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It is an ordinary morning: I’m on my way from Jerusalem, where I live, to the centre of Ramallah in the West Bank. Shops are still closed at this early hour. Five Israeli vehicles are rolling in the opposite direction, heading to their military base in Qalandia after all-night raids aiming to arrest someone in Ramallah. A few passersby wearing masks, covering their chins rather than their mouths and noses, are still looking sleepy; cars are slowly emerging.
On my way from Jerusalem to Ramallah, I passed through Qalandia checkpoint. In normal circumstances, without occupation or checkpoints, the journey should take less than 15 minutes. Yet it takes me at least an hour and 15 minutes every day. After I reach Ramallah, I will go on to Nablus, further north, to conduct a workshop with a group of women discussing their daily needs during the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic has been raging for a year; it seems that it may never end on the Palestinian side.
Hundreds of Palestinian workers are travelling in the opposite direction, from Ramallah to Jerusalem, through the same checkpoint. They go every day to work in Israeli factories holding temporary permits. Despite the frequent restrictions imposed on movement and life in Israel during the pandemic, these permits are always granted, as the factories need cheap Palestinian labour.
Although the lockdown is still in place in Palestinian Territories and gatherings are officially banned, it seems that these restrictions go relatively unenforced.
Living in Jerusalem, married to a Jerusalemite, I have already had my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and am awaiting the second. This provides me with advantages and some sense of security, unlike the women I meet in Nablus, who are still at great risk of catching the virus.
Statistics show that from the start of the pandemic to September, the second-highest source of infection cases here were among Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements, or people who had been in contact with them. They kept working during the pandemic regardless of lockdowns. They are unable to stop working voluntarily because the Palestinian economic system, which is already paralysed, has further deteriorated since the outbreak. Palestinians have no control over their imports and exports, financial and human resources, or borders. We are at the mercy of what happens around us.
Israel has paved the way for Ramallah to be Palestine’s potential capital. It has allowed the building of state institutions while showing on several occasions that it can destroy them whenever it wishes, or steal their files or arrest their employees. It has also allowed the formation of a Palestinian Authority with ministries that provide daily services for their citizens. However, the lowest-ranking Israeli soldier on a checkpoint can stop the convoy of the authority’s prime minister and prevent him from travelling abroad.
Israel allows an infant from Gaza to travel for a surgery at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, where medical resources are available – at the same time, it prevents their family members from accompanying them on this journey. It also has the power to prevent Palestinians from entering Palestinian Territories, even though they were born there. Israel fully controls the salaries of Palestinian employees by withholding tax payments to the authority. Israel controls the type of food Palestinians put on their tables, the laptops they use, their electricity, water, underwear, razor blades – even the lasers they use at beauty salons.
However, despite the successful rollout of the vaccine so far in Israel, the country is not providing the vaccine for those in Palestinian Territories. In their minds, it is the authority’s responsibility to do so for its citizens. And it waits for other countries to provide the vaccine for Palestinians, happy to avoid its responsibilities as an occupying power. It has always managed to escape these responsibilities in other sectors, be it healthcare or education and security. In the same breath, it traps Palestinians, including those in the authority itself, inside huge walls, monitors them and carries out raids to arrest anyone it wants, any time it wishes.
After a year of this pandemic, we Palestinians have started to run out of options. No applicable preventive measures seem to be in place to constrain the virus, while an economic crisis rages and our businesses are being destroyed. Our health sector continues to suffer from a lack of resources.
As the day wears on I leave my meeting with the women in the Old City in Nablus with an overwhelming feeling of despair that trumps even short-term fears about the virus. Many families here have lost their sources of income and there is little sign of a solution – there is only hope and imagination left.
Translated by Majd Abu Shawish
After this article was written, Israel’s defence ministry announced it would provide 5,000 vaccine doses to immunise frontline Palestinian medical workers
Maya Abu Al-Hayat is editor of The Book of Ramallah (published by Comma Press, 4 March), and director of the Palestine Writing Workshop
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Israel holds all the cards in the West Bank – it should vaccinate everyone | Israel