Focus on CORONA

Palestine Update 354

Focus on CORONA

Anjuman Rahman

Palestinian painters draw graffitis to draw attention to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Khan Yunis, Gaza on 28 March 2020 [Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency]
As the number of infections and deaths from COVID-19 multiply by the day, there have been increasing calls across the world for people to show solidarity and care for each other, particularly, for Palestine. The newly-imposed restrictions on travel and large gatherings in Europe, as well as the horrific overcrowding of patients in overwhelmed hospitals has given the world a slight taste of what has been a Palestinian reality for decades. But of course, the differences are many.

The hashtag #WeArePalestine has been trending today as users from Mexico to Kashmir, are taking the opportunity to highlight their newfound recognition of the routine of a Palestinian’s daily life under the occupation, in light of the current COVID-19 state lockdowns. In the occupied West Bank freedom of movement has long been subject to random checkpoints, while residents of the Gaza Strip must go through a series of procedures in order to be allowed out of the coastal enclave – surrounded by Israel to its north and east, and Egypt to the south. Gideon Levy compared the strict measures and restrictions imposed by the Israeli government on the Israelis to curb the epidemic, with the daily suffering of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – a reality which they have been suffering for decades under siege and occupation.

However, Israel’s military control of Gaza and the West Bank has only grown more brutal during the pandemic. Workers are held in quarantine, prisoners have been infected and Israel is withholding money that could be used to help contain the outbreak. In the world’s largest open-air prison, Palestinians in Gaza have been living that way for the last 14 years and are already highly susceptible to illnesses because of widespread unemployment and poverty, food insecurity and lack of adequate potable water. Years of tight restrictions on people and goods have not only destroyed the economy but damaged almost every aspect of life. There are the young, and the elderly Palestinians in Gaza who have never had the chance to dream of going abroad on holiday, to pursue a career or start a business.

Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ben Jamal, wrote: “These are times when we are reminded of our essential interconnectedness and that solidarity is an act of empathy. It also springs from the recognition that the oppression of the Palestinian people depends on our complicity to be sustained. We need to end our diplomatic, political and financial support for Israel’s ongoing project of ethnic cleansing.”  COVID-19 has left much of the world’s populations under lockdown and curfew, which has helped many understand the restrictions imposed on Palestinians. The biggest difference yet is unlike in Palestine, the state lockdowns and curfews are all just temporary.

Lack of coronavirus testing
While the Israeli right-wing imagines that annexing and fortifying the Jordan Valley will seal off Israel from disease and chaos, in reality they are sealing their own fate. They are serving to hasten Israel’s march to becoming a full-fledged Apartheid state and because coronavirus does not discriminate

While reporting from Israel/Palestine has focused on Israel’s difficulties in forming a new government and on measures being taken by Israelis to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the story behind the story is the role anti-Arab racism has played in these developments. Anti-Arab racism, which defined Israel’s founding and shaped its seven decades of existence, is now presenting the country with a challenge that will determine its future.

At the end of March, Israel opened drive-through coronavirus testing stations throughout the country. None, however, were initially placed in Arab communities. When Israel finally established lockdowns to control the spread of the virus, the lockdowns did not include Arab population centres. So while Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens are on the frontlines fighting the pandemic — about one-fifth of all Israeli doctors and one-quarter of all nurses are Arab — their communities are horribly underserved. Experts therefore dismiss reports indicating low infection rates among the Arab population since these most likely are the result of a lack of testing. According to an Israeli press account, as of early April, only 6,500 Arab citizens of Israel had been tested as opposed to over 80,000 Israeli Jews.

Who Profits’ new report
Viral Occupation: COVID-19 and the Occupation Economy
viraloccupation_draft4As COVID-19 spreads through Israeli-occupied Palestinian and Syrian land, it is interacting with the structures of occupation which, while far from novel, are every bit as adaptive, resistant and continually mutating as any member of the corona family. The present crisis caused by COVID-19 has laid bare the inequality and violence at the heart of the current global economic system where profit accumulation comes at the expense of our collective rights. As people live in fear and uncertainty of the unfolding crisis’ impact, governments and corporate capital are seizing the opportunity to tighten their control and generate profit.

There is no doubt that for Palestinians living under occupation, the acute shortage of testing kits, protective gear and ICU capacity is only the tip of the iceberg. A host of structural issues inevitably compound the virus’ devastating impact. While it is still too early to tell how the COVID-19 will impact the global and local economy, we can begin by posing the right questions with the following framing in mind:

  1. COVID-19 is not operating in a vacuum. As it spreads through Israeli-occupied Palestinian and Syrian land, it is interacting with the structures of occupation which, while far from novel, are every bit as adaptive, resistant and continually mutating as any member of the corona family.

  2. COVID-19 will not function as a ‘Great Equalizer’ – The myth that a pandemic does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, is patently false. An occupied and besieged population and a systematically de-developed economy are particularly vulnerable to both COVID-19 and the economic fallout.

  3. Desperate times legitimize repressive measures. Declaring a state of emergency often provides the pretext for the introduction of new repressive and exploitative measures and the entrenchment and legitimization of existing ones.

  4.  What happens in Palestine does not stay in Palestine. A key reason Israel is continually looking to diversify its portfolio of repression is that it can later turn it outward for economic profit and political gains.


Lockdown in West Bank, crowds in Gaza:
Palestinians divided over coronavirus
Palestine divided over coronavirus counter-measures – Middle East ...
Gaza, measuring 375 sq km (145 square miles), is home to around two million Palestinians. Since 2007 it has been under the control of the Islamist militant group Hamas, bitter rivals of President Mahmoud Abbas’s more secular Palestinian Authority whose power base is in the West Bank. Smaller and poorer, Gaza has for years been under a blockade by Israel, which cites security concerns to stop weapons and money reaching Hamas. Gazans say the blockade has crippled their economy and undermined the development of medical facilities, weakening their ability to face a pandemic. But the geographical isolation that Gazans chafe against may also have helped stem the entry of the new coronavirus, with only 13 reported cases. All are at quarantine facilities.

Hamas says health conditions make a full lockdown unnecessary in Gaza, but it has closed schools, mosques and wedding halls and banned large street gatherings. However, public markets remained busy this week. “We will stay home (to avoid coronavirus) when they give us money, food, aid and diapers, our children want to eat,” greengrocer Ahmed Al-Nahal said in the Beach Camp market. But many fear disaster if the coronavirus penetrates further into the teeming Mediterranean enclave.