As part of the Open Wave programme, “A Unified Society amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic Crisis,” REFORM, in cooperation with the Palestinian Ministry of Labor and the Civil Coalition for the Promotion of Civil Peace and the Rule of Law, gathered experts in this field to discuss and raise awareness on the impact of Covid-19 on the various sectors in Palestine, as well as to provide guidance to the workers returning from the Green Line during this crisis.
This radio episode was aired on Tuesday, 07.04.2020, and broadcasted on Al-Rabaa Radio Network in Hebron, Raya FM in Ramallah, Hawa Nablus in Nablus, and Radio Al-Shaab in the Gaza Strip.
Dr. Nasri Abu Jaish, Palestinian Minister of Labor:
- The number of Palestinian laborers inside the Green Line exceeds 200,000, of whom 92,700 are formal workers and 50,000 are informal. The rest are workers who receive trade permits through the Chambers of Commerce, in addition to workers employed inside Israeli settlements. 85% of workers within the Green Line fully commit to the Palestinian government’s preventive measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr. Rami Nasr El-Din, Jerusalem Assembly to Combat the Coronavirus:
- The Jerusalem Assembly encompasses 81 politically and socially diverse institutions, and primarily focuses its work on four concepts: public awareness, unification of discourse to limit the spread of rumors, sterilization and quarantine. Israel’s priority is to provide health care only to Israelis. There are only 3 Arab hospitals with a maximum capacity of 60 cases. In the absence of a Palestinian law enforcement authority, the Assembly works to provide security through neighborhood committees.
Mr. Ahmed Abu Hawli, Head of the Refugee Affairs Department:
- The US aid cut to UNRWA, estimated at about $ 365 million, has drastically affected the provision of services to Palestinian refugees. He added that they are currently contacting countries that host Palestinian refugees to explore sources of funds to assist the UNRWA and respond to the needs of refugees. To that end, and in coordination with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, an emergency meeting is to be held with the Kingdom of Sweden and the Agency’s Commissioner-General to unfold new horizons to raise $14 million by April 15th. There are only 2 cases recorded in Tulkarem and Qalandiya camp, while the other refugee camps are safe until now. Mr. Ahmed thanked the UNRWA for their efforts in the refugee camps in light of this crisis, and made an appeal to the new Commissioner-General of UNRWA to take decisions in support and response to the needs of the refugees.
Mr. Mohammad Abu Surur, member of the Popular Committee for Aida Camp:
- Abu Surur emphasized the importance of the commitment of the camp’s residents to remain under quarantine and appealed to the relevant authorities to support Aida camp and provide the urgent needs of the residents to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr. Omar Shaban, General Manager of Pal-Think for Strategic Studies Organization in the Gaza Strip:
- The number of workers from the Gaza Strip working within the Green Line is about 5,500, most of whom returned, with the rest anticipated to return soon. Another challenge is that 200-300 Palestinians are stuck on the Egyptian side in Al-Arish and Cairo, as a result of the closure of the Rafah crossing. They are expected to return during the next two weeks. A 500-room building has been designated as a quarantine facility near the Rafah crossing and another with the same capacity near the Erez crossing.
- The situation in the Gaza Strip is still under control, but there is great fear of the spreading of the Coronavirus due to the presence of 8 densely populated camps and dozens of crowded neighborhoods – areas designated for each individual is not more than 20 cm in the Gaza Strip. There are between 7,000 to 8,000 workers in the catering sector who have stopped working as a result of this virus, not to mention the poverty rate of about 75%.
Mr. Walid Al-Bayed, Director General of the Ramallah and Al-Bireh Directorate of Employment:
- The Israeli checkpoints in all Palestinian governorates have been closed by the Israeli side, lowering the probability of the return of workers, especially after Israel’s decision to grant overnight permits to thousands of workers. There are a number of workers who head to the southern bypass exits in an attempt to escape the emergency committees.
Mr. Muharram Al-Barghouthi, Director General of the Youth Union:
- Al-Barghouthi discussed the necessity of preserving the values of the Palestinian society that relate to solidarity among the Palestinian people in order to combat the Coronavirus. He added, Palestinian values still exist, and this is evident from the committees that are distributed in the region to promote solidarity, as well as the volunteers who are sent by municipalities and civil society institutions.
Muhammad Shalaldeh, Director General of the Hebron Governorate Labor Directorate:
- A group of citizens and contractors who tried to smuggle workers back to their workplace, inside the Green Line, were arrested.
Rami Mehdawi, Director of General Administration for Employment at the Ministry of Labor, Ministry’s spokesman:
- Volunteering is our human capital, as this crisis has proven that we Palestinians, as individuals, civil society, and formal institutions are ready to restore social values.The Coronavirus also has an economic impact, which requires concerted efforts to reduce the expected unemployment rate after the crisis. Mr. Mehdawi also discussed the necessity of promoting the role of grassroots institutions and organizations in villages and remote areas, through voluntary work, coaching and support, as well as the necessity for workers and employers to go to the complaints department at the Ministry of Labor in the event of non-compliance by other parties.
Mrs. Sana Assi, Gender Program Officer, UNFPA:
- There is an increased burden on women, as a result of the new tasks imposed on them, such as home-schooling their children and dealing with the challenges that men in their family are encountering, especially after losing their work. 70% of the women in the world work in the services sector, especially health and social services. This pandemic is a challenge for women, specifically in the labor market, however there is hope that this challenge will contribute to enhancing the participation of Palestinian women in the labor market. Assi also noted that there is an increase in the need to provide psychosocial support remotely such as, online and to raise awareness on the issue of violence, in order to protect the dignity and safety of women.
Sabreen Abu Libdeh, Youth Activist:
- We are working on a community initiative that includes young men and women from Ramallah and Al-Bireh Governorate. This initiative, which is being conducted in coordination with the UNRWA and other concerned parties, focuses on providing medicine to people affected by the state of emergency, and delivering them to their homes.
Alaa Tomezi, Youth Activist:
- Atta’ Charity Group works to provide families, who lost their income due to the Coronavirus crisis, with food as well as to spread awareness during the return of workers from inside the Green Line.
Walaa’ Samara, Healing Specialist:
- Walaa’ Samara suggests that individuals must be active, take responsibility towards his/her society, and follow certain behaviors to reduce the state of panic and stress that may affect the immune system.
Mr. Anton Salman, Mayor of Bethlehem Municipality:
- Since the declaration of the state of emergency, we have tried to prevent workers from going to work inside the Green Line, which has contributed to the spread of Covid-19. He added that the general situation in the city of Bethlehem is under control and that he hopes it will remain stable with the imposed precautionary measures.
Mr. Hatem Al-Mahareek, Mayor of Al-Samou’ Municipality:
- The workers from south of Palestine were welcomed by volunteers to collect data and provide preliminary tests after the return of 70% of the workers.
Mrs. Aisha Hamouda, Director General of the Gender Unit in the Palestine Trade Union Confederation:
- The Union takes into account the workforce in the Palestinian market and within the Green Line and monitors violations that workers encounter.The private sector is violating the rights of workers either by forcing them to take unpaid days off or firing them.
Mrs. Areej Odeh, Chairperson of the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee (WATC):
- The role of NGOs in this crisis is mainly raising awareness and providing psychosocial support and projects for women.