Old Gazan factory restored to produce protective suits amid pandemic

Amid fears of catastrophic consequences in case of a coronavirus outbreak in the besieged Gaza Strip, two Palestinians took the lead and started a factory to produce protective suits.

al-monitor Municipal workers carry out disinfection work at marketplaces and streets to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Gaza City, Gaza, March 27, 2020.  Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Mar 31, 2020

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip is facing major challenges, especially at the financial and medical levels, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On March 25, the government in Gaza announced that seven security officers have been infected with the coronavirus, adding that all of them had come in contact with the first two cases that had been recorded March 21. 

The Hamas-run Ministry of Health added in a press statement that the seven new cases have been put in a special quarantine in the southern part of the coastal enclave.

"They didn't leave the quarantine area at the Rafah border crossing and they didn't mix with anyone from outside the quarantine center,” said the statement.

Hamas authorities, who have run the Gaza Strip since 2007, declared a set of strict precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the enclave, home to 2 million people. These include a ban on public gatherings and the closure of schools, universities, public parks and mosques.

Amid the crisis, two Palestinian young men based in the northern town of Beit Lahia have started restoring an old factory to produce protective suits as part of their efforts to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Hassan Olwan, who is in his 30s, felt that he should show responsibility toward his people, especially in light of the lack of health supplies and equipment in the blockaded coastal enclave.

He said he and his partner came up with the idea after they contacted Chinese friends to import protective suits. They failed in that effort due to the state of emergency in several countries and travel restrictions around the world, specifically in China, the first epicenter of the virus.

“So I asked my friends in China to send me the production standards to manufacture the suits here,” Olwan told Al-Monitor, adding that he was encouraged by his friends to do good for his country.

After Olwan succeeded in producing his first batch of suits, he felt proud of himself. The factory is not only contributing to protecting people in Gaza but also is providing dozens of job opportunities for the unemployed in northern Gaza.

Workers now at the factory had been without jobs for years, so they immediately welcomed Olwan’s initiative. They got to work in the factory using old machines. 

“I cannot explain my feelings once the factory resumed operations,” Olwan told Al-Monitor, adding that he pays the workers' salaries from the revenues made after selling the suits.

Israel has been imposing a blockade on Gaza since Hamas took over power in the Strip following rounds of fighting with forces loyal to the Fatah party in 2007.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reported in February that the unemployment rate in Gaza, 43%, is three times higher than in the West Bank. The bureau said the number of unemployed stood at 329,600 in the fourth quarter of 2019: 208,200 in Gaza and 121,400 in the West Bank.

Mohammed al-Ajramy, 45, of the Jabaliya refugee camp, found a job at Olwan’s factory. “It is not easy to work in Gaza,” the father of five told Al-Monitor. Although he is afraid of contracting the virus, he says he has to work to provide for his family.

Ajramy and 50 other workers spend about 15 hours per day to produce 500 to 800 protective suits; each one is sold for about $30.

The factory’s production will benefit security forces, doctors, journalists and all those who are still working every day despite the spread of the coronavirus, according to Saed Habob, Olwan’s partner. Habob told Al-Monitor, “All of us, as Palestinians, should meet our responsibilities toward our families, friends and community.”

The 36-year-old father of two expressed concern that he might be forced to shut down the factory in the coming days once the cloth used for the production of suits runs out.

He called on the international community to force Israel to end its blockade against the Palestinian people in Gaza, warning that it would witness the most significant humanitarian disaster.

As of March 29, Palestine had recorded 108 coronavirus cases, including the nine in the Gaza Strip.

On March 5, the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency in the West Bank for one month right after the first coronavirus case was discovered in the district of Bethlehem.

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