Palestinian workers produce face masks at a shoe factory in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 14, 2020 amid the spread of coronavirus
Following the global outbreak of the highly contagious coronavirus, a Palestinian sewing company is producing surgical masks and other protective gear instead of clothing, reports TheTimes of Israel.
UniPal 2000 factory in the Karni Industrial Zone in Gaza City is a merger of four sewing factories with a capital of $1.2 million and 200 workers.
Chairman Nabil Bawwab said the company made the transition at the beginning of March and has been producing thousands of masks and protective suits daily.
He said he has already signed contracts with Israeli business partners to provide 1 million masks and 50,000 protective suits by the end of April. In addition, the company was also in talks with local and international medical organisations in Gaza to sell them products too.
The 59-year-old chairman said his company was selling masks to Israel for NIS 5 ($1.4) each and every protective suit for NIS 12 ($3.35).
“We never stopped making clothing, even during all the difficult times,” said Bawab. “But when the virus came, we decided to do something to provide people with protection.”
“We need more space because we are making sure our workers are not close to each other,” he said. “We hope to be making 25,000 masks every day by the end of the month.”
In 2007, factories closed after the start of the Israeli-Egyptian siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, which included the almost full closure of all crossings which allowed movement in and out of the enclave.
According to The Times of Israel, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether it was aware of Unipal 2000’s shipments of masks and protective gear to Israel.
However, Bawab said Israeli authorities, who maintain significant restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, had been cooperating effectively with his company regarding exporting masks and protective gear to Israel.
“When it comes to health issues, they work with us,” he added.
Palestinian police officers wear masks to protect themselves from coronavirus as they stand guard in Bethlehem, West Bank on 5 March 2020
The head of the Palestinian Foreign Minister’s Office, Dr. Ahmed Al-Deek, has called on Palestinians stranded abroad and students wishing to return to Palestine to stay in their host countries and take care of their health until new instructions are issued to them.
Dr. Al-Deek said the ministry has opened thousands of communication channels with Palestinian communities around the world as well as students studying abroad, checked on their health and safety and urged them to comply with health instructions issued by the host countries regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
The Palestinian official explained that the ministry has been able to return a number of Palestinian students to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including Jerusalem after coordinating with Jordan, Egypt and the host countries.
However, he noted that after the preventive measures taken by Jordan to confront the coronavirus spread, including the closure of its airport and border crossings, the ministry has asked all students and community members abroad to stay where they are.
Israeli soldiers, on Friday morning, in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, reportedly spat on Palestinian-owned vehicles and property in a Hebron suburb, according to a local official.
In video footage, shown on social media, Israeli soldiers were seen spitting on Palestinian vehicles, which were parked in an industrial zone, located in Area C, where Israeli authorities maintain full control.
Mayor of Hebron city, Tayseer Abu Snaina, told local media outlets that the soldiers’ footage was circulated among local residents on social media and that some of those residents, shared the video with the Hebron’s municipality itself.
According to Abu Snaina, the Israeli army frequently invades Palestinian-populated neighborhoods located in Area C, as classified by the 1993/1995 Oslo peace accords between Israel and Palestine.
Despite the necessary precautions to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus, Israeli soldiers appear unconcerned with the potential spread of the virus among Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Friday, called on the international community to provide protection for the Palestinian people, amidst growing concerns over the widely-spread Coronavirus worldwide, including the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel.
The call came in response to a recent series of attacks, carried out by colonial Israeli settlers, against Palestinian-owned property in different parts of the occupied West Bank.
In a statement, issued Friday, the ministry pointed out that such stepped up attacks are being carried out with full protection by the Israeli occupation army and other Israeli intelligence services.
The statement noted that all the locations, from which the colonial armed settlers unleash their attacks on the Palestinian population, are well-known to the Israeli military and the intelligence apparatus.
“The spread of Coronavirus, across Israel, has not helped the Israeli military establishment reconsider it’s preventive measures to prevent occurrence of settlers’ attacks on Palestinian residents and their properties”, the statement further read.
The ministry explained that at this time Israel should be making sure that their ‘illegal’ colonial settlers do not attack Palestinians, as the Palestinian Authority has been engaged recently in curbing the Coronavirus, with dozens of cases discovered in some Palestinian cities and towns that are adjacent to colonial Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israel turns a blind eye to those attacks.
