“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”
Writer: Oday Abukarsh
Perhaps I am one of the strongest believers in the existence of the Coronavirus as well as one of the most cautious when it comes to following safety protocols and preventative measures. I have expressed my concerns regarding the effects of this virus countless times, not only its threat on my life but also on the lives of my loved ones – or that I would at least be the reason for their suffering.
I praised the government’s action during the first quarantine (the first fourteen days), in which the government dodged the virus. As we remained hopeful that the world would find a solution, the government led the way for us to escape the virus, even with the weakness in its capabilities. This was the path for most of the world, Palestine being one of the first to follow through and beat it.
With these measures, the public’s confidence and trust in the government and state bodies was at its all-time high and continued to escalate as they remained transparent and facilitated the flow of information to the Palestinian citizens through daily press briefings. The announcement of the cease in press briefings was the first signal to the public that we have reached the end of our battle with the virus, despite the fact that all the warnings and precautionary measures were still in place. It is well known that the human being learns most effectively from receiving direct and explicit instructions and observing, rather than hearsay.
The success during this period became a safe space for the decision maker, in which he wanted to repeat the same policies and procedures when the second wave of cases hit, despite the floods of variables and changing circumstances that necessitated new policies. These policies and procedures were no longer viable under the new social, economic, and political context and did not respond to the needs of the people. The government could no longer provide options to its people in the form of “either this, or that”, in which many other countries could relate.
Perhaps the increasing social and economic pressures, in addition to the political changes and the accompanying confusion prevents us from adopting easy and direct answers and adequate solutions for the public. Here a question arises: How can we produce culturally informed public policies, under current and normal circumstances? I believe that there are three cultural dimensions which must be examined in depth in order for cultural values to be reflected into public policies:
First: The Level of Uncertainty Avoidance
Just as so many other people around the world, Palestinians have denied the existence of the pandemic and many conspiratorial assumptions have emerged in the people’s minds, questioning the origin of the Coronavirus and denying the extent of its impact and its consequences. As a community we share with an expanded group of peoples a tendency to avoid uncertainties, fueled by the values of our deep culture – especially our belief in the inevitability of destiny. We would find that the decision-makers must think deeply about raising the awareness of the people and the importance of doing so in non-traditional ways.
The Palestinian decision-maker must find coordination mechanisms for competent national actors to lead collective efforts in enhancing the collective awareness and increasing social mobilization, rather than individual initiatives. Here, it is necessary to find a coordinating mechanism between the Ministries of Education, Culture, and Media as well as civil society organizations to lead this path. It is also imperative to employ religious institutions (churches and mosques) with their leaders to play a role in the awareness-raising process, in coordination with the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs to contribute to reducing levels of uncertainty in society.
Perhaps here I recall what the Prime Minister did in his first appearance on Palestine TV, following the announcement of the state of emergency. It was a dim setting, an incomplete uniform and skipping the formal introductions, shocking the public with the seriousness of the situation. It provided a definitive answer that the virus was indeed present amongst us, which made them immediately follow the policies and procedures set in place.
Second: Power Distance
Palestinian society tends to place power in specific hands, and with the current sickness in the democratic process, it has become more compelled to exercise this dimension. The other side of holding this power is that society also tends to hold those hands fully responsible for their fate and all the decisions that were made during this time that affects their lives.
Aware of this dimension and its impact on human behavior, the decision-makers had to work hard to maximize the role of local government units, in coordination with the Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Interior Affairs. These institutions were assigned with the greatest degree of control over their communities within their regions. By prescribing these institutions with legitimate power, the democratic process did not stop, even recently, countering the social patterns and structures that limit power, which reduces uncertainties.
In this way, the decision-maker also has greater jurisdiction over the state land, in all its classifications (A, B, C), with an increased ability to strengthen its mandate over the regions that are under annexation threat from the occupation. At the same time, the decision maker is able to achieve the highest possible level of services to the Palestinian public, limiting people’s reactions toward organizations, political parties, and other national actors that would question their effectiveness, especially with regard to the flow of aid to the people. It’s important to mention here that currently, in the local communities, every political party, organization and group is initiating its own campaign, which creates a huge overlap in possibilities and places them in a situation of receiving antagonistic reactions from the people.
Third: Individualism and Collectivism
Palestinian society is characterized by collectivism, and perhaps the most important point to be drawn in this dimension is that interference at the individual level will have a limited effect. We know that Palestinian society in general is organized into several groups, whether political, social, unions or other civic voluntary groups. It is necessary for state bodies to prepare power holder groups’ maps, and to maximize their use in enforcing the state’s interventions in a manner that does not contradict the concept of a civic state, where political parties and grassroots civil society organizations, particularly unions and their regional branches, are the impact groups that have a civic vision to be put in coordination frameworks related to decision-making at local and national levels.
The coordination mechanisms referred to are only examples to demonstrate the level of coordination that was / is still obligatory for us to follow. It is evident that stable countries simply take decisions for the abundance of support capabilities, in addition to the fact that they have enough funds to meet the needs of their citizens as well as social security systems. As for us Palestinians, we are prohibited from the simple decision, and it is our duty to think deeply about each decision in light of a clear national vision.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.