BY: Reema Aburamadan
PEJOURNAL – As the citizens of the world are experiencing restrictions on movement because of COVID-19, Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank have been experiencing it for decades. Since 2006, the Gaza Strip in the Palestinian Territories has been under complete blockade, air, land, and sea. People living in Gaza have difficulties regarding travel either for seeking medical treatment, education, or even vacation.
The world finds it very difficult and, in some places, people believe that the restrictions taken because of the coronavirus are limiting their freedom. On the other hand, for people living in Gaza it is a normal habitat for them. In the West Bank, coronavirus lockdown caused economic deterioration. Palestinians living in the West Bank who work in Israel started to lose their jobs and the other half had to close their small businesses because of the lockdown.
The spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian Territories was first confirmed by the beginning of March in Bethlehem where a group of Greek tourists visited the city in late February. As the virus speeded around the West Bank cities the first couple of months, the West Bank went through a complete lockdown for two months, which included the month of Ramadan and Eid Al Fitr.
By June, 87% of the cases were recovered and the West Bank started recovering gradually. This was promising for the PA as the economy started to recover and people started to live their lives normally. However, the past month the number of cases increased dramatically; 4,874 cases were reported only in Hebron. This forced the PA to impose lockdown again, which they did for 5 days and was later extended to 9. The lockdown includes ban on crossing to different West Bank cities, ban on large gatherings, and closure of all businesses and government offices.
People are unwilling to cooperate with the PA’s decision on lockdown and bans mainly because of the financial situation and the deterioration of the economy. People are willing to put their lives at risk in order to support their families and take care of their children. Before COVID-19, the unemployment rate in the West Bank was about 25%. The workforce was divided as the following: 15% of workers are employed in civil services, 20% work in Israel, and the rest owns private businesses. Nevertheless, today after the incidents of the coronavirus, the unemployment rate rose to 40%.
The situation in Gaza is more difficult as it is under blockade from air, sea, and land. The blockade makes it hard for medicine and food to enter Gaza. The presence of short hours of electricity every day, 4-8 hours, makes it nearly impossible for hospitals to operate on full mode in times of crisis. It is known that Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth, and on the other hand, many people have lost their homes after the continuous attacks by Israel. Therefore, lock-down is not possible since many people live on the streets.
People coming back to Gaza from aboard are placed in schools, hotels, and other dormitories to quarantine for 21 days, yet the conditions are not fully acceptable where people are quarantined. Gaza’s health system is limited; there is a report issued by the UN in 2016 that states Gaza will not be a safe and healthy place to live in 2020 due to unclean water, limited access to resources, and the high unemployment rate.
Many experts believe that the number of diagnosed cases in Gaza are hard to accommodate. They believe that more than half of the people there have been diagnosed with the virus because it is such a small surface area with more than 2 million people present. Because the borders – Israeli and Egyptian – are closed it is safe to say that the cases will remain the same in Gaza as no one can get in and out in the meantime.
Similar to all countries in the world, coronavirus has affected the economic system dramatically. The economy in the Palestinian Territories is in deep crisis because of the Israeli occupation, blockade, and the updated effect, the coronavirus. Most of the Palestinian economy is dependent on Israel especially when it comes to the Palestinian workers in Israel, which are more than 150 thousand – with working permits and the ones without working permits go up to 50 thousand. The closing of borders stopped the money flow to enter Palestinian banks as workers stopped taking their salaries and many people have lost large numbers of money during the crisis.
The number of Palestinians working in Israel from Gaza is not as large and affective as it is in the West Bank. Around 5 thousand Gazans work in Israel which doesn’t contribute an effective result in the economy there. Gaza’s market is heavily dependent on imports from Turkey and China, which has stopped now because of the outbreak of the virus. The reflection of the virus on Gaza’s economy is felt among the people living there as the prices of goods and services have increased.