It also called on all concerned international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to promptly send aid to the Palestinian people, in order to battle the Coronavirus.
A part of the appeal by the Foreign Ministry was to other legal international bodies, in a way that would curb provocative and harmful actions, carried out by colonial Israeli settlers.
Friday’s statement comes within the context of a series of attacks by colonial Israeli settlers, the latest of which were reported in the city of Tubas, where settlers attacked farmers, obstructing their daily works, while in Hebron, Israeli soldiers reportedly spit on Palestinian-owned vehicles.
Israeli forces, on Thursday, demolished a farming shed and a water well in Deir Ballut town, west of Salfit city, according to a local official.
Governor of Salfit, Abdallah Kmeil told Palestinian WAFA News Agency that Israeli forces escorted a bulldozer into Wadi Sarida area, where the heavy machinery tore down a farming shed and a water well belonging to Aziz Yusef Abdullah, a villager.
Kmeil noted that Israeli forces were exploiting the lockdown enforced on the occupied territories over the spread of coronavirus, to secure the implementation of the seizure of more Palestinian land.
Also today, the Israeli military confiscated tents, building equipment and demolished a farming shack in the Jordan Valley.
Occupied Jordan Valley (QNN)- Israeli bulldozers Thursday demolished three residential structures in al-Dyouk village in occupied Jericho
WAFA stated that Israeli bulldozers and forces stormed the village and demolished houses, belonging to the citizens Mu’ayyad Abu Ubaida, Thaer Sharif, and Yaser Olayyan.
It added that each structure is nearly 120 square meters.
In the same vein, Israeli forces on Thursday as well confiscated poles and sheeting that were meant to form eight tents, two for a field clinic, and four for emergency housing for residents evacuated from their homes, and two as makeshift mosques in the Palestinian community of Khirbet Ibziq in the northern Jordan Valley, according to B’Tselem.
The Israelis also confiscated a tin shack in place for more than two years, as well as a power generator and sacks of sand and cement. Four pallets of cinder blocks intended for the tent floors were taken away and four others demolished.
Israeli B’Tselem added that “as the whole world battles an unprecedented and paralyzing healthcare crisis, Israel’s military is devoting time and resources to harassing the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank, that Israel has attempted to drive out of the area for decades.”
It was around 11 am when people at the Beit Sira checkpoint, near Nablus, began to gather around the 29-year-old Malik Ghanem. Coughing, with fever and unable to stand, the young Palestinian was left there by the occupation police, who had brought him all the way from his workplace in Tel Aviv. “I got very tired, earlier at work” recalls Ghanem, “my Israelí employer refused to take me to the hospital, so I had to pay 400 shekels for an ambulance. After a quick check at the entrance, I was taken by the police to the checkpoint”.
Ghanem was suspected to be infected with COVID-19, so the occupation authorities suspended his work permit. “The occupation police officers told me, as they pushed me away from their vehicle at the checkpoint, that there was no place for me in any quarantine center in Israel”, tells Ghanem, who was later found not to be infected by a coronavirus, but rather having regular flu that augmented his chronic suffering of a liver problem.
The face of a crippled statehood
In the last weeks, Palestine has unusually made it to the media reports as an independent country, but not for the right reasons. In the midst of the world’s attention turned to the spread of coronavirus, Palestine has been identified for the number of infection cases in the Palestinian Authority territories (84 at the moment of writing this article). Palestine has also been reported in various media outlets as having taken strict measures against the pandemic. The director of the local WHO office, Dr. Gerald Rockenschaub, even congratulated the Palestinian government, in a public video, for its performance in facing the spread of the new disease. However, this coverage of Palestine through the coronavirus crisis hides a reality that looks very different.
The Palestinian government has ordered to close shops, suspend all classes and limited movement out of the country through the bridge crossing point to Jordan, the only exit for Palestinians in the West Bank. Eventually, it even decreed a general curfew last Sunday, in all Palestinian cities. The first curfew in all of Palestine’s history not to be imposed by an occupation authority.
