COVID-19 in Palestine: Creativity Under Coronavirus

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Let’s be real, 2020 has not been an easy year for most people — especially for Palestinians, who have been stuck living between the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Israeli occupation.

Despite the circumstances Palestinians have used the pandemic  to come up with unique and creative solutions to the problems that they’ve faced because of the coronavirus.

In this final episode of our COVID-19 series in Palestine, we’re showcasing Palestinians who responded to the coronavirus pandemic using innovation and creativity as a way to help their communities adapt to the crisis around them.

We begin our episode in the city of Ramallah, the economic and administrative hub of the occupied West Bank. It’s home to the Palestinian Authority, countless international organizations, and local Palestinian companies.

We’re taking you into the Al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, where a collective of Palestinian women have taken mask making to a whole new level.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mask industry around the world has boomed, as people have come up with thousands of designs for new masks.

When the coronavirus first hit this community, these Palestinian women decided to do something new. 

They wanted to come up with an affordable and renewable solution to provide masks for their community all while incorporating the Palestinian tradition of embroidery, which has been passed down by Palestinian women for generations.

“We made the masks with different colors and simple designs so that people would come to love wearing the masks, because not everyone likes wearing face masks,” Dowlat Abu Shawish, head of the mask-making program at the al-Amari Women’s Center told Mondoweiss

“We combined our heritage with something beautiful, as well as with something that protects us,” she continued, showing off brightly colored face masks with small, intricate embroidered designs on each one. 

“We created a number of designs. For example, we made the design of the Cedar Trees that are special to Ramallah, as well as the Star of Bethlehem, and we also have the Palestinian Kuffiyeh.”

In addition to providing a form of protection against the coronavirus for their community, the mask-making program in the al-Amari women’s center was able to provide a group of women with a source of income during the pandemic, at a time when Palestinians were experiencing unprecedented levels of unemployment.

“The most important thing is that we took advantage of our time. Most of the women that work with us have special circumstances, either their husbands are unemployed, or they have kids with special needs. Each one has her own story. Thankfully, we have been able to create jobs for most of these women,” Abu Shawish said. 

To the south of Ramallah, in the west Bank city of Bethlehem the COVID-19 pandemic hit the local community hard as the lack of tourism to Bethlehem plunged the city into crisis.

When they realized that tourists wouldn’t be coming back to their city anytime soon, Canaan Ecotourism, an alternative tour company, turned to the internet and decided to pilot the idea of online political tours of Palestine.

“The Pandemic and the crisis was something unnormal from us, we did not expect it at all. Because we had other plans for 2020,” Mohammad Abu Srour, one of the group’s founders, told Mondoweiss

“We had to adapt to the new situation and look for alternative ways to show our lives, our situation, and to share our political situation with people outside. And from that point things had to change, so we started doing and offering the online tours,” Abu Srour said. 

As he walked along Israel’s Separation Wall, which completely surrounds Bethlehem on it’s northern end from the city of Jerusalem, Abu Srour held out his phone, attached to a small tripod, and began giving a tour to a group from Denmark.

“You can’t imagine how tall the wall is from your screen,” Abu srour told the group. “When the crisis of COVID-19 is going to end, I hope you will have the opportunity to come and visit us and see how the wall is tall, and how ugly it is and how the wall is affecting the Palestinian daily life.”

Abu Srour told Mondoweiss that the main idea behind the virtual tours was to give even more people access and opportunity to learn about Palestine, despite the coronavirus pandemic. 

“One of our goals is to give alternative narratives, explanations, and experiences of Palestine, targeting the political situation and the culture and heritage in Palestine. We believe there is more to tell in Palestine through the young people,” Abu Srour said. 

“So despite the Israeli occupation and the difficulties that we were facing since the beginning of the crisis until now, we believe as Palestinians that we are still strong and continuing our struggle more and more,” he continued. 

“Through doing these tours and those activities, we are offering people the chance to learn and know more about Palestine. And this is also something we see as part of our struggle in Palestine.”

It’s been seven months since the first coronavirus cases were reported in the occupied Palestinian territory. 

Since then, Palestinians have faced a number of unique economic and public health challenges, which have been exacerbated by things like Israeli annexation and home demolitions during the pandemic. 

As the coronavirus continues to spread, with the prospects of a vaccine still far away. It’s likely that Palestinians will continue to face new challenges at the hands of the coronavirus, and the occupation. 

Source: This article first appeared on Mondoweiss.

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