Lack of Security Coordination Between PA and Israel Contributes to Suspension of Drone Program
West Bank village employed modern technology to keep staff, health professionals safe
The Palestinian village of Beit Ummar in the Hebron area − the epicenter of the coronavirus in the West Bank − has found an innovative way to deliver medicine, vitamins and supplements to COVID-19 sufferers: flying them in boxes tied to drones in order to drop them on the roofs or verandas of patients’ houses.
The aim was to protect the village staff and the emergency medical teams, after almost half of the municipal employees and council members came down with the virus after helping patients with medical supplies, including the local secretary of the Fatah movement.
However, the new method is no longer used now since the epidemiological situation in the village is no longer critical, and because of fears that the Israeli authorities would confiscate the drones, which did not have the required permission in advance. Getting permission is not an option for Palestinians now, as the Palestinians Authority has cut ties with Israel since May of this year.
Nasri Sabarna, the mayor of Beit Ummar, explained that the drones, used during the critical phase of the epidemic in the last week of June and the beginning of July, helped the municipality to minimize the risks and protect staff, in addition to delivering medicines to patients who live in places that are difficult for cars to reach.
“We used the drones for about three weeks when we had about 130 [active] cases. Now, after the number of cases decreased, there’s no need to use them anymore. The number of cases is currently 30, and we are going to retest these patients again soon,” Sabarna said.
Each box of supplements and vitamins covered the families for 15 to 20 days, and more than 20 families benefited from the new service, he clarified. “The situation isn’t as dangerous now; therefore we stopped using them. It was a very creative idea from the municipal staff and I encouraged it as it filled a need,” he said.
Only those patients who agreed to receive the deliveries via drones were so served, while the municipality used traditional means for those who preferred them, Sabarna said. “But I noticed that the new method had a very positive impact on the patients; it raised the morale of the patient,” he continued.
When reached by The Media Line, the people behind the idea and other villagers declined to comment on the new practice, out of fears that it might cause them trouble with the Israeli authorities, who have prohibited the use of drones by Palestinians.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Office told The Media Line that there was no difference between Palestinians and Israelis in terms of using drones, as both need to apply for authorization to do so.
Ishaq Seder, the PA’s communication and information technology minister, stressed to The Media Line that the new method showed the solid determination of the villagers of Beit Ummar had, and that they were taking responsibility for the situation at the highest level.
“Even during the darkest times, Palestinians come up with innovative initiatives to deal with their situation,” the minister elaborated. “It reflects high creativity of thinking and planning, in addition to making the best out of what they have, despite the scarce resources and the hardships of the epidemic.”
Seder added that Beit Ummar villagers were known for their creative ideas and solid positions even in the most difficult circumstances.
Dr. Mohammed Quqash, the head of the Northern Hebron Health Directorate, told The Media Line that the new method had advantages and disadvantages in terms of the safety of medical staff and the psychological status of the patients.
“On one hand, it’s a good idea to protect the medical staff and minimize the risk of infections,” he said. “But some patients might feel as if they are stigmatized because people are avoiding them and try not to interact with them, which reflects negatively on the mental health of some of these patients.”
Quqash pointed out that the Health Ministry had equipped staff with all safety measures to deal with the coronavirus cases in the Hebron city area, which makes a good impression on the patients. “When patients are visited by the staff to check on them, it gives them a positive push, unlike when contacting them through robots or loudspeakers,” he said.
Mufeeda Abu Ayash, a resident of Beit Ummar, told The Media Line that the idea was excellent and very helpful, as it protected the medical staff and prevented further infections. “It helped the village when the pandemic spread widely, especially when people started dying. This caused a state of panic and definitely the new way helped the municipality control that panic and deal with the situation.”
Samira Awad, a Beit Ummar resident whose relatives were infected with the coronavirus, told The Media Line that when the municipality used the drones, it helped those who were infected, especially the patients who were not able to leave their homes. “It was a great help to them and they felt like they weren’t alone in this crisis. But most importantly, when residents saw the municipality deploying such methods, they understood the seriousness of the virus and somehow started acting differently.”
The Hebron district has had more than 7,000 people infected with COVID-19, accounting for about 80% of the cases in the West Bank, with 64 deaths and more than 3,000 recoveries so far. Currently, there are over 3,500 active cases in the district, including 30 in Beit Ummar, which is home to more than 19,000 Palestinian residents.