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Coronavirus — How can I not think of Gaza?

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Who could have imagined just a few days ago that Europeans would be confined to their homes and become persona non grata all over the world? It is as if the blockade of Gaza has come to us, even if the situation there is incomparably more dramatic.

I should have been in Tunis Saturday March 14 to participate in the closing ceremony of Israeli Apartheid Week. I had invited the Palestinian researcher and documentalist Tarek Barki to give a lecture entitled “We Were and Still Are.. Here” which tells the past and the present of the ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages refuting the Zionist formula “a land without people… ” But by the end of the previous week, disturbing news about the spread of the Coronavirus in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa was starting to accumulate. Death in my soul, I resolved, Monday, March 9, with my friends, to postpone this long-awaited lecture to a later date. Since then, bad news has continued to pour in at an infernal rate.

Two days later, one of my colleagues sent me an article explaining that the coronavirus is coming at an exponential speed: gradually, then suddenly. The author presented and analyzed the curves of the evolution of the epidemic in the world, which left no doubt. Up to a few days delay, these exponential curves seem almost identical for at least three regions: Wuhan in China, Italy and France. Martin Hirsch, Director General of Public Assistance-Hospitals of Paris (AP-HP), declared in Le Monde on Saturday March 14 that “in the memory of professionals, the AP-HP was not confronted with a phenomenon of such a scale with such speed and such high complexity. I would even say such violence.”

In one day there are 368 new deaths in Italy, and the Italian healthcare system is visibly starting to collapse. The American President suspends Europeans’ entry to the United States, saying, “Europe is the new China.” The French president decreed general confinement in France. “We are at war… [T]he enemy is there, invisible, elusive, advancing. And that requires our general mobilization.”

The African continent, which at first seemed spared by the epidemic, is also facing a crisis. Yesterday, there were hundreds of new cases from Egypt to Morocco to South Africa and across the Maghreb schools are closed.

Confined to my home in the Parisian suburbs, trying to focus my attention on my mathematical research, I find myself regularly consulting the news that confirms the exponential spread of the epidemic in the world. I worry about my relatives and my friends and the countries that cannot afford to cope with this disaster. I am struck by the vulnerability of the opulent western way of life. Can the savage capitalism that dominates the world and enslaves the overwhelming majority of human beings for the benefit of a tiny minority survive this crisis? The virus at this stage seems to ignore borders and to treat everyone equally. Leaders of the world’s greatest powers have been infected. But the situation could change over time and poor countries, particularly African countries, could suffer more than others.

All of a sudden, memories of the 2014 Israeli war against Gaza come back to me vividly. I see myself again during the months of July and August of this year, locked up at home to follow and relay the evolution of the situation described by the UN and NGO officials present on the spot as “unprecedented humanitarian disaster.” According to the UN, 2,189 Palestinians died including at least 1,486 civilians, among them 269 women. At least 538 Palestinian children were killed in Gaza: 341 boys and 197 girls, between one week and 17 years of age. Sixty-eight percent of them were 12 years of age or younger. At least 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members in the same attack. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 11,100 Palestinians, including 3,374 children, 2,088 women and 410 elderly people, were injured.

Half a million Palestinians were displaced inside the Gaza Strip, representing 28% of the population. Subjected to incessant bombardment despite the announced truces, Gazans did not in fact have any truly safe place to protect themselves because among the UN buildings (including 84 schools) intended in principle to serve as a refuge, some were the targets of the Israeli army. The UN has estimated that around 20,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli attacks. The sole power plant was destroyed by Israeli bombardment, which shut down the water supply system, and a dozen hospitals were damaged.

How can I not think of the hospitals in Gaza overwhelmed by the wounded arriving in waves at the rhythm of the Israeli bombardments when I see the images of hospitals in Wuhan, Lombardy and Veneto overtaken by the epidemic of Coronavirus or when I read the interview with Martin Hirsch, director general of the AP-HP, in Le Monde on Saturday March 14? To the question “have you considered an Italian scenario, where doctors are forced to prioritize among the patients to be treated?”, he replied, “there are no such instructions given to caregivers. We are working to avoid having to do what we could call `war ethics’;” the latter is a common practice in Gaza. But at least electricity is not and will not be cut in hospitals in China, Italy and France, and doctors have no shortage of stethoscopes, unlike their colleagues in Gaza.

Unicef, Unesco and Save the Children report that half a million children were unable to return to school by the start of the school year on August 24, 2014 as almost all of the schools are inaccessible. In fact, 213 schools were destroyed or damaged by the bombing of the Israeli army and 103 were transformed into shelters for displaced residents.

