As soon as Amjad Zaghir got word of the COVID-19 outbreak in Bethlehem, the 30-year-old Palestinian shoemaker from Hebron decided to transform his shoe factory into the only manufacturer of face masks in the occupied West Bank, as +972 Magazine reported Monday.
First COVID-19 Death in West Bank, Gaza Prepares for the Worst
“I approached my friend, a pharmacist, and asked him what materials are used to make masks,” recalled Zaghir. “He explained that what we use in shoemaking is unsuitable, and pointed me in the right direction.”
The Palestinian businessman bought the correct fabric from a local vendor and began experimenting with his machinery. At first, the transition from shoes to face masks was challenging but Zaghir quickly adapted a new process to produce the delicate and essential protective gear.
“On the first day, I managed to create only 500 masks,” he said. “The next day, I made 1,000 more. I then brought 20 workers to increase production.”
Zaghir, which is also the name of his factory, began hiring people in the economically hard-hit city of Hebron to expand his growing operation. “This is about helping my people, and a way of providing work opportunities,” he added, explaining that profit wasn’t the main motivation. “There’s a crisis in Hebron, and many are unemployed.”
Now with 20 more workers and looking to expand, the company has become the first and only business of its kind in Palestine, manufacturing between 7,000 to 9,000 masks a day. He has become the main supplier for the local government and has even received orders from Jordan, Kuwait and even Canada.
Despite the hardships imposed by the occupying Israeli forces and the global pandemic, Zaghir continues to be optimistic and believes that in a week’s time he will be able to produce 100,000 masks a day.
“Whoever comes across this mask will immediately know it’s made in al-Khalil (Hebron),” he proudly stated.
As of Sunday, there are 108 reported cases in Palestine with four deaths.
Meanwhile, fears are rising in the Gaza Strip, where some two million Palestinians are struggling for 13 years now under an illegal Israeli siege.
Besides a critical shortage in medicine and protective equipment, Gaza has only 56 ventilators and 40 intensive care beds due to the blockade it endures. To put it in perspective, this represents two ICU beds per 100,000, while Germany has 29.2 beds per 100,000.