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No, life during the coronavirus isn’t like Gaza

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One post has been going viral on social media, that asks:  “Dear World, how’s the lockdown?’ Signed: Gaza.” The suggestion is that people in Italy, Spain, France, or the U.S., now know how Palestinians in Gaza live. The post has even been shared by Palestinians from Gaza itself, as well as by Arabs in various parts of the world.  Writing about the newly-imposed restrictions on travel and large gatherings in Europe, as well as the horrific reality of having to do a triage of patients in overwhelmed hospitals in Italy, Ahmed Abbas asked:  “How can I not think of Gaza?”

Speaking for myself, as someone who does think a lot about Gaza, I can say this much: I live just outside of Seattle, that is, the U.S. epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic, and I fit in the high risk category, since I have asthma, as well as high blood pressure–the latter being now suspected as an aggravating circumstance, because a disproportionate number of fatalities apparently also had high blood pressure.  I am self-quarantining, and am out of my staples: brown rice, lentils, and chickpeas, essential to my vegan diet. Nevertheless, while I understand the impulse to remind the world that Gaza has been under lockdown for thirteen years, I have found the meme comparing my current circumstances with the 13-year siege on Gaza unnerving, and am compelled to point out some significant differences, which Abbas indeed alludes to.

I still have electricity.  That means I am not reading by candle light, my internet is on 24 hours a day, my fridge is running, as are all my electric appliances, from dishwasher to microwave. It also means my freezer is full, so while I may run out of fresh greens, I do have frozen spinach.  I expect to have electricity throughout this pandemic.

Can we talk about water?  As in, water is life? I can run the water for as long as I want while washing my hands. This morning, I soaked in a bath tub. The water in Gaza is unfit to drink, and itself the carrier of germs and diseases.  All the studies that “predict” that by 2020, Gaza will be unlivable hinge on the level of water pollution and contamination.  And yes, we are already in 2020.

I will not be shot at by a sniper for stepping out of my house.  Even in the most stringent of quarantine cases, people can still get to a hospital.  In Gaza, the hospitals are barely functional, lacking basic supplies. Obtaining a “humanitarian permit” from Israel to get treatment outside of the besieged strip is a tortuous process, so long that patients sometimes die while awaiting the permit.  If they do get it, young children can sometimes leave, but without the reassuring company of their parents.

I can work from home.  Most employers are now asking employees who can to work online, and while this may not be ideal, it is an option.  I do not want to minimize the severity of the crisis in the US, and understand that many in the service industry cannot work from home, and millions will lose their income. The U.S. has no safety net, no universal healthcare, and illnesses are a primary cause of bankruptcy. But I also keep in mind that in Gaza, seventy percent of the population is unemployed.

Alarmist scenarios in the U.S. speak of weeks of social distancing. We are inconvenienced by the fact that we are unable to reschedule postponed events to a specific date in the near future yet.  Gaza has been under a medieval siege for 13 years, with no relief in sight.

Another key difference lies in the fact that nobody blames Seattle, or the Bay Area, for bringing the virus onto itself.  In the good-guy-bad-guy binary, COVID-19 is the bad guy, and people getting sick are the innocent good guys, who do not deserve to die. Even if they have been irresponsible, even if they have traveled, and partied, and hugged, and not washed their hands.  The population of Gaza, on the other hand, is often presented as having somewhat brought the siege upon itself. Despite Israel’s violation of international law and the human rights of Palestinian refugees, Israel is still, in the eyes of many, “the good guy” defending itself from the Palestinians.  We still hear, over and over again, that the real reason Gaza is under a siege that has been accurately described as incremental genocide is “Hamas.” As if, if it weren’t for Hamas, Israel would allow the refugees to return to their stolen homes and lands.

And the last item in this reality check?  On top of the siege, on top of already empty shelves, and the impossibility to travel, and poverty, and unemployment, and water and soil contamination, and the lack of the basic necessities, Gaza now has to deal with the threat of the novel coronavirus.  Last week, Israel allowed all of 200 test kits into Gaza, for a population of two million, and it did so because, in the words of the Israeli Commander for Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, “Preventing the spread of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip and preventing an outbreak in the Judea and Samaria territories are of foremost Israeli interest.”  The article this revolting quote comes from, titled “Will the Coronavirus quiet the Gaza Strip,” perfectly illustrates Israel’s utter dehumanization of the Palestinians, viewing even the fatal illness as an opportunity for Israel to have a reprieve from the people in Gaza asserting their human rights through protests at the border.

So please, let’s stop circulating the “Dear World” post.  It is offensive to compare our circumstances to those of the besieged Palestinians in Gaza.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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8 Responses

  1. Misterioso on March 19, 2020, 7:24 pm

    Must listen:

    Recent video featuring Palestinian vocalist, Walaa Battat!! WOW!!


    “Bella Ciao: Palestinians Exhibit Solidarity with Italy in Bethlehem Rally”

    March 19/2020 Defend Democracy Press, by

    “In a display of solidarity with Italy, which is reeling under the effects of the deadly Coronavirus, COVID-19 disease, Palestinian soldiers raised Italian flags during a parade in the occupied Palestinian city of Bethlehem on Sunday.

