Many east Jerusalem residents are still in denial about the coronavirus, which explains the high rate of infection in Arab neighborhoods, according to people with knowledge about the matter.
Over the past month, the number of east Jerusalem residents who tested positive for the disease was estimated at more than 100 a day. Currently, there are more than 4,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the city’s Arab neighborhoods, according to Israeli and Palestinian health officials.
“Many residents are not abiding by the health regulations, and that’s a serious problem,” said Maher Barakat, a nurse at one of the private medical clinics in east Jerusalem. “You find many people who would tell you that the whole coronavirus issue is fake. Others claim that the health rules to stem the spread of the disease are extremely exaggerated and unnecessary.”
Failure to abide by social-distancing rules, as well as the absence of enforcement, remains the major problem for Arab residents of the city, according to an east Jerusalem physician from Augusta Victoria Hospital.
“A few weeks ago, we celebrated Eid al-Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice], and many people acted as if there was no coronavirus,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Many families were visiting each other at home, some without face masks. Inside most of the neighborhoods and villages [in east Jerusalem], you still see many people without masks.”
While most east Jerusalem residents seemed to take the threat of coronavirus seriously during the first wave of infections, many are now ignoring the epidemic despite daily warnings by Israeli and Palestinian health officials.
“There are many people who believe that the coronavirus is some kind of a conspiracy by Western powers directed against Arabs and Muslims,” said east Jerusalem psychologist Hala Samara. “We live in a world where conspiracy theories are very widespread and influential. Sadly, this is why we are witnessing a sharp increase in the number of infected cases in our city.”
The large number of worshipers who have been attending Friday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque could have contributed to the increase in the number of patients, some residents said. It is not easy to enforce restrictions when you have tens of thousands of people inside the compound, they said.
In some of the east Jerusalem mosques, worshipers became angry when asked to wear face masks as part of the precautionary measures to combat the disease.
“Many people refuse to wear the mask when they enter the mosque on various pretexts, including that this is un-Islamic,” lamented mosque imam Khalil Izhiman. “It is not easy to convince some people how dangerous the situation is.”
Another reason behind the recent spike in coronavirus cases in east Jerusalem is weddings. Many east Jerusalem residents have long been holding weddings in the dozens of new halls that have sprung up in West Bank towns and villages surrounding the city. The halls attract many east Jerusalem families because of the low prices they charge, especially for food and rent.
“If the residents of east Jerusalem don’t wake up, the situation will become very dangerous,” said prominent businessman Kamal Natsheh. “What is worrying is that there are many people who still believe the coronavirus is a hoax, while others are convinced it would never affect them.”