Sameer, Palestinian Medical Relief Society
‘No one can move, everything is closed’, Suhad*, a young woman from a city in the Northern West Bank tells me. On 22 March the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh enforced a State of Emergency, telling people they must stay in their homes unless shopping for food and medicine. The exception was those working in hospitals and shops.
Amina*, Northern West Bank
Amina heard rumours that there were fifteen cases of Palestinian workers catching Coronavirus from an Israeli chicken farm near Ramallah. Whether there is truth in these stories or not, they are certainly creating fear and anxiety for many Palestinians.
Ahmed*, a community activist in the West Bank, explains that,
In recent weeks the lockdown has been loosened. However, the Muslim celebration of Eid took place on 23-24th May, and Suhad explains how the government ordered a return to complete lockdown for three days. They were fearful that people would be celebrating, and that the virus would spread. ‘But people ignored it, and now we have many cases’ says Suhad.
Following the government’s response, many Palestinians are now struggling financially. Suhad says,
Suhad’s family, like many others, rely primarily on wages from very casual work within Israel. Every morning thousands of workers rise around 3am, and head to the closest checkpoint to queue for what can take two or three hours whilst they wait for their permits to be checked by Israeli security personnel. Having passed through airport-style security, assuming their permit was accepted, they then travel onwards from the Israeli side of the checkpoint to farms and factories across Israel in order to earn a day’s wage. They often get paid cash at the end of the day, and have no employment rights.
There are numerous issues with this style of casual employment; the most pressing at the moment being the complete lack of employee benefits. If you don’t turn up to work, regardless of the reason (sick, medical appointments, travel issues, permit rejected, global pandemic etc.) you don’t get paid.
Suhad’s father suffers from diabetes and was afraid to continue working once he knew about the risk of infection, so has been at home since before the lockdown began. This means he has not been earning any income for over a month.
Despite this, Suhad agrees that the lockdown should be enforced. ‘I think people all over the world should stay in our houses so that the people responsible can control the situation.’ But she also asks that the Palestinian government takes more action:
Amina tells me that,
Going to work in Israel without travelling through checkpoints is illegal, but a choice that many people make in usual circumstances in order to provide the income their families so desperately need. However, in the current situation there is a new health risk.
Palestinian Medical Relief Society staff continue with their work during the Covid-19 pandemic, Photo: Murad Samara
Sameer* is a doctor with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. She tells me that mobile clinics are still visiting villages who otherwise have no access to healthcare. During their visits, the staff are very strict about social distancing, and where possible they wear masks, gloves and protective clothing. For elderly and disabled patients, they often have to enter their houses to give treatment and advice.
According to Sameer, the situation in hospitals is much worse:
Palestinian Medical Relief Society staff continue with their work during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Murad Samara
The West Bank is currently under Israeli military occupation, which means that the Israeli government has control over numerous aspects of life within this area, including control over access to land, building permits, and the ability to restrict freedom of movement. Ahmed explains that ‘Israel and the occupation have not stopped any of their activities even during this hard period. They are arresting people, demolishing houses and carrying on with other activities as before.’
Ahmed shares an example of a small village near Nablus, where three Covid-19 cases had been detected. For this reason, the residents were all in quarantine in their own homes.
*Names have been changed