January 25, 2021, Paula Towers

IN RESPONSE TO EFFORTS by Australian-founded not-for-profit Project Rozana, the Australian Government has donated US$1 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA) for Covid relief.

The decision, which was announced yesterday by Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne, followed a direct request by the PA to Project Rozana, which was the first NGO in 2020 to provide ICU-enabled ventilators and training for hospitals in the Palestinian occupied territories.

The money will be channelled through the World Health Organisation, which will coordinate its deployment with the PA Ministry of Health. It will be used to provide critically needed medical equipment and technical assistance to the Palestinian health system, particularly in Gaza.

Chair of Project Rozana International and its Australian affiliate, Ron Finkel AM, described the Australian Government’s decision as “truly significant”.

“We have achieved many milestones since Project Rozana was established eight years ago,” Finkel said. “But with so many lives in the balance, none are more timely or urgent than this.”

Finkel confirmed reports that the pandemic was cutting a swathe through Palestinian society, in part because its health system lacked critical infrastructure to deal with the growing crisis.

The Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Riyad al-Maliki, praised Australia’s “excellent response” in dealing with the pandemic and its generous offer of support. He also paid tribute to Project Rozana for helping to steer the request through the appropriate Australian Government channels.

We have achieved many milestones since Project Rozana was established eight years ago. But with so many lives in the balance, none are more timely or urgent than this. – Ron Finkel, founder of Project Rozana

In turn, Finkel commended the contribution of strong political support at high levels within Australia. “I want to pay tribute to Australia’s Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne, and the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, for actively facilitating this grant. It will have a direct and positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the Palestinian people,” Finkel said.

In a letter to Dr al-Maliki, Minister Payne acknowledged the worsening Covid situation there was “very concerning”. With reference to Australia’s $US1 million grant to help the response in the Palestinian Territories, Payne said: “Australia’s cooperation with the Palestinian Territories is helping to address the pandemic through several partnerships.”

Finkel said the government of Israel also strongly supported the grant as it “recognises that defeating the pandemic must be based on a regional approach”.

Finkel added: “the insidious nature of the disease means that it can only be contained through cooperation. This approach is key to Project Rozana’s vision of building better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through health.”

The Project Rozana office in Israel will assist with customs clearance and delivery of the goods to the PA, as well as cover all related costs on the Israel side.

“The generosity of the Australian people will be noted in Jerusalem and Ramallah,” Finkel continued. “Equally, the role of Project Rozana is further evidence that Australia is an emerging and significant player in supporting the health needs of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Mr Finkel also paid tribute to the continuing support of the Palestinian Representative to Australia, Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, whose office liaised between the Australian and Palestinian governments.

He also acknowledged the assistance of Mark Bailey, the Australian Ambassador to Palestine, and to the tireless work of Dr Jamal Rifi AM, a board member of Project Rozana Australia and International.

The Australian Health Minister, Greg Hunt, said: “We are delighted that we were able to successfully arrange a suitable alternative to address the current needs of the Palestinian Territories directly through the WHO country office.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest health crisis the world has seen in generations and no country has been spared from its immense human cost. Australia remains committed to supporting the development needs of Palestinian people during these challenging times.”

Photo: Mark Bailey, the Australian Representative to the PA and Foreign Minister Dr Ryad al Malki