‘PALESTINIANS MUST CONTAIN THE VIRUS THROUGH GREATER TESTING, QUARANTINING’

July 27, 2020, Kate Mani

“I CAN HEAR the sirens every two-three hours coming to the hospital with new patients,” said Huda Abuarquob from her Dura home, near Hebron in the West Bank.

“The situation on the ground is grim.”

Abuarquob, Regional Director for the Alliance for Middle East Peace, was one of four panellists at the online event hosted by Project Rozana and Plus61JMedia on Sunday evening, Fighting the Hidden Enemy: Palestinians and the battle against COVID-19.

Moderated by Australian, Jerusalem-based journalist, Irris Makler, the panel also included the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Office in Jerusalem, Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, and Project Rozana directors Dr Jamal Rifi AM and Ron Finkel AM, who discussed how the Australian-based not-for-profit sourced A$500,000 worth of medical equipment, including 34 ventilators, to help fight the virus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Abuarquob described how Hebron has become the West Bank’s epicentre of COVID-19 infections.

She cited Hebron’s large population, the free flow of workers and Bedouin community members travelling from Israel to the West Bank through Hebron, a lack of testing facilities in Hebron and in the Bedouin community and insufficient police resources to enforce restrictions on gatherings.

Despite receiving initial praise for its COVID-19 response, Abuarquob described how there is now growing criticism towards the Palestinian prime ministry and health ministry. She believes Hebron businessmen have put pressure on the government to allow them to reopen their businesses and that the Palestinian Authority’s inability to pay government employees’ salaries heightened frustrations.

“The government could not provide for the people who have been sitting at home with no income whatsoever, so people kind of rebelled against that” she said. “People now are literally going almost day-by-day with no food.”

The head of WHO in Jerusalem, Dr Rockenschaub, described how despite previous, successful virus collaboration between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, there are now inconsistencies in public health measures across both sides.

“The discussion and threat of annexation which eventually triggered the suspension of coordination [between Palestinians and Israelis] is posing additional challenges to bringing urgently needed humanitarian supplies,” he said.

“Deliveries of testing kits, medical equipment and personal protective equipment is delayed because it is quite cumbersome at the moment to get customs clearance.”

Dr Rockenschaub believes Palestinians must contain the virus through greater testing, tracing and quarantining and respond collaboratively with Israel.

Project Rozana’s Ron Finkel agrees COVID-19 must be addressed regionally. “If you’re an Israeli politician, epidemiologist or health professional, you cannot say ‘we’ll deal with Israel’s issues and we won’t consider what is happening in the West Bank.’ The more that they can look at it holistically, the better off everyone will be.”

Project Rozana is currently in discussions with numerous governments and will work with the WHO to coordinate ongoing fundraising and delivery of medical equipment and training.

“We’ve had affiliates in Canada, the United States of America, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom all pitching in but it takes more than just philanthropy…this is really where you bring philanthropists and government together for a combined outcome,” said Mr Finkel.

Dr Jamal Rifi discussed how Project Rozana overcame difficulties to urgently source and fund ventilators, obtain permits from Australia’s government to export equipment of national significance and transport them into the West Bank.

He described seizing the opportunity to help the Palestinian health system as a “core objective of Project Rozana.”

In Hebron, Abuarquob praised Project Rozana’s professional and coordinated approach and commitment to civil society. “Project Rozana is a global government in itself, run in a very functional way and responding in a time of crisis.”

Further campaign information and link to support here: https://www.mycause.com.au/events/projectrozana