However, despite all these measures and all this display of the characteristics of a state in action, the Palestinian government doesn’t have the means to face the crisis independently from the occupation state. Palestine has no control over its own borders, neither it does over movement between its cities and towns, or even over the capacities of its own health system. The Israelí occupation does.
The case of Malk Ghanem sheds light on one of the most obvious aspects of this dependency. Like Ghanbem, over 200.000 Palestinian workers, cross daily to the other of the green line and back. Like him they are all vulnerable to infection and like him, they are completely unprotected and exposed to be left at a checkpoint, without providing necessary care.
Muhannad Mansour, 26 years old, is one of them. Mansour and his mother work at an Israeli restaurant in Western Jerusalem as kitchen staff; “We are paid per hour” he explains, “when we don’t show up, we’re not paid”.
Until last week, Mansour went regularly to his work in Jerusalem. Then, after the coronavirus disease started spreading among Israelis, the occupation authorities limited work permits only to workers under 50 years old. Eventually, the occupation authorities made it compulsory for those who do cross into the 1948 territories to stay and sleep at their workplace. Only then, did Mansour and his mother stop going to work. “We have to take care of my younger siblings and I have another job in Ramallah. Sleeping at work is just not a choice”.
But for many others, it is the only choice. Mansour’s uncle, Jeries Kawaneh, works as a guard in a hotel in East Jerusalem, which is also isolated from the West Bank. He, on the other hand, preferred to stay at work indefinitely. His wife Hunaida says that “his work in Jerusalem is our only source of income. This is why he regularly stays for several days there. The difference now is that we don’t know when he is going to be able to come home”.
Nasser Damaj, spokesperson of the General Union of Palestine’s Workers explains that “there is simply no possible way to examine every single worker”. Damaj clarifies that “the Palestinian authority can not ask the workers not to go to work across the green line, because most of them have no alternative”. In fact, the first Palestinian to die from coronavirus, last Thursday. Was a woman in her fifties who got the virus from her son, who got it while working on the other side of the green line. As Damaj puts it “The structural dependency of the Palestinian economy makes this particular phenomenon inevitable. It is a small reflection of a larger reality; The occupation makes Palestine in general vulnerable and at the mercy of Israelí measures”.
This vulnerability is complemented by the occupation’s segregation regime. For instance, Jeries Kawaneh, who has been sleeping at his workplace, has been examined once by the Israeli health authorities, who have conducted general checkings on workplaces and was found not to be infected. But in case he was infected, he would have suffered the same fate as Malik Ghanem, being left at some checkpoint without any medical care.
This is because Kawaneh and Ghanem, just like all the Palestinian workers inside the green line, are not covered by the Israelí health insurance, unlike Israelí workers. If they are transferred to an Israelí hospital, they would have to pay for their treatment, unless their employer does, which is totally optional.
Damaj highlights that “Israelí workers all contribute with a percentage of their salaries to a health fund, from which Palestinian workers can not benefit”. This makes hiring Palestinians altogether less expensive and less risky. According to Damaj, “A Palestinian worker receives, on average, 30% of what an Israeli worker is paid”. Despite these conditions, for many Palestinian workers, taking the risk of working inside the green line is the only way of making a living for their families. “We fear that some workers would prefer not to report themselves to the Palestinian health authorities, if they feel sick, by fear of losing their jobs across the green line”, points out Nasser Damaj.
In normal times, when a Palestinian in an Israeli working place needs emergency treatment, or when any Palestinian needs advanced medical treatment, unavailable in Palestinian hospitals, the Palestinian health ministry would request a transfer to Israelí hospitals. This means that the occupation army would issue a special passing permit for the patient and the Palestinian health insurance would have to pay the Israeli hospital.
Dr, Nabil Zawahra from the Palestinian health ministry explains that “such transfers are impossible currently because the Israeli health system is focused on facing the coronavirus spread among Israelis, which has exceeded 1900 cases. There is no possible way they will make room for Palestinian patients”.
Dr. Zawahrah points out, however, that for several months, the Palestinian government has been prioritizing to make medical transfers to Jordan and reduce dependency on the Israelí system”. But even in that case, the patient needs approval from the occupation authorities, who control borders, to travel for treatment.