How can I not think of the children of Gaza when I think of the French, Italian and Tunisian children confined to their homes and deprived of school right now? But they at least are not likely to have the roofs of their houses falling on their heads like the Samouni family who lost 49 of their own in what humanitarian organizations consider a “deliberate war crime.”

Who can forget the moment when Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees, succumbed to emotion during a live interview with Al Jazeera? He was interviewed about an attack on a UN school shelter in which at least 15 people, most of them women and children, were killed. Gunness said: “What is happening in Gaza, especially for children, is an affront to the humanity of all of us.”

How can I not think of the residents of Gaza who are prisoners of an inhuman blockade that has lasted for more than 13 years when I find myself confined to my home, forbidden to leave my house except for 5 reasons set by the government and provided that I have a certificate? But in Europe at least, we don’t have snipers to enforce this ban.

As misfortunes add up, on Monday March 16th, there were 39 Coronavirus patients in the West Bank and no infections have yet been reported in Gaza. But it is estimated that the number of confirmed cases will increase considerably. Two patients were hospitalized in solitary confinement in the West Bank after their return from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, but none currently show symptoms of the virus. In addition, 1,400 residents of Gaza are under house quarantine. If the epidemic spreads, Gaza’s medical staff and hospitals will not be able to cope. In order to treat patients with coronavirus, Gaza will have to use equipment that is prohibited from entering by Israel.

So, today more than ever, we are all Palestinians and Gaza is coming to us!

Ahmed Abbes

Ahmed Abbes, mathematician, research director in Paris, secretary of the French Association of Academics for Respect for International Law in Palestine (AURDIP) and coordinator of the Tunisian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (TACBI).

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13 Responses

  1. Bumblebye on March 18, 2020, 2:54 pm

    I think of Gaza. But we will find it essential to turn inwards while we deal with Coronageddon. My son and his family have had to ‘self isolate’ from yesterday – without testing or tracing as that seems to be reserved for a more ‘select’ few. The ‘Shopocalypse’ means supermarket shelves are bare within an hour of deliveries and the poor, elderly and sick cannot get necessities. Gaza and the rest of Palestine will have to bear with us until we come out the other end.

    • [email protected] on March 19, 2020, 12:16 pm

      It is possible to think of Gaza, oneself, one’s family and friends, one’s own community — all at the same time. Of course your mind has to be wide open to do that. Cvirus knows no borders, so we are Gaza and Gaza is us.

  2. Jackdaw on March 19, 2020, 6:27 am

    There wasn’t always a blockade on Gaza.
    Israel quit Gaza. Left Gaza.

    I think Hamas rockets have something to do with the blockade.

    • Misterioso on March 19, 2020, 9:23 am


      As the respected human rights organization Human Rights Watch declared in 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

      The International Committee of the Red Cross: “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.”

      “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015, correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University. Hass, an Israeli who has won numerous awards for her reporting, has been covering the region since the early ’90s.

      As is now common knowledge among enlightened folk, the “collective punishment imposed [on Gaza] in clear violation of…international law” and its objective to prevent any progress towards a peaceful resolution of the overall conflict, was carefully planned by “Israel’s” government in 2004: “‘The significance of the [then proposed] disengagement plan [from Gaza, implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a [U.S.] presidential blessing [i.e. President George Bush] and the ratification of both houses of Congress.’ Weisglass, who was one of the initiators of the disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz for the Friday Magazine. ‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004)

      Furthermore, it seems you are unfamiliar with the several peace overtures Hamas has made to “Israel” to end the Gaza and overall conflict in a peaceful fashion and in accordance with international law. Here’s a few examples:

      On 16 June 2009, after meeting with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Ismail Haniya, Prime Minister of Hamas’s Gaza Strip government, announced that “If there is a real plan to resolve the Palestinian question on the basis of the creation of a Palestinian state within the borders of June 4, 1967 [i.e. 22% of historic Palestine] and with full sovereignty, we are in favour of it.” No response from “Israel.”

      “‘We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees,’ Haniyeh said, referring to the year of Middle East war in which Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.” (Haaretz, December 1, 2010) No response from “Israel.” (By calling for a “resolution of the issue of refugees,” Haniyeh was in accordance with UNGA Res. 194, binding on “Israel,” which calls for financial compensation as a possible option for the Palestinian refugees rather than their “inalienable Right of Return.”)

      In its revised Charter, April, 2017, Hamas again agreed to a Palestinian state based on the 4 June 1967 borders. Unfortunately, “Israel” promptly rejected the Hamas overture instead of using it to open a dialogue.

