We in the Middle East, but also you in all parts of the world are going through a difficult time. Many people are worried and frightened, no one knows what is coming and many find it difficult to judge how to behave properly. Such a situation is new and unprecedented.
On Monday this week, the Executive Directors of the Areas, together with the Central Office of the Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees (DSPR) of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) and the Chairman of the Central Committee, met for the first time via a zoom conference and exchanged information about the current status in the Areas in order to stay in touch and maintain communication among each other.
Corona Sufferers in the Areas:
1,656 persons affected in Israel
267 persons affected in Lebanon
127 persons affected in Jordan
57 persons affected in the West Bank
2 persons affected in Gaza
Total Cases/1 million population:
167 cases/million in Israel
39 cases/million in Lebanon
12 cases/million in Jordan
12 cases/million in Palestine
In all the regions where DSPR/MECC works, there is total closure except for vital and necessary services to fight the virus. Measures are put in place to ensure responsiveness to those in need for groceries, medical attention other than infection, and procurement of medications.
In Jordan there is a curfew that does not allow anyone to leave home. A system has been put in place to enable bread, water and medicine to reach homes thus lowering the necessity for people to be out of their domiciles. In Palestine, the government is making sure that no one would travel from one area to another and all are expected to say home. In Lebanon, the government has declared a medical emergency and ordered all to stay home. In Israel, stringent measures have been introduced that would minimize the movement of people out of their homes. Practically all of DSPR/MECC staff are working from home. DSPR Central Office staff started working from Home on Monday, March 16th. DSPR-Gaza has closed all training centers; teachers are on annual paid leave, renewable every week. The DSPR health clinics in Gaza continue to operate under special hygiene regulations that are intended to minimize contact between the general clinics and clinics frequented by visitors for antenatal and well baby purposes. The main office in Gaza continues its operations with extra safety precautions taken. Citizens in Gaza are concerned that the virus will spread rapidly, due to the population density with 2 million Palestinians in the 212 square mile area.
In Lebanon, particularly because of the already very difficult economic situation, the Coronavirus was first taken lightly and treated like a normal flu. In the centers of DSPR-Lebanon, people were asked not to kiss and not to hug. Disinfectant was used, but more jokingly than anyone worried. Due to the emergency all were ordered to work from home; our centers had to close; the Palestinian Civil Defense operating in the camps undertook to fumigate the streets and squares of each of the camps, including Dbayeh Refugee Camp which is some distance out of Beirut.
With Syria closing its borders with Lebanon, as a containment measure, our Syrian students who are getting their lessons online may not be able to complete their exams, planned for Damascus. The worry, like in the other countries hit by the virus, is that those daily paid and temporary workers will lose their source of income. Many families will experience dire circumstances where there is no food on their tables. Already in Jordan and Palestine, thousands of families are found in this predicament and some NGOs, public and private agencies have started chipping in so that the minimal living requirements for these families are met. In Israel, DSPR is also aware of the impact of the situation on Arab families, particularly the poor and the marginalized, throughout Galilee.
Full closure between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been in place for some days now. Fifty thousand Palestinian laborers are actually staying for two months in Israel, based on commitment by their employees, mostly big companies in the construction sector, to provide them with living arrangements. Some media reports speak of the conditions for these workers that are below the minimum in terms of sleeping arrangements, hygiene and food preparation facilities. The Palestinian laborers were allowed in, and even encouraged to stay in Israel not out of love but to avoid the collapse of the construction market in Israel.
DSPR/MECC is taking part in a global appeal that will be launched by Act Alliance. The worry, as mentioned above, is for the families that would be left without cash for the minimum necessities. All governments in the region keep assuring the citizens that there are enough food supplies to go around. The question for us and for others is simply what about those hapless families that will find nothing on their tables to feed their children and to care for their basic necessities?
Partners worldwide had exchanged messages with each other. With our faith in the mercy of Our Lord and with the tireless efforts of medical, scientific and others working either to confront the virus head on or to develop a vaccine or medication that would check it, we are confident that we will overcome. Our friends and partners in Kerk in Actie Netherlands have shared with us the following prayer by the United Church of Canada:
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).