by Ambassador Reuben Gauci, Representative of the Republic of Malta in Palestine.
I have been living here in Palestine since Autumn 2015, serving as Representative of the Republic of Malta to Palestine, and every day here has been very dear to me. Life is made of time, and therefore when one lives in a place for a considerable amount of time, that time becomes part of oneself, part of one’s personal history, part of one’s body I dare say.
During my time in Palestine up until this moment, I have always been very near to its people, even though COVID 19 has created the new notion of social distancing. I organized many events on the political, cultural and economic levels. I had more ideas in mind for the future , but the COVID19 has unfortunately stopped everything for the moment.
A Maltese traditional band was coming to play in the streets of Bethlehem in May 2020, as part of the Bethlehem 2020 Arab Capital of Culture events, but this could not take place due to the current crisis. I cannot but remember that in December 2017, against all odds and difficulties, and with the help of the Bethlehem Municipality, Malta managed to set up a large Maltese Crib in Manger Square Bethlehem, which stood there for more than a month and which became a symbol of the long standing Maltese-Palestinian relations.
In light of these difficult times of Coronavirus, which came upon the whole world all of a sudden, I couldn’t but admire the resilience of the Palestinians. Palestinian doctors and nurses are truly doing a great job and like their counterparts in Malta and around the world, are the real heroes of our time. I also have to praise the Palestinian Government for the effective way in which it dealt and is still dealing with the COVID19 crises at the time of my writing. It is a tough challenge for all Governments around the world, including that of the Maltese Government in Malta. I was amazed to see how the Palestinian Government managed its organization and discipline in order to keep the number of infected low and the rate of infection controlled.
Malta is also facing difficult challenges during this COVID19 period. The Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Malta, Hon Evarist Bartolo said that with the conflict in Libya escalating since April 2020, which conflict is taking place simultaneously with the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of migrants in Libya are being physically abused amidst scarce food supplies, inadequate healthcare and sharply rising house rents.
In this horrific contact, the Maltese Foreign Minister has underlined that there are all the ingredients for a major humanitarian disaster waiting to happen as desperate people look to the Mediterranean Sea as their only escape. Minister Bartolo said that the situation is further complicated as Italy, and more recently Malta, have both closed their ports to allow resources, especially medical and those related to security, to be allocated to the mitigation and treatment of the coronavirus pandemic in their respective countries.
The Maltese Foreign Minister said that Malta has rescued thousands of migrants in difficulty at sea, going way beyond the call of duty. Nevertheless, Minister Bartolo said that in a situation where demand for rescue has increased exponentially because of more migrants leaving Libya, the supply side of Malta’s resources is substantially diminished. Malta believes that the only sustainable and realistic option to avoid this humanitarian crisis and save the lives of men, women and children is for the European Union ( of which Malta is a member ), to launch an immediate humanitarian mission in Libya- providing food, medicines and healthcare equipment to Libyans and migrants living there.
Malta has always stood by its Arab brothers and sisters. It stood and still stands by Libya in its hour of need as it has always stood, and still stands by Palestine. Whenever anybody asks me “ How is life in Palestine during the times of Coronavirus?” I always answer in the same way, “ May the spirit of the Holy Land guide us through these COVID19 times!”