      “Senior Hamas Official: ‘I Think We Can All Live Here in This Land – Muslims, Christians and Jews.’” By Nir Gontarz. March 28, 2018, Haaretz. No response from “Israel.”

      • ejran on March 19, 2020, 11:07 am

        Thank you so much for this very useful summary.

        “The significance of the [then proposed] disengagement plan [from Gaza, implemented in 2005] is the freezing of the peace process,’ Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser Dov Weisglass has told Ha’aretz. ‘And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission.”
        Wow. So important to know and to remember.

      • jw500 on March 19, 2020, 12:20 pm

        First of all, when one side chooses war and loses, its civilians will suffer badly. Just ask the Japanese and Germans.

        Second you can’t believe anything Hamas says about making peace with Israel because they tell their own people the opposite and their actions imply the opposite.

        Third, losers don’t get to dictate terms of peace, sorry.

        Fourth, Jews have already lived with Muslims in the Middle East and in every instance where Jews did not dominate, they suffered from a little to a lot. Here’s a little secret, the majority in USA, Canada, and Europe don’t want Muslim rule. Why should Israel feel differently.

        Fifth, Amira Hass is despised for good reason. I’m pretty sure Gaza is not a “concentration camp” like the kind that exterminated millions of Jews and others or which are currently being used to “reeducate” Muslims in China. And those Muslims were not bombing China or trying to overthrow it. Gaza is at war and is suffering wartime deprivations. It can sign a peace treaty at any time but it would have to abandon its goal to “liberate Palestine.”

  3. jw500 on March 19, 2020, 12:12 pm

    The author is a pro-BDS Muslims supremacist who wants to destroy Israel. He makes the ridiculous comparison between suffering by “children of Gaza” because their evil government is trying to get Israel and getting whipped in response AND children in countries quarantine to prevent the spread of a dangerous virus.

    To be honest, maybe a comparison can be made between Islamist violence such as that perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the corona virus in that both must be protected against, sometimes by extraordinary measures.

    If and when a virus is developed, I hope he will never use it if a “Zionist” contributed in any way to its creation. I notice the West Bank Arabs are currently working very closely in a positive way with the Israelis, no BDS there.

    I wonder why the author does not choose to live in one of his own states but instead uses his perch in advanced Western state to bash another advanced Western state?

    • bcg on March 19, 2020, 1:06 pm

      @jw500: Did they not teach you about ad-hominem arguments in high school?

      Hers’s an article about how Israel recently allowed some cement into Gaza: “Israel allows cement into Gaza”

      But the larger takeaway is that everything that passes into and out of Gaza is controlled by Israel; many times Israel has prevented Gazans from leaving the strip to obtain medical treatment or to take advantage of scholarships abroad. Thst’s the definition of “occupation”

      • Misterioso on March 19, 2020, 2:02 pm

        A hurried response to your nonsense:
        This may come as a shock to you, but like all peoples, the long suffering, imprisoned and deprived of life’s necessities Palestinian inhabitants of the Gaza Strip (“the world’s largest outdoor prison”) have the legal right to resist an illegal occupation and the Gaza Strip is most certainly illegally/brutally occupied and repeatedly attacked by “Israel.”

        As for Netanyahu and the Likud party, here’s a brief summation of their positions that are contrary to international law and explain why the conflict has continued:
        The Likud Party Platform:
        a. “The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.”
        b. “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem”
        c. “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”
        d. “…. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”

        Regarding Zionist racism:
        “In the name of occupation, generation after generation of Palestinians have been treated as property. They can be moved at will, shackled at will, tortured at will, have their families separated at will. They can be denied the right to vote, to own property, to meet or speak to family and friends. They can be hounded or even shot dead by their masters, who claim their position by biblical right, and also use them to build and work on the plantations the toilers cannot themselves ever hope to own. The masters dehumanize them, call them by the names of beasts.” (Bradley Burston, Haaretz, Feb. 26/13)

        Rabbi Perin, in an eulogy for mass murderer, Baruch Goldstein, in 1994: ‘One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.’ (New York Times, Feb. 28, 1994)

        In April, 2001, during his Passover sermon, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party and former Israeli Chief Rabbi, described the Arabs as ‘serpents’ and in his Passover sermon, he stated that ‘the Lord shall waste their seed, devastate them and vanish them from this world. It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.’

        Regarding Palestinians residing in the occupied West Bank, Raphael Eitan, then Israel’s Chief of Staff, declared: ‘When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle….(New York Times, 14 April 1983)

        Prime Minister Ehud Barak: ‘The Palestinians are like crocodiles, the more you give them meat, they want more…’ (Jerusalem Post, Aug. 30, 2002)

        “Former Foreign Ministry director-general invokes South Africa comparisons. ‘Joint Israel-West Bank’ reality is an apartheid state”
        EXCERPT: “Similarities between the ‘original apartheid’ as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation in ISRAEL [my emphasis] and the West Bank today ‘scream to the heavens,’ added [Alon] Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria from 1992 to 1994. There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.” (Times of Israel, February 21, 2013)

        “The Racist Entity That Is Taking Over Israel Must Be Toppled”
        Haaretz, Feb 27, 2011 by Sefi Rachlevsky
        “…Israel has built a world where the Jews are citizens and the Arabs are not, both in the occupied territories and in Jerusalem; where a Jewish man is a citizen and his Arab neighbor is not. Most Jewish first-graders attend ultra-Orthodox and religious schools. The majority of them are educated along the lines of ‘The King’s Torah.’ A Jew is human. A non-Jew is non-human. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ does not apply to non-Jews. And this is not delivered in the form of incitement, but as a simple statement of a fact. As simple as calling a chair a chair.”
        “Illegal for 20 Years, Torture of Palestinians by Shin Bet Goes On” Haaretz, Sept. 11/19 by Dr. Rachel Stroumsa.

        Video: ‘Stone Cold Justice’ on Israel’s torture of Palestinian children
        “A film produced by a group of Australian journalists has sparked an international outcry against Israel after it explicitly detailed Tel Aviv’s use of torture against Palestinian children.

        For your much needed edification Regarding Muslims’ treatment of Jews:

        “So, what did the Muslims do for the Jews? – How Islam Saved the Jews.”
        Lecture by Professor David J Wasserstein.
        David J Wasserstein is the Eugene Greener Jr. Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. This article is adapted from his May, 2012, Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
        “Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.”

        It was in Al-Andalusia [Southern Spain] (known in Hebrew as Sefarad) “that the profoundly Arabized Jews rediscovered and reinvented Hebrew; there that Christians embraced nearly every aspect of Arabic style – from the intellectual of philosophy to the architectural styles of mosques….” (Maria Rosa Menocal, Ornament of the World, Little, Brown and Company, 2002, pp. 11 and 30)

        “In Al-Andalusia the Jewish community rose from the ashes of an abysmal existence under the Visigoths to the point that the emir who proclaimed himself caliph in the tenth century had a Jew as his foreign minister…. Fruitful intermarriage among the various cultures were vital aspects of Andalusian identity….” (ibid)

        GET EDUCATED!!

      • jw500 on March 19, 2020, 8:34 pm

        How much cement did the USA allow into Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan? Gazans are lucky they are not cut off from EVERYTHING. Guess what, in war blockades are 100% legal even if they harm civilians. Most of the posters here are not Gazans. You encourage them to fight hopeless battles from the safety of your perch in a Western nation. You should be encouraging them to surrender and sue for peace. They will find the terms of surrender very civilized and generous, especially by Arab standards. Gazans can have a modern land with booming economy but yes they will have to SURRENDER their goals to conquer or liberate Palestine (meaning Israel) and yes they will not be allowed to have a military until they can prove they won’t use it to attack Israel. Seems fair to me. But no, Mondoweiss wants Gazans to fight to the last Gazan.

      • Misterioso on March 20, 2020, 1:39 pm


        “How much cement did the USA allow into Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan? Gazans are lucky they are not cut off from EVERYTHING”

        Good grief!! More fascistic nonsense spewed forth in desperation by an indoctrinated racist Zionist zealot unable to comprehend obvious past and present truths. The good news is that “Israel’s” days are numbered! Wallow in your ignorance! Bye bye!!

  4. Ossinev on March 19, 2020, 1:52 pm

    “I wonder why the author does not choose to live in one of his own states but instead uses his perch in advanced Western state to bash another advanced Western state?”
    Zioland is not repeat not by any stretch of the imagination(excluding the batshit crazy Ziofreaks) an “advanced Western state”. It is no more nor less than a shitty little Fascist Apartheid colony in the Middle East repeat Middle East engineered and maintained by a specific religious cult and is in many ways increasingly comparable to ISIL.
    In any event your loopy argument about “perches” most certainly applies to all those Israel first groups and groupies in the US( such as AIPAC ) and other actually ” advanced” Western states.
    “First of all, when one side chooses war and loses, its civilians will suffer badly. Just ask the Japanese and Germans”
    Or perhaps just ask the brave Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw ghetto who truly put you and your ilk to shame. In your warped mentality they and all their direct or indirect supporters being on the losing “side” deserved to “suffer badly”.

    I wonder why the author does not choose to live in one of his own states but instead uses his perch in advanced Western state to bash another advanced Western state?

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