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Palestinians Oppose Closure, Despite Jump in Infections

Palestinians Oppose Closure, Despite Jump in Infections

Given desperate personal finances and PA’s inability to compensate them, West Bankers slam lockdown

The Palestinian Authority’s announcement of a near-total closure in the West Bank, starting on Friday morning and lasting until Sunday morning, met with dismay from a large segment of the population due to their difficult economic circumstances.

The only things open this weekend will be bakeries and pharmacies.

And for the next two weeks, the closure will be in effect every night, from 7 pm to 6 am. The decision comes amid a continuous increase in coronavirus infections that has exceeded 78,000 cases and about 680 deaths.

There have been warnings previously to observe the safety measures, but people don’t listen to our notifications regarding that

Ghassan Nimer, spokesman for the PA Interior Ministry, told The Media Line that people’s lives were the top priority for the government when deciding on a closure. The number of deaths increased recently, forcing the Emergency Committee to act, he said.

“The decision has been made based on the situation on the ground. There have been warnings previously to observe the safety measures, but people don’t listen to our notifications regarding that,” Nimer said.

“If citizens commit to the safety measures, and to the announced closure, it will help us decrease the numbers of cases and deaths. Thus we won’t have to make any more closure decisions,” he said.

The Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture’s Board of Directors expressed its total rejection of the government’s closure decision, whether it was partial or total, indicating that this was not the right time for it.

The Federation emphasized that the private sector had not been consulted regarding the closure, adding that the Palestinian economy had declined by at least 40% and has been unable to recover because of the successive crises.

Abed al-Ghani al-Atari, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Ramallah and Al-Bireh, explained to The Media Line that due to the PA’s inability to control all areas of the West Bank, the closure will not be fully implemented. Residents of most cities have access to areas controlled by Israel, he said.

The 1995 Oslo II Accord divided the West Bank into three zones. Area A, where the large Palestinian cities are, was to be administered by the PA. Area B, where some 440 Palestinian villages are located, was to be administered by both the PA and Israel, with the former overseeing civil affairs, and the latter security. Area C, where the settlements are located, was to be administered by Israel.

Therefore, any closure decision regarding these latter two areas has to come from the Israeli government.

“In the end, we will commit to any [PA] government decisions, but we know that the country will be open,” Atari said.

The closure will see the commercial and economic traffic leave the Palestinians city centers, and instead go to places that are completely open, he explained. “We care about citizens and their well-being as well, but that’s the way things are,” Atari said.

Business people and merchants have fixed costs, and it will not be possible for them to make money when the closures start at 7 in the evening, he said. “Also restaurants and cafés, most of their business starts in the evening.”

Osama Nofal, an economic analyst and an instructor at University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza City, told The Media Line that the first, two-month, full closure that began in March cost the Palestinian economy tremendous losses. Reports indicated a decline across sectors, chief among them agriculture by 14%, services by 26%, and industry by 18%, he said.

“The Palestinian Bureau of Statistics stated that by the end of 2020, the Palestinian economy will lose 14% of its gross national product, and the World Bank announced in its last report that in the first six month of the pandemic, the Palestinian economy lost between 6% and 7% of its gross national product,” he said.

In light of these reports, the PA has changed its policy of imposing full lockdowns, and has moved to partial shutdowns, “such as the latest closure,” Nofal said.

The “semi-closure” will hurt the economy, especially the tourism and service sectors, because people’s activity normally increases on weekends, he said. “Restaurants will suffer great losses. In addition, our markets will lose the business of the Palestinians who [usually] come from Israel to shop in the West Bank.”

Arab Israelis spend heavily, making a big contribution to the economy of the West Bank, Nofal explained. This will be lost because of the closure, “which has turned the Palestinian private sector against the decision and to demanding that the government reverse its decision.”

Two days ago there was a demonstration for a prisoner [held by Israel] and a huge gathering of people took place in the city center, which happened despite the closure that was imposed in Nablus. How did they allow this activity?

Jawad, a merchant from Nablus who asked The Media Line to withhold his last name, said business at his electronics store dropped by approximately 80% because of the first closure in the spring and has been greatly affected ever since.

“The closure is not logical, as the government doesn’t have the experience to lead such a measure,” he said. “Two days ago there was a demonstration for a prisoner [held by Israel] and a huge gathering of people took place in the city center, which happened despite the closure that was imposed in Nablus. How did they allow this activity?” he asked.

Jawad explained that because he does not sell basic goods that people need to survive, his business was already hurting during the pandemic as people focused on the fundamentals, “and this closure will affect whatever I used to make in these circumstances.

“The government should have thought of how to secure people and compensate them. If it doesn’t have the ability to safeguard people, the closure will be a failure and lead to an increase in problems, crimes and other issues,” Jawad said.

Recently, the market has started to recover and let’s say we were very happy that we witnessed some movement. And now we are back to closures, which will affect everything

Rami Natshe, a wholesaler from Hebron, told The Media Line that since the closure decision was made on Monday, movement in the market has stopped. “I didn’t have any business at all in the past days.”

He said his business has dropped by 60% since the beginning of the pandemic and closures. “Recently, the market has started to recover and let’s say we were very happy that we witnessed some movement.

“And now we are back to closures, which will affect everything,” Natshe said.

The closure is a delaying tactic and unfortunately, it has badly devastated the country’s economy

Imad Safadi, a resident of Ramallah, told The Media Line he was against the closure because he had seen in previous lockdowns that it would slow the spread of the virus, but as soon as the country reopened, “unfortunately, people were out all at once, and there was no commitment to safety measures.”

Consequently, the disease spread much more than what was expected, he said.

“Only strict measures and high fines on citizens who violate them would work, in addition to obligating people who need to quarantine to do so,” Safadi said. “The closure is a delaying tactic and unfortunately it has badly devastated the country’s economy.”

Seef Aqel, from Nablus, told The Media Line that the closure was not the cure but at least it slowed the transmission of COVID-19 “until we reach the stage of obtaining vaccines, which is the permanent solution to stop the spread of the virus.”

Closures must balance the needs of people and their economic situation, with the health crisis, Aqel said. “Therefore, intermittent closures, with tightening preventive measures for people, are a partial solution.”

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