Coronavirus in the West Bank heightens distrust of authorities

Temperature monitoring of a Palestinian worker returning from Israel near Hebron on March 29. MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA / REUTERS

On social networks or via instant messengers, rumors have spread faster than the virus itself in the West Bank. There have been the traditional conspiracy theories which see behind the Covid-19 the hand of a foreign and hostile state, the "miracle" remedies praised by traders who are not very attentive or the fanciful but inevitably alarmist assessments. Sometimes even a few names have been released, along with photos of allegedly sick people. The wind of panic that seized the planet as the coronavirus advanced has revived here, from the small streets of villages in the north of the West Bank to the outskirts of the city of Hebron in the South, a recurring question: in time crisis, whom can the Palestinians trust?

"We are left to our own devices"replies Marwa Fatafta, analyst at the Palestinian think-tank Al-Shabaka. The researcher recalls that the Palestinian Authority is headed by a “Undemocratic government. We have not had an election for more than a decade. People do not trust the Palestinian Authority or the President. Based on that, as a Palestinian, in the West Bank, where do we get verified information? And how much can you believe the official statistics? "

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At the rate of two daily meetings, morning and evening, which list the number of patients and their location, by means of press releases and messages broadcast on local radio waves, on social networks and on a dedicated website, the government declares him "Having taken over the story". He is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef, who have launched a communication campaign. Around the crossroads now much noisier than usual, on the screens of ATMs or via their mobile phones, the Palestinians have seen texts and drawings flourish summarizing their gestures to protect themselves against the virus.

"A scheme where we would have only one truth"

“We are trying to fill the gaps. It’s when there are gaps in information that fake news flourishes "said the spokesman for the Palestinian government, Ibrahim Milhem. Some people were also arrested, "To serve as a lesson", he adds, in particular under the much-criticized law on cybercrime, which provides for prison terms and fines for the publication of texts relating to "Undermining the integrity of the state".


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