refugees the right to return to the land in Israel where their ancestors lived.
Israel rejects any right of return, fearing that it will lose its Jewish majority. He cites security for the blockade after the 2007 takeover of Gaza by Hamas, which is considered a "terrorist organization,quot; by Israel and the United States.
In Gaza, the scars of protests are everywhere and remain a source of controversy.
"I don't think they have accomplished anything," said Mohannad al-Aswad, 30, who says he lost his right leg after being hit by an Israeli bullet in 2018. Once a construction worker, he now sells hot drinks in a street stall. .
"I ruined my life, my wife's and my children's lives," al-Aswad said at his home in Sheikh Radwan. "They tell us to be strong … but my life was destroyed, I can't fool myself."
But Hamas official Ismail Radwan said the protests forced a relaxation of the Gaza blockade. "The occupation would not have agreed if it were not for the marches," he said.