SEATTLE, Washington — The State of Palestine ended a nearly three-month-long state of emergency on May 25. Government offices, banks, shops and public transportation reopened, with adherence to specific regulations, according to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs situation report. All reopened locations are to enforce social distancing, face masks and sanitation procedures. As of June 6, there are 643 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palestine, with 532 recoveries and five recorded deaths.
Defying the Odds
Palestine is divided into two territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which are not connected by land. The split territories, along with Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the 2007 blockade of Gaza, raised several challenges for Palestine’s COVID-19 response.
The U.N. estimated that 53% of Palestinians in Gaza live in poverty—a figure that is expected to increase by 11% this year. The World Bank predicted poverty in the West Bank would also increase by 30% due to the pandemic. However, more than 80% of COVID-19 cases in Palestine are in recovery, according to Palestine’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The Palestinian Government’s Response
Palestinian authorities aimed to focus their COVID-19 response in five areas: preparation, containment and suppression, public health outreach, transparency measures and regional coordination. The plan established testing and quarantine procedures, such as placing travelers into a two-week government quarantine and requiring symptomatic and COVID-19 positive patients to be monitored in government hospitals. Each governorate in the country also has its own contact and trace units. Additionally, the Palestinian government began a national communications campaign that updates its citizens on COVID-19 matters through news and social media platforms. The campaign created a COVID-19 tracking dashboard and focused on dispelling misinformation from the internet. It also established two daily briefings to give citizens updates and guidelines related to COVID-19 in Palestine.
Following this five-tiered plan, the Palestinian government closed all schools, universities and parks in March. Citizens were also asked to stay home, except for going out to pharmacies and grocery stores. All borders were closed and no movement between West Bank governorates was allowed.
Palestine, We Care
“Palestine, We Care” is a COVID-19 relief trust led by Rebuilding Alliance, a nonprofit organization focused on rebuilding war-torn communities. The U.S. cut back on aid for Palestinian health care, which has further strained the capacity of medical services in Gaza and the West Bank. As Palestine lacks an adequate amount of COVID-19 testing, Rebuilding Alliance estimates that the number of positive cases could be understated.
As a result, Rebuilding Alliance partnered with two non-governmental organization hospitals, Ahli Arab Hospital and Al Awda Hospital, to provide protective and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) equipment. The project has also provided soap and food to families by partnering with many Palestinian groups in Gaza and the West Bank. Additionally, factories in Gaza began to produce masks and protective gear, which has helped provide jobs.
“When the U.S. government cut funding from healthcare, food aid and education in Gaza, few American NGOs remained in Gaza,” states Rebuilding Alliance in their platform. “Our work to keep healthcare workers safe and help Palestinian families in need get by is re-establishing the trust and understanding that build justice and peace.”
Despite the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian government and nonprofit groups have defied the odds to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Palestine. However, with further funding and support, Palestinian can increase their COVID-19 relief efforts and sustain the effects of the global pandemic.
– Grethel Aguila