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Haitham al-Janazrah: To combat the spread of the coronavirus, Israel barred Palestinians over 50 from entering Israel for work. My life has frozen since I stopped working.
From the field

Haitham al-Janazrah cannot work under corona restrictions, and his family is living off loans from neighbors and friends

Haitham al-Janazrah is a 51-year-old painter from al-Fawwar Refugee Camp, near Hebron. He is currently not working, as the restrictions Israel imposed since the coronavirus outbreak ban Palestinians over 50 from entering Israel for work. After several attempts to reach his workplace in unreasonable ways, he stopped trying. He is now sitting at home, impatiently waiting for the checkpoints to reopen and fearing for his wife’s health, as she needs medical care he cannot afford at the moment.

I am employed through a contractor to paint buildings in Beit Shemesh. Like everyone else, I bought my permit to work in Israel from permit brokers. It costs me 2,500 shekels (~710 USD) a month. Before the coronavirus crisis, I used to get to work through the Meitar checkpoint. Every day I would leave home at 5:00 A.M. and travel to Be’er Sheva, where there was a shuttle to my workplace in Beit Shemesh.

The travel took six hours a day, in addition to eight hours of work. It was a very long day. Even though I hardly saw my family during the week, I was happy to have a job and make a living. My wife has arterial occlusion. She is undergoing treatment and is supposed to have a complicated and costly operation.

After paying for the permit, food, and travel, I earned less than 200 shekels (~57 USD) a day. I preferred to work on holidays and vacations, despite the difficulty and fatigue, because for every day I didn’t work, I lost money, which made it harder to pay for our many expenses.

About 45 days ago, Israel announced emergency measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and barred Palestinians over 50 from entering Israel for work. On the first day after the ban, I tried to get in anyway, but the Israeli security forces didn’t let me through. I didn’t give up. For the next four days, I tried to reach my job again, but by the time I got to work, I was exhausted. I decided I couldn’t take it. I’m a grown man and I can’t run over hills. Since then, I’ve been at home, waiting for the coronavirus crisis to pass.

Today, after 40 days at home, I have no choice but to borrow money from friends and neighbors. Every time, someone gives me 200 shekels. My wife stopped going to Israel for treatments because it’s impossible to get referrals right now, and I’m very concerned about her health. I’m also worried she might get infected with the coronavirus.

I feel like my life has frozen since I stopped working. I don’t know where I’ll get the money to support the family. It’s very stressful. I’ve never been in such a situation before.

* The testimony was given to B'Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 21 April 2020 by telephone.