An Epidemic in a Settler Colony: Coronavirus in Palestine/Israel 

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As a West Bank resident, ruled by a weak authority-less Palestinian Authority and indirect Israeli military control at the same time, I am very concerned how we will survive the widespread novel coronavirus if the number of cases keeps rising.

We are all facing a tough fate. We have no choice but to rely on the PA’s weak health system. I have never supported the idea of an autonomously-ruled region within a settler colony (because it does nothing to challenge the colony itself), however the PA is now the only escape for any person infected with the coronavirus, including myself.

How dark such a destiny could be. There is no doubt that the colonized population should be the responsibility of the colonizer. But that has never been the case in Palestine/Israel. In fact, the Palestinian Authority has always been functioned as an escape for the colonizer to avoid many of the exhausting responsibilities for the colonized population, including healthcare.

The entire experience of the coronavirus in the West Bank serves as a perfect example of how Israel rules over Palestinians. While the coronavirus doesn’t differentiate between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel sure does. This is not an attempt to politicize the virus, but to state the obvious — everything in this country is politicized and affected by the colonial structure. The epidemic is just another perspective to understand it from.

Exclusion has always been an essential rule of the Zionist ideology that aimed to create a national Jewish homeland in a country where other people were living. The obsession of being a demographic majority has resulted in the two geopolitical entities we know today as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Their “borders”, known as the Green Line, were drawn right around the expelled and the unwanted population from the newly-created Jewish state. In 1967, the “occupation” of these two parts produced a double-layered exclusion from the colonial rulers of the Israeli state.

Browse any collection of online coronavirus statistics and you will find “Israel and Palestine” (or West Bank and Gaza) on the list as two states, although Palestine/Israel is one place. By checking the map to see where infected cases are located, you can tell how Palestine/Israel are inside each other. In 2020, the map of the country looks so simple: Israel from north to south, east to west, except for some tiny excluded circles in the heart of it (West Bank’s area ‘A’) and one small rectangle in the west (Gaza Strip). In these excluded, fragmented, tiny parts, which are less than 10% of the whole country, the illusion of the PA does exist.

Since its creation in 1994 the PA has never succeeded in gaining any kind of self-sufficiency as a government. This is not odd, as this was the main goal in creating it: An authority-less autonomy to rule over some limited issues within the colonized population with the assistance of international aid. The goal was never to decolonize the country, or even at the very least dismantle the occupation of the occupied Palestinian territory. Western governments provide the PA with financial aid to cover its operational costs, and sadly, the PA has never shown a serious intention to dismantle itself and let Israelis pay the high costs of their colonization again.

This approach from the PA and international donors has helped make what could have been a temporarily horrible political situation for Palestinians into a permanent one.

Our so-called “Prime Minister” said on March 24 that he “can’t afford food costs” for three thousands of Palestinian workers being placed in a 14-day quarantine and thus preferred to “send them home with their families” rather than quarantine them separately. In normal situations, Palestinian hospitals usually transport difficult cases to Israeli hospitals and pay highly for the service. Will this be continuing now? How will this autonomy work amid the serious coronavirus wave, which even the most developed states are struggling to confront? Examples that show how weak the PA is are endless.

Palestinian West Bank hospitals are facing the coronavirus with 120 respirators for a population of 2.9 million. In an unofficial statement, the head of the doctor syndicate in the West Bank shared his concern regarding the availability of medical equipment and the protocols adopted by the PA. Many West Bank Palestinians have shared their bad experiences on social media platforms, from the lack of medical staff, to the transportation of  suspected cases in private trucks with chairs placed inside them. And this is not to criticize the measures taken by the limited sources self-government of the Palestinians in the West Bank, that is doing its best, but to highlight the problematic aspect of its existence. The fact is that all the power is in Israel’s hands.

As we all know, defeating the spread of the coronavirus is also about controlling population movement and locking down geographical areas. The local attempts to apply this globally-adopted strategy have also shown how useless and authority-less the PA is. West Bank workers, who commute through Israeli Green Line checkpoints along the Israeli fence, but the PA has no say over the fence and its checkpoints. So, although, coronavirus cases among Israeli citizens are 40 times larger than the Palestinian cases, the Israeli military has closed the West Bank as “a precaution against the coronavirus”, shutting down Palestinian-only checkpoints, while Israeli-only Green Line checkpoints are still operating normally. Meanwhile, dozens of Palestinian workers in Israeli cities were reportedly dumped at West Bank checkpoints and junctions over suspicion of being infected with the coronavirus. Although they work for Israeli employers and hold permits, which guarantee them health care.

Israel’s colonial attitude is still obvious during the coronavirus era. On March 19th, the Israeli army raided a refugee camp in the heart of the West Bank city of Bethlehem to arrest Palestinians, despite the heavy presence of the PA in the locked city. A military lockdown was imposed on the Palestinian city of Bethlehem that has about 30 cases but not Tel Aviv that has hundreds. And night raids, demolitions, and West Bank settlement expansions have all happened in the 2nd half of March despite the serious coronavirus threat.

The Gaza strip, where 64% of the total population is refugees, is one of the worst examples of political exclusion in the world. Regardless of what the pretext is, it has been under a strict Israeli military closure since 2007. The UN had already predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020 — how can it now also survive coronavirus?

Even Palestinian/Arab citizens of Israel, who survived the Nakba, and only stopped living under in military law within Israel is 1966, have been complaining against the discrimination of the Israeli Health Ministry. This should not come as a surprise , since Israel’s prime minister recently said it clearly that “Israel is not a state for all its citizens; it’s the nation-state of Jews alone”.

We are all hoping to escape this nightmare that is striking globally. As a West Bank Palestinian, who opposes Israeli settler colonialism and the Palestinian national reaction to it, I now see my people as potential victims of Israel’s Zionist ideology from one side, and the continuously failed attempts of the PA to prove itself as a real “state” from the other.

I simply wish for the survival of all people living between the river and the sea, both privileged citizens and excluded populations, since our collective health is connected as human beings “sharing” the same land. In the post-coronavirus era, I hope the same idea will be extended to combining our freedom together as well. When this happens, we will all have equal rights and security in one de-colonized democratic state.

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Thanks for the excellent article, Ahmad. Speaking of the coronavirus crisis in occupied Palestine, please spread the word about Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani. She is running for Ann Arbor City Council, in the August 4th primary election. She campaigns hard against military aid to Israel. This is even more timely as COVID-19 threatens to engulf that Israeli prison called the Gaza Strip. Dr. Mozhgan’s campaign video is here: https://youtu.be/4kYdnvS6aQI She is also campaigning for field hospitals… Read more »

Meanwhile in the United States: https://www.thedailybeast.com/dont-worry-america-jared-kushner-is-going-to-save-you-from-covid-19?ref=scroll “Don’t Worry, America, Jared Kushner Is Going to Save You From COVID-19” Daily Beast, March 27, 2020, by Molly Jong-Fast. EXCERPT: “Wednesday, during the latest installment of his daily briefings that have become must-see TV, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he spoke with Jared Kushner. You know Kushner—the president’s son-in-law. The president’s son-in-law is a member of the president’s COVID-19 taskforce, but he is not a doctor or… Read more »

Thank you for such a well-written and sobering article.