IDF steps up efforts to curb spread of coronavirus in east Jerusalem

“No difference between Isawiya and Gilo”

Col. Itay Levi (photo credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)
Col. Itay Levi
(photo credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)
On the eve of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, the IDF has stepped up its efforts to help residents of east Jerusalem as they face a sharp increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
The IDF’s efforts are being led by Col. Itay Levi, Commanding Officer of the Jerusalem and Central District of the Home Front Command, and Brig. Gen. (res.) Ben Tzvi Eliasi, Commanding Officer of the Control Center in east Jerusalem.
The two IDF commanders told The Jerusalem Post that their efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus and provide various services to the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem are being highly appreciated by the residents there.
The Home Front Command, they said, has been operating in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March. The IDF soldiers are working in full coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality’s community centers in the Arab neighborhoods, they added.
“Our mission is to help all residents during this difficult time, Arabs and Jews alike,” Col. Levi said. “We don’t distinguish between one citizen and another. As far as we are concerned, there’s no difference between Isawiya and Gilo.”
Col. Levy said that the Defence Ministry has allocated more than NIS 500,000 for assisting residents of the city, especially as those who are coping with the coronavirus spike. “The pandemic does not differentiate between a Jew and Arab,” he said. “Our mission as an army and soldiers is to help people during disasters and other difficulties. For us, there is no difference between east Jerusalem and west Jerusalem.”
Col. Levi revealed that the IDF has set up a command center for addressing the problems facing the residents of east Jerusalem. “We’re talking about more than 350,000 residents in east Jerusalem,” he noted. “Our job is to prepare them for coping with emergency cases. It’s worth mentioning that the coronavirus first hit neighborhoods in west Jerusalem before spreading to east Jerusalem.”
Recently, IDF soldiers, together with representatives of the municipality’s community centers, have also been helping in the transfer of patients infected with the disease to a hotel on the Mount of Olives in east Jerusalem. “In addition to the distribution of food parcels to some families, we continue to provide various services to the residents in these neighborhoods. We are even giving toys to children and provide guidance to families who are in isolation because of the virus,” Col. Levi said. “At present, we are focusing on two neighborhoods – Bet Hanina and Abu Tor. We are planning to expand our services to other Arab neighborhoods in the near future.”
In his office, Col. Levi has a sign hanging on the wall that reads: “People are too busy building barriers instead of bridges.”
“You see this sign?” Col. Levi asked. “That’s my motto. I’m here to serve anyone who needs help. That’s the mission of the IDF and all soldiers and commanders. Our job is to help the residents so that they would be able to help themselves.”
Asked about the reactions of the Arab residents, Col. Levi said: “In the beginning, everyone thought it would be difficult for the IDF to deal with the Arab residents. I believe we are making history when you see [IDF] soldiers working shoulder-to-shoulder with Arabs in Jerusalem. A few months ago, we helped the residents during the fasting month of Ramadan. Now we are helping them as they prepare to celebrate Eid al-Adha. We are also planning to provide similar assistance to west Jerusalem residents during Rosh Hashana.”
Col. Eliasi said that the IDF has been working to provide the residents of east Jerusalem with assistance similar to that it hands out to all citizens of the country. “We are helping with the tests for coronavirus and hotels for absorbing the patients,” he told the Post. “In addition, the IDF, together with the Jerusalem Municipality, is conducting educational programs for the residents of east Jerusalem concerning the coronavirus.”
Col. Eliasi noted that during the second wave of infections, which began about three weeks ago, the number of Arab residents in Jerusalem who were diagnosed with the disease has dramatically increased. “As a result, we have taken a number of decisions, which include moving patients from east Jerusalem to a hotel. The good news is that in the past few days we’ve seen more people come to be in isolation at the hotel. We are now in the process of preparing more hotels in east Jerusalem for absorbing infected cases.”
In addition, Col. Eliasi said, the IDF has assisted in the opening of new testing centers for the Arab residents in Jerusalem. “Most people prefer to stay at home, but we have been successful in persuading them, through workshops, about the importance of moving to quarantine centers. “In any case, we are providing food and medicine to those patients who choose to remain at home.”