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Welcome to Lockdown: COVID-19 quarantine and the Gaza experience

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In 2004, I was selected by the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunication to attend the International Telecommunication Union Annual Congress in Hong Kong. Although I had the visa, the ticket, and packed bags, I was not able to travel as Gaza was put on partial quarantine by the Israeli military that controlled the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. On my way to the Rafah crossing, I had to stop at two main military checkpoints; both of them were involved in splitting the Gaza Strip into cantons, imposing a relatively harsh lockdown on millions of the Palestinians for months. Employees, students, patients, and travelers, as well as basic supplies and goods, were not allowed to move between the main parts in the Gaza Strip. That day, the Israeli military did not allow the car through that I was in, and I had to go back to Gaza city. No reasons were given to us as to why we could not cross. That was a normal, unjustified practice that heightened our sense of frustration and hopelessness. In 2006, Israel, after it withdraws from the Gaza Strip as well as after the Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to the political arena, imposed a quarantine on two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, not allowing anyone to leave or move in or out of the Gaza Strip, restricting essential goods and services from entering the Gaza Strip, making it unbearable to a living human being.

These days, as the world faces a global pandemic of coronavirus outbreak without discrimination between race, nationality, region, or class, there is a unique thing that unites us all, which is quarantine, and in some places a curfew. This quarantine reminds me of the lockdown I experienced in Gaza

As a child, I was used to curfew and lockdowns from time to time, and when I grew up, I was forced to be in lockdown for years, along with two other million human beings. The international and regional sympathy and solidarity with the locked-down Palestinians grew steadily, supporting from afar their cause and rights. However, they knew little about the meaning of forced quarantine and being locked-down.

The last two weeks, I received many notifications of cancellations of conferences, including a prestigious international symposium. More than five academic events, which  I was supposed to attend have been canceled amid the COVID-19 outbreak. My feelings were a mixture of sadness that I would not be able to present my work at international conferences and events, and calculated happiness that we academics can have a rest, and also that many will understand the true meaning of lockdown and being in forced collective quarantine. Hundreds of academics in Gaza have been in lockdown for 15 years. They have been denied the privilege of travel, presenting, networking, and collaborating because of the unexplained and unjustified lockdown from 2006 by the Israeli military.

Since 2006, thousands of postgraduate students in Gaza could not and still cannot travel or have lost their scholarships because of the lockdown. In Gaza, international or regional participation in conferences and events is an opportunity to leave for a break from the quarantine, even for a short time (when possible) but it is an almost impossible privilege. Gaza was quarantined in a dehumanizing mechanism, and not to protect public or global health.

The interruption of life, career, work, and studies, putting them into a temporary halt is the reality of the daily lives of Palestinians in Gaza since 2006. However, outside the Gaza strip, there is always a government and institutions that could make life easier, provide services, health care, and economic support, while in Gaza, that is a daydream. In reality, the only event that the people in Gaza talk about is when the next war is, and not when the lockdown will be lifted.

The ignoramus of Gaza’s lockdown is clearer now to the great majority of the people in the Western world, as well as in other parts of the world.

The solidarity and sympathy with the Palestinians could change as it will no longer be based on the Latin conjunction ignoramus – “we do not know” or non liquet – “not proven.” No one should assume knowing nothing about forced quarantine, siege and lockdown, or not having the experience proven by themselves as they have gone through a milder lockdown and easy siege. Everyone has now experienced the feeling of lockdown and quarantine. Fortunately, this is to save lives, unlike in Gaza, which only causes death and suffering.

However, many Israelis, like the former general director of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority wanted COVID-19 to silence the Palestinians in Gaza. In his article at Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, he sees that the virus is an opportunity to silence the Palestinians, asking if the virus outbreak will do that, in a sick and dehumanizing tone. The writer forgot that Israel has done much to destroy the health system in the Gaza Strip. In the 2014 attacks alone, Israel damaged 17 hospitals, 56 primary healthcare facilities, and 45 ambulances. According to WHO, Israel has been denying medical treatment for Gaza patients under security pretexts. Israel has been weaponizing medical treatment against the Palestinians, not only destroying the basic health needs and health system in Gaza, but it working to deny the people of Gaza from being able to seek treatment from outside.

