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Palestinian Residents of East Jerusalem Furious Over Mayor’s Vaccine Comments (with VIDEO)
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion has threatened to bar Palestinians from east Jerusalem who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus from praying in mosques. (Ray Crystal/The Media Line)

Palestinian Residents of East Jerusalem Furious Over Mayor’s Vaccine Comments (with VIDEO)

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion has threatened to bar Muslims who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus from praying in mosques

Israel’s health ministry delivered some good news that people haven’t heard in awhile: The coronavirus infection rate is on the decline, and the number of people vaccinated is on the rise.

But that’s not the case for Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem.

Last week Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion threatened to bar unvaccinated Muslims from mosque prayers.

“If they do not want to be vaccinated, they will not be vaccinated, but they will not be allowed to enter hotels, they will not be allowed to enter mosques, they will not be allowed to enter schools,” Lion said.

Pushback against the controversial comments came from many corners.

Palestinian religious officials rejected the mayor’s threat. Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, head of the higher Islamic commission in Jerusalem, warned of serious consequences.

“The occupation uses the coronavirus as an excuse to restrict the entry of worshipers to Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he claimed.

Former Jerusalem mayoral candidate Ofer Berkovitch told The Media Line that the mayor’s statement was politically motivated.

“He does it because it’s easy for him to speak against them [Arabs], and he doesn’t do it against the audience of his voters – the ultra-Orthodox,” Berkovitch said.

However, the mayor’s deputy, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, defended his comments, telling The Media Line he was misunderstood.

“I’m sure the tone in which he said these words is maybe not the same tone that they were received. But I can tell you, our main focus is to get the city vaccinated so it stops being a red city,” Hassan-Nahoum said.

She says there are several ongoing campaigns to encourage residents of east Jerusalem to get vaccinated.

But, she adds, in order to get the city back open, all residents must get vaccinated.

“We know of about 9,000 hotel and tourism workers that are from the Arab community. We want to get – the minute that things open up – we want to get tourism up and running. We can’t have a situation where we reopen hotels, and we receive workers who haven’t been vaccinated,” she said.

There is great concern about the low number of Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, where the percentage of those vaccinated does not exceed 15% of the total population of about 350,000 people.

People are apprehensive. They don’t know much about the vaccine. Many of them are still not convinced of the vaccine’s ability to protect

Dr. Ali Jibrini, a member of the Coronavirus Combat Unit in Israel’s Health Ministry, told The Media Line that turnout among Palestinian residents of the city has been low.

“Since the vaccinations began more than a month ago, only 30,000 Jerusalemites have received the first dose. And about 7,000 to 8,000 people got the second dose. The ratio is much weaker than the population,” she said.

Jibrini says people are hesitant to get inoculated for different reasons.

“People are apprehensive. They don’t know much about the vaccine. Many of them are still not convinced of the vaccine’s ability to protect. We are trying to convince them that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that we use is safe and important for returning to our normal life, ” the doctor said.

A health clinic in east Jerusalem is filled with Palestinian residents waiting to receive the coronavirus vaccine. (Ray Crystal/The Media Line)

In a sign that the campaign may be working, a main health clinic in east Jerusalem is relatively full when we visit it late in the day on Thursday.

University student Varina Owais, who lives in east Jerusalem, told The Media Line the decision to get vaccinated was easy.

“I was vaccinated to protect ourselves and those around us and return to our normal life,” she said.

Khaled Dweik, another Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem, told The Media Line that he feels good about receiving the vaccine.

“I am satisfied with the vaccine, and the doctors recommend it. We must receive it so that we can return to our normal life, which is beneficial to all,” he said.

The Health Ministry has targeted February 23 as the start of the next phase of its plan to lift more coronavirus restrictions.  Whether it can meet that target is going to rely heavily on the number of people vaccinated, including in east Jerusalem.

 

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