Written by Dr. Bernard Sabella, Executive Secretary
Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees (DSPR) of the
Middle East Council of Churches
On the situation in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine and Israel, both governments are taking very stringent and strict measures in order to check the spread of the virus. The instructions to stay home applies to all and so far in Israel the government is not "checking" on those who are not staying at home but there are indications that they will soon. This means that anyone who leaves home for unnecessary reason will be penalized by a high fine and in certain cases, such as those who are required to stay home, could also face a trial that will land them in the hospitality of the state; i.e., prison. These measures are understood in the context. DSPR Central Office has taken the decision starting on Monday, 16th of March, to work from home. So did our colleagues in Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. Gaza remains with no recorded infection and hopefully it will continue this way, even if some doubt it.
With the new government instructions, work from home is mandatory, unless one works in health or other needed occupations. Part of the scenario is the order by the Israeli government that up to 70,000 Palestinian workers in Israel will have to stay in Israel for the next two months. This reflects the symbiotic economic and labor market situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Without these 70,000 workers the Israeli vital sectors such as health, agriculture, construction and social service, among others, will collapse. Likewise, the Palestinian government has asked these workers to choose between returning to Palestine by Friday, March 20th, or stay put in Israel for whatever length of time is required.
Jordan has clamped down on movement between cities and the capital city of Amman is virtually under full shutdown, except for vital services. The Jordan army has been called in to enforce these directives. The Lebanese government has declared a medical state of emergency and ordered almost all of the businesses to shut down. Previously all cafes, restaurants and parks were closed. In Jerusalem itself, the majority of people are staying home but some opt for unnecessary shopping and few have learnt how to hoard, like what is happening elsewhere. Some enterprising souls are starting their own home businesses by amassing needed food and other household items and then reselling them to neighbors.
DSPR is also under the impact of the situation as many of our vocational training and other courses have been either switched to distance learning, such as in Gaza or altogether put on hold, such as in Lebanon and Israel following the orders of the relevant authorities. With this Coronavirus no chances can be taken; it is our obligation to stand firm in the way of its spread across population groups.
Even though Gaza so far has been free of the infection, as I have mentioned above, yet all eyes are on Gaza for fear that the virus will eventually catch up with the population. Citizens in Gaza are worried that in this eventuality disaster will struck due to the population density with 2 million Palestinians in the 212 square mile territory. Our Gaza colleague Dr. Issa sounds optimistic and we pray that his optimism will hold.
In Bethlehem where cases were discovered on Thursday, March 5th, the Palestinian government imposed a lock-down which apparently is working as the number of infected people did not go over 40 within the first two weeks. Movement between the different localities in Palestine is restricted and the Palestinian police are doing an excellent job in enforcing this restriction. While early on there were complaints on how the Palestinians have dealt with the infected cases and the Coronavirus crisis in general, the measures taken by the Palestinian government and the improvements in treatment won praise from the infected themselves.
Some of the infected in Bethlehem, risked others, as a couple of them moved around or other young men visited with them. This was followed up by the respective authorities and appropriate measures were taken. One of the lessons of the Coronavirus is that no one state or country can fight it independently; efforts need to be pooled and togetherness and learning from each other is essential.
We keep track as citizens and as DSPR with what is going on. With our determination to be part of the effort to win the day against Coronavirus, we also do resort to prayer with the hope that the Almighty will help all of us to overcome.
The updated statistics on infected cases are as follows: Israel 529 with 96 new cases for the last 24 hours; Lebanon 139 cases with 6 new in the last 24 hours and 4 deaths; Jordan 56 cases; Palestine 47 cases with 3 new cases in the last 24 hours.
Our friends and partners in Kerk in Actie Netherlands have shared with us the following prayer by the United Church of Canada:
God, Help us to reach out with our hearts when we can’t touch with our hands
Help us to be socially connected when we have to be socially distant
Help us to love as perfectly as we can knowing that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4: 18).
With Coronavirus, there is no color, nationality, religion or locality as we are all in the same boat. Hopefully we will indeed overcome.
Stay safe wherever you are!