The grief, injustice, and violence that Israel has been imposing on Palestinians in Gaza is a strong reminder that Israel and the international community are directly responsible for the catastrophic consequences that may occur if COVID-19 hits the Gaza Strip. The world has been watching the Gaza Strip being locked down and dehumanized by Israel while dealing with it shamelessly as a humanitarian crisis. The people of Gaza cannot and will not be able with the destroyed health care system, bad nutrition, and lack of resources and capacity to cope with any such outbreak. Israel is causing a long-term catastrophe in an unprecedented way.

Abdalhadi Alijla

Abdalhadi Alijla is a social and political scientist. He is the Co-Leader of Global Migration and Human Rights at Global Young Academy. He is an Associate Researcher, and the Regional Manager of Varieties of Democracy Institute (Gothenburg University) for Gulf countries. From January 2020, he will join the orient institute in Beirut as Max Weber Post-doctoral fellow. Since April 2018, he is an associate fellow at the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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9 Responses

  1. Misterioso on March 21, 2020, 1:47 pm

    For the record:

    “California releasing inmates for fear of Coronavirus, but Israelis Keep Vulnerable Gaza as Largest Open Air Prison” by Juan Cole, Informed Comment, March 21/2020

    “California prisons are releasing prisoners for fear that the crowded conditions in penitentiaries could prove deadly breeding grounds for the novel coronavirus.”

    “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.

    “AFP reports that the two million Palestinians in Gaza only have 60 ICU or intensive care beds, and not all of them are functional. The Israeli blockade, which disallows importation of many key goods, has devastated the health care system in the Strip. In Palestine over all, there are only 1.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people compared to Germany with 8.3 beds per thousand people.

    “Health statistics are already bad in the Strip. Children suffer from poor nutrition. Its sole aquifer is polluted and sea water is seeping in, so that 90 percent of the water is undrinkable.

    “California prisons would be paradise next to a Gaza Strip being ravaged by Covid-19.

    “Jamal al-Khudari, head of Palestinians against the siege, has demanded that the Israeli blockade on the Strip be lifted and that the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides medical and educational aid to Palestinians, be refunded by the US (Trump slashed the organization’s funding).

    “Because the Israelis destroyed Gaza’s airport and won’t let its port operate, and restrict overland travel out of the Strip, Gaza is somewhat isolated and has not yet reported any virus cases. People do manage to travel in and out of the Strip, however, through Israeli or Egyptian checkpoints, and the likelihood is that at some point one will bring in the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

    “The Palestinian health authority has put 637 persons returning recently from abroad under a two-week quarantine. Its officials say that no case of Covid-19 has so far been reported in the Strip. But with hundreds of returnees, there is a danger that their quarantine will be partial and that some are carriers, maybe even asymptomatic ones. People live in extended families in crowded conditions, so I’m not sure what a ‘quarantine’ would consist of.

    “West Bank Palestinian authorities have announced 36 coronavirus cases in Bethlehem.

    “The World Health Organization reports:
    “’Life expectancy at birth for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory was 73.8 years in 2017.5In the same year, infant mortality for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was reported to be 10.7per 1000 live births and under-5 mortality was 12.1 per 1000.5Health inequalities exist, with worse health indicators for some populations, such as those in Area C of the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, compared to the Palestinian average. For example, rates of stunting in Palestinian children living in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank were found to be 23% in Bedouin communities, compared to 10% in villages and 9% in UNRWA refugee camps.There are also health inequalities between the Palestinian population and the 611,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Life expectancy at birth in Israel, which includes the Israeli settler population in the West Bank, is approximately nine years higher than it is for Palestinians living in the same territory for the same year.”


    “Gaza prepares for potential