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Coronavirus Could Be the ‘Biggest Crisis’ Modern Jerusalem Has Ever Faced

03-30-2020
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JERUSALEM, Israel - Far from its position as the center of the world, Jerusalem is actually the poorest city in Israel. It’s also the largest and possibly the most complex, said Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.  That also means that it could be the hardest hit economically by the fallout from the coronavirus.

“Jerusalem is always a city that’s been hit.  We were hit by intifadahs (terrorism) and we were hit by snow,” Hassan-Nahoum said.  “We know how to deal with difficult situations.  I think that nobody could have really predicted this. And I think this is going to be the biggest crisis that the modern city of Jerusalem has ever faced.”

That’s because of the economic fallout due to the fact that Jerusalem is the Israeli city most reliant on tourism, Hassan-Nahoum said during a phone briefing organized by Media Central.

“I think what we need to learn from this really is what change has to be made in our local economy to make it more resilient.  Those are the lessons that I want to be analysing after this crisis and bringing forward,” she said.

According to Hassan-Nahoum, at least 20-30 percent of Jerusalem’s economy is based on tourism and the service industry, which includes restaurants and cafes.

Israel welcomed a record number of tourists in 2019 – some 4.55 million – bringing billions of dollars into the economy.  Now all the hotels and restaurants have been closed, as well as museums, churches, and shops, and tour guides are without work as well.

Hotel workers didn’t lose their jobs. They were sent on unpaid leave, Hassan-Nahoum said.  Once the crisis is past and the economy recovers, they’ll have jobs but in the meantime, they’re not making money.

“For the last five years we’ve been trying really, really hard to bring big hi-tech companies, big research, and development companies to the city, so the city is less dependent on tourism and service industry employment and more dependent on hi-tech or offshore services,” Hassan-Nahoum said.

“Everything we’ve been working on for five years eventually will prepare us for, God forbid, the next challenge of this nature. But we weren’t there yet when this happened,” she added.

In the meantime, she said, the Jerusalem municipality has taken multiple steps to try to help small businesses survive.  They established a “virtual mall” for Jerusalem-based businesses; have asked university students to build websites for businesses for free, and are offering professional advisors for free.

They’re also offering the option to apply for a loan, deferring payment of the city tax and developing a recovery fund.

During this time, the city has also organized what Hassan-Nahoum called an “army of volunteers” to help the families of special needs children and the elderly.

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