East Jerusalem in the times of coronavirus

דאגה במחנה שועפאט

סאם וחאלד מספרים על החשש מהתפרצות הנגיף במחנה שועפאט.אנחנו מקווים מאוד שכל הגורמים הרלבנטיים יפעלו לתת מענה לפני שחס וחלילה המצב ידרדר. הבריאות של תושבי המחנה היא הבריאות של כולנא.#נעבור_את_זה_כולנא #سنمر_ذلك_كلنا

Posted by ‎כולנא ירושלים كلنا مقدسيون Kulna Jerusalem‎ on Tuesday, March 31, 2020

“East Jerusalem is the “Bney Brak” of the Arab sector…a “black hole” of no data, no treatment, and no monitoring of COVID-19.” – These are the words of a health official, discussing East Jerusalem, with 350,000 residents -nearly 40% of the city’s population.

East Jerusalem residents complain that they’ve been severely neglected by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, each of whom wishes to pass responsibility for the health crisis in these neighborhoods onto each other. Since they are technically Jeruslem residents, but not Israeli citizens, Palestinian residents feel that they have nobody to turn to. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Magen David Adom does not usually operate in East Jerusalem, and many Health Ministry guidelines have not been translated and publicized in Arabic. Additionally, some residents of East Jerusalem report being in quarantine areas and not receiving a text message from the Health Ministry informing them and telling them to quarantine (as would be the norm for an Israeli citizen).

A Palestinian resident of Shuafat refugee camp interviewed on Thursday said: “There’s no enforcement and no tests. I heard that maybe there are two or three people here with the virus but I think maybe more…we have groups of volunteers explaining things to the people, but Magen David Adom isn’t here and neither is the Health Ministry…I hope things turn out ok, because if not there will be a huge disaster. The PA says you’re Israel, and Israel says you’re Palestinian”.

As of now, only 21 cases of Coronavirus have been detected in East Jerusalem, but the low numbers are due more to lack of testing than anything else. In Kafr Aqab and Shuafat, which lie outside of the Separation Barrier, the situation is especially dire: The overcrowding and lack of basic infrastructure makes self-quarantine and social distancing extremely challenging, and there are no checks regarding quarantine and Health Ministry guidelines.

Residents of Kufr Aqab complained of lack of medical equipment and access to water, which is crucial for maintaining hygiene practices to protect against COVID-19.  In a video posted by Kulna Yerushalayim, a non-profit dedicated to advancing coexistence in Jerusalem, two residents of the Shuafat refugee camp describe the situation as “scary” while saying that people are trying “to keep themselves safe as best they can”.

דאגה במחנה שועפאט

סאם וחאלד מספרים על החשש מהתפרצות הנגיף במחנה שועפאט.אנחנו מקווים מאוד שכל הגורמים הרלבנטיים יפעלו לתת מענה לפני שחס וחלילה המצב ידרדר. הבריאות של תושבי המחנה היא הבריאות של כולנא.

פורסם על ידי ‏כולנא ירושלים كلنا مقدسين Kulna Jerusalem‏ ב- יום שלישי, 31 במרץ 2020

A nurse at Hadassah Ein Karem who lives in East Jerusalem wrote a letter to the Health Ministry, expressing her surprise when, despite seeing Coronavirus patients from her neighborhood in her ward, she did not see any on the official Health Ministry map of Coronavirus patients. She also complained that when she is in West Jerusalem, she sees police stopping cars and people to ensure they are complying with government guidelines, but sees no similar oversight in her own neighborhood. She urged the Health Ministry to “protect all the residents, in all the areas, without differentiation based on gender or race; to implement monitoring for the sake of the health of all of us, and in order to prevent damage in other areas”.

In response to the government vaacum, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have been setting up volunteer organizations to educate the public about the virus and to encourage people to stay home and to self-quarantine if they have symptoms.

استعمال معقم إىادي

פורסם על ידי ‏כולנא ירושלים كلنا مقدسين Kulna Jerusalem‏ ב- יום שני, 23 במרץ 2020

However, instead of helping these organizations, local authorities have sometimes been hindering them: The Mukdasi Coalition Against Coronavirus worked with East Jerusalem hospitals on Coronavirus readiness, implemented simulation and training exercises for virus outbreaks, and carried out a public information campaign about the virus. On Friday, they went around disinfecting and sanitizing institutions in the Old City, but were stopped by police. Police have also been accused by residents of Issawiyah of violating Health Ministry guidelines through close contact with residents and providing obstacles to social distancing with road blocks that increase both car and pedestrian congestion.

The police also had brief, intermittent closures of checkpoints between some East Jerusalem neighborhoods and West Jerusalem over the weekend. However, these checkpoints don’t solve the dangers of letting Coronavirus go unchecked in certain neighborhoods, especially due to the integrated nature of the city’s economy; many East Jerusalemites work in West Jerusalem.  Additionally, according to Ir Amim, an advocacy group focused on Palestinian rights in Jerusalem,  such a move would enact “a humanitarian toll…these residents will be entirely disconnected from their city upon which they rely for all basic services, and it will likely lead to widespread panic and unrest during this extremely challenging time.” They also add that such a move is strongly opposed by Jerusalem’s Mayor, Moshe Leon.

Mayor Moshe Leon ordered the creation of a drive-through “check and go” COVID-19 test center in East Jerusalem that opened on Wednesday, operated jointly by Magen David Adom and the Jerusalem Municipality. 

It remains to be seen how effective the testing centers will be. In the meantime, the lack of enforcement of Health Ministry guidelines in East Jerusalem remains a public health threat to Palestinian residents, but also, to the larger public in Jerusalem.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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