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Palestinian Restaurant Owners Walk Back Threat to Flout Closure

Despite severe economic losses, PA health minister persuades them to wait until after Eid al-Adha holiday

Representatives of Palestinian restaurant and café owners have withdrawn their threat to defy the PA government and open for business on Sunday.

The decision came after the representatives met in an urgent meeting with the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry in Ramallah on Wednesday in search of common ground and a solution for the sector, which employs more than 28,000 people.

Jack Saadeh, a representative of the owners, told The Media Line the situation was very bad as establishments have been open for only 35 days since closures began in March.

“We have accumulated additional debts to be added to what we already owed before the coronavirus crisis. We have employees and other fixed expenses to pay,” he said.

Saadeh noted that while nearly every part of the West Bank economy was damaged by the closures, the dining sector was hurt more than most, given that it had the most employees.

“We, as representatives of 120 restaurants in Ramallah and more than 4,000 restaurants and cafés across the West Bank, must move to push the government to feel our pain and the tremendous pressure we are under,” he said.

He denounced the PA’s decision to reopen much of the economy ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday while excluding restaurants and gyms.

“We decided to reopen regardless of whether we had an official decision or not, to grab the attention of our government,” he explained.

Saadeh said they were then invited to a meeting by the relevant authorities.

“We met with the Palestinian health minister and other representatives from the ministry, in addition to the Ramallah Chamber of Commerce, which has supported us from the beginning, to find a way to reach a balance between health and the economy,” he said.

The problem was especially severe “here in Palestine, where there is no government compensation in cases of crisis or closures, as our government’s resources are limited – and we understand that,” he stated.

Saadeh stressed that Health Minister Mai al-Kaila promised to send a recommendation to the High Epidemiological Committee to reopen restaurants as soon as possible after Eid al-Adha.

“We made it clear to the minister that we’re not opposing the government; rather, we want to work with it to find solutions,” he emphasized.

“We asked her to provide us safety measures in terms of distancing and wearing masks and gloves, in addition to any other measures needed to maintain public health and the safety of citizens,” he said.

Saadeh added that the owners had a responsibility toward staff, but in order for them to meet it, they needed to be able to operate and bring in revenue.

Naem Soboh, who manages a restaurant in Ramallah and is responsible for 25 employees, told The Media Line that workers have been suffering badly since the closures, especially as it is impossible to find work in other sectors due to the crisis.

“We were able to pay 50% of March and April salaries, and then we postponed payments, and now we had to stop, as we don’t have business,” he said.

We were able to pay 50% of March and April salaries, and then we postponed payments, and now we had to stop, as we don’t have business

Most of his workers are still in touch with him and they are having a difficult time.

“We are going through a genuine financial crisis, Soboh said. “It’s not easy to make a living nowadays.”