From a wider perspective, Palestinians who live in the West Bank have fewer chances of staying protected from COVID-19 infection, especially if they depend economically on working inside the green line. They have less chances of receiving proper medical care, especially if they show symptoms while being in an Israeli workplace. Finally, if they are properly diagnosed and hospitalized within the Palestinian health system, but their conditions deteriorate to the point they need to be transferred out of Palestine for treatment, they still depend on Israelí permission.
This was the darkest face of the coronavirus crisis in Palestine, until the first nine cases of infection were confirmed, last week, in the Gaza Strip. Now the disease is threatening to expand among 2 million Palestinians, trapped in one of the most densely populated places on earth, with less than 15 hospitals on their disposal, largely lacking medicine and equipment due to the Israeli blockade and not allowed to leave.
These conditions make an eventual scenario of a generalized epidemic simply catastrophic, which has pushed the Palestinian authority to take drastic measures in order to prevent the spread of the virus. In the view of the initial success of these measures in containing the disease, the Israeli government has released 120 million shekels to the Palestinian authority. It is the Palestinian customs money that Israel has retained for months. This highlights even further the Palestinian dependency on the occupying power, which considers the Palestinian authority to have a role of contention, for the sake of maintaining stability. Never allowing it to grow independent enough to provide its citizens with alternatives to the Israelí health services, Israeli jobs and Israeli control in general.
A Palestinian security man stands outside Angel Hotel in Beit Jala, where the suspected cases are quarantined, 5 March 2020
Jerusalem (QNN) – The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has decided to shut down its health center in the village of Biddu, northwest of Jerusalem, as a precautionary measure to track confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the village who apparently had visited the center.
UNRWA said in a press release that its health center in Biddu, where a woman in her 60s died yesterday after she tested positive for the virus and 15 infected cases were confirmed, would be closed down as part of the process of tracking confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the town in line with the Palestinian Health Ministry’s instructions.
The UN agency went on to elaborate that after confirming that some of those who visited the center tested positive for the virus, it has instructed its staff to enter self-quarantine until their samples are tested, which would take several days.
It expressed its hopes that the health center would be open as soon as possible after the test results are obtained and the whole building is sprayed with disinfectants. In contrast, all other 14 UNRWA-run health centers in Ramallah and other West Bank districts would continue to operate normally.
Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank Gwyn Lewis said that the UN agency has taken this step as a precautionary measure to protect the patients and staff, and stressed that from the outset of the outbreak of the pandemic, UNRWA staff have taken precautions against contagion, including maintaining social distancing and wearing protective gear.
She urged other patients who recently visited the health center in Biddo to follow the Health Ministry’s recommendations and call the Ministry’s hotline should they have any relevant concerns.
The UNRWA-run health center in Biddo provides primary health care services to over 2,400 patients every month, with the majority of patients coming from Beit Surik and Biddu besides to the cluster of Palestinian villages, east of Ramallah. The center also provides preventive health and treatment services, including laboratory diagnosis, maternal and child health services, physiotherapy and psychological counseling services.
Israeli settlers attacked today Palestinian herders and other civilians in the village of Al-Tuwani, south of the city of Hebron in the West Bank, according to a local activist.
Fo’ad Amour, a local rights activist, told that settlers accompanied by attack dogs assaulted herders in the village and injured one of them in his abdomen and hand. He was moved to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.
Israeli settlers are notorious for their attacks on Palestinians, but assaults on Palestinian farmers and herders have been frequent over the past few months.
Armed settlers and soldiers often prevent Palestinian shepherds from herding in the open pastures of the occupied West Bank in order to force them to abandon the area.
At least six one Palestinian man was injured by Israeli occupation forces today during the weekly protest against Israeli settlement construction, which takes place every week in the village of Kafr Qaddum in the occupied West Bank, local sources said.
Morad Shtewi, coordinator of the popular resistance in the village, told that Israeli soldiers attacked the protesters by rubber-coated rounds and teargas, injuring a 50-year-old man and causing many cases of suffocation from gas inhalation. The man injured was treated at the scene.
For years, villagers from Kafr Qaddum and neighboring villages have been protesting every Friday against illegal Israeli settlements, and to call on Israeli authorities to reopen the village’s main road, which has been sealed off by the occupation authorities since 2002.