    “Bethlehem is considered the epicenter of the Coronavirus in Palestine.

    “The gesture was one of many expressions of solidarity that were also displayed by Palestinians on social media.

    “The historic ties between the Palestinian and the Italian people go back many years, especially as both nations have laid revolutionary wars against foreign occupation and oppressive regimes.

    “Last February, Palestinian singer Walaa Battat released her latest song ‘Deal Ciao’ (Bella Ciao cover).

    “The song is inspired by the resistance hymn of the anti-fascist Partisan movement in Italy. ‘Deal Ciao’ is the latest artistic expression to reject the Donald Trump administration Deal of the Century.”

    Published at

  2. DaBakr on March 21, 2020, 11:21 am

    So tell the people who elected the Hamas to force a vote and elect new leadership. Being an adult means taking responsibility. Gazans are not completely victims of the zionists as much as they are victim to th he dictators they elected themselves . (Unless of course you blame the ‘Zionist entity ‘ in total in which case rationality is closed

    • bcg on March 21, 2020, 1:49 pm

      Collective punishment against every man, woman and child in Gaza until they come to their senses! Travel restrictions for two million people until they demonstrate the proper political views! Restricted food imports until the inmates vote sensibly. Shootings of Gaza fishermen at random times, just to show them how important it is to elect a political party that Israel approves of. It’s their fault!

    • eljay on March 21, 2020, 2:57 pm

      || DaBakr: So tell the people who elected the Hamas to force a vote and elect new leadership. … ||

      I agree that the people of Partition-borders Palestine should be liberated, unified and permitted to elect new leadership and start freely to solicit investment in and development of their country.

      || … Being an adult means taking responsibility. … ||

      I completely agree. So…when are Zionists and their “Jewish State” project going to grow up into adults and take responsibility for their part in the I-P mess? You know the decades’ worth (and counting) of aggression, oppression, military occupation, colonialism, (war) crimes and religion-based supremacism?

      • catalan on March 25, 2020, 11:58 am

        “I agree that the people of Partition-borders Palestine should be liberated, “ eljay
        So 80 years after the partition plan was rejected by the Arabs and accepted by Israel, the Palestinians have finally changed their minds. I wonder if another 80 years from now, on a different blog, a future eljay will be whining for the Trump plan; when the Palestinians at that time will have something much less than the Trump plan to bargain about. Sounds like they are 80 years behind the curve on the proposals.

      • eljay on March 25, 2020, 12:39 pm

        || catalan: “I agree that the people of Partition-borders Palestine should be liberated, “ eljay
        So 80 years after the partition plan was rejected by the Arabs and accepted by Israel, the Palestinians have finally changed their minds. … ||

        Have they? Huh.

        || … I wonder if another 80 years from now, on a different blog, a future eljay will be whining for the Trump plan … ||

        I guess you missed King Bibi’s boast about being at the helm of the Titanic. The “Jewish State” won’t last another 80 years, never mind a Thousand Years!

        With that in mind, you Zionists should be more concerned about the position you continue anti-Semitically to put all Jews in with your deliberate undermining of international laws and human rights and the protections they are meant to afford all people.

  3. lonely rico on March 21, 2020, 3:17 pm

    California releasing inmates for fear of Coronavirus, but Israelis Keep Vulnerable Gaza as Largest Open Air Prison

    There are 2 million prisoners, most of them not adults, however, who won’t be let out of prison despite the dangers of over-crowding and externally dictated inadequate health facilities. They are the people of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, with a population size similar to Houston.

  4. E_Andrew on March 25, 2020, 10:34 am

    Points well taken. However hard disagree with the closing sentences. Palestinians who are sharing the meme aren’t confused about the differences between their situation and that of people in the US, Europe, etc. Neither are many of us who have been to Gaza or who have friends there.

    The meme was an attempt to establish a new baseline of understanding. The whole point was to say to the world, “hey, feeling powerless and scared about your current circumstance? Remember us? We’ve been dealing with it since forever.”

    The point of the meme was to direct people’s attention towards one specific facet of Gaza’s reality and to use it as a foothold, as leverage, as a way to get people to remember Gaza when most people never think about it in the first place. It’s a useful framing of the suffering in Gaza because those circumstances are now shared and hence somewhat relatable. And that’s really the challenge in getting people to care about issues that are beyond their horizon and beyond the scope of their experience, how to make them relatable.

    I get frustrated with these types of opportunistic articles that, instead of simply focussing the blame where it belongs, feel the need to parse and nitpick and shame people for not articulating their outrage perfectly enough.

    To put it another way, do we think a meme that listed ’50 ways the situation in Gaza is worse than in the West’ would have been as impactful, or can we assume that it would likely have been ignored like most of the more nuanced and detailed calls for help? The sad fact is that getting the public to notice the suffering of Palestinians at all is a win. Unfortunately that’s where we’re at. Let’s not split hairs, shame one another, and move the goalposts on what constitutes the most perfect expression of our outrage. Let’s just find whatever ways we can to make the suffering of others more relatable and relevant to our friends and neighbors so that we can open the door to further questioning and engagement on the topic. This is very useful strategy for starting a deeper conversation about the many differences between Gaza and the West.

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