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The Coronavirus Crisis in East Jerusalem

Article by Maliha Zugair | March 31st

Number of Cases

There are 38 coronavirus patients in East Jerusalem. However, there is certain concern that the number is inaccurate, and that the real number of people infected is much larger, for a number of reasons:

  • Lab tests: Too little tests have been done in East Jerusalem. This could be because, A- there are no patients – an explanation that doesn’t make sense given a large number of East Jerusalem residents who work in hotels and malls, and then gather in various mosques to pray, or B- Those who have symptoms have not reported their illness.
  • Contributing to this lack of reporting could be a negative social stigma associated with the virus. The coronavirus is perceived negatively and largely due to a lack of awareness of the illness and how it spreads (especially among people of the lowest socioeconomic level).
  • When calling the national medical hotline (MADA), there are no Arabic-speaking responders; making it likely for those who do not speak Hebrew to fall between the cracks.
  • People who have disease symptoms still come to the public health clinics and may infect others (this also has to do with the lack or delay of an Arabic translation of the Ministry of Health’s guidelines on the matter).
  • The text message sent to people who are obliged to isolate themselves is sent in Hebrew – those who do not understand Hebrew simply ignore the message and continue to circulate. Other people say they have been in the same places where Corona patients were, and have not been notified at all.
  • The official translation of the guidelines into Arabic lingered, leaving room for other translation initiatives, but as far as the residents were concerned, they understood that these were true official guidelines rather late.
  • Enforcement: The police gives reports on the main roads, while the inner streets of the neighborhoods have no enforcement.
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The Healthcare System:

Hospitals, Ambulance Network & Equipment 

  • East Jerusalem has 6 hospitals: Almakassed, Augusta Victoria Hospital, Alpernassawi (St. Joseph Hospital),St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, The Jerusalem Princess Basma Center and the Red Crescent Society Hospital . A week ago, officials of the Israeli Ministry of Health, met with East Jerusalem hospital administrators and promised to help them with the escalating crisis.
  • Almakassed Hospital was assisted in preparing an emergency room for Corona patients in particular, and had an intensive training course for the hospital’s staff on how to deal with Corona cases.
  • The East Jerusalem Hospital Network has announced that only two out of the six hospitals will receive Corona patients (Almakassed and St. Joseph), if the number of patients exceeds the capacity of these two hospitals, the overflow will be sent to Augusta Victoria hospital. The network reported that they had set up a dedicated ward with a separate emergency room in both hospitals and had taken measures to separate Corona patients from other patients.
  • The Red Crescent Ambulance Network will be enlisted to transfer Corona patients to East Jerusalem hospitals.
  • At the same time, much equipment was reported lacking in the hospitals.

Testing and Help Lines

  • Two days ago, MADA announced the opening of additional centers for coronavirus testing, with emphasis on the Arab sector, including East Jerusalem. A focal point of the announcement stipulated that doctors and administrators at these centers will speak Arabic. Good communication between the Arab population and MADA is the first step in an effective coronavirus response plan.
  • As a first step in East Jerusalem, there is a designated hotline for the residents of Kufr Aqeb and Shuafat Refugee Camp, with Arabic speaking responders.

Unemployment and Leave of Absence:

  • Due to the large number of employees who were sent home on a leave of absence, and their difficulties in understanding their rights and the bureaucracy, the Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the Ministry of Jerusalem, led an initiative to assist East Jerusalem residents in filling out forms and submitting them to the Employment and Social Security Bureau. The volunteers who assist are the students of the Albashair program, which is a program to promote outstanding students from East Jerusalem and prepare them to enter the Hebrew University, as part of the Five Year Program for the economic development of East Jerusalem (3790).
  • The Ata’a Center led an initiative to translate the content of the forms that are required for receiving unemployment stipend due to the current condition and also prepared a video explaining in Arabic how the unemployment applications are submitted.

Volunteers and Response in the Community:

  • The “Yalla” youth movement (also a part of the economic development plan-3790), in collaboration with community centers, volunteer to distribute food for the elderly and isolated.
  • There is a communal organization التجمع المقدسي لمواجهة الكورونا The Jerusalem Anti-Corona Association, who work to raise awareness to the necessary restrictions and dangers, attend to language accessibility of all relevant information, and help to those in need

Resources for Accessing Information in Arabic:

  East Jerusalem Community Initiatives

    • A Facebook page that volunteered to translate all the materials published by the Ministry of Health.
    • A WhatsApp Group organized by The Jerusalem Intercultural Center adds people who spend time in each neighborhood and asks them to disseminate the latest Coronavirus information to their communities.

Government/Municipal Initiatives

Political Situation

  • In the two neighborhoods surrounding Jerusalem (outside the fence) – Kufr Aqeb and Shuafat Refugee Camp – there is a fear that the borders will close, bringing some people who live in these two neighborhoods to move within the fence and with their families, who are residing in inner-city neighborhoods- many with elderly parents.
  • There is activity of the Palestinian Police and Ministry of Health in Kufr Aqeb, which led to several confrontations with the population.
  • At Shuafat Refugee Camp, the Israel Border-Police has been closing non-essential businesses and explaining the instructions to people on the street.

Conclusion: Main Challenges:

    • Distrust in the system
    • Language barriers
    • Population Density
    • Intergenerational closeness
    • Negative stigmas attached to the virus
    • Poor health system in East Jerusalem

East Jerusalem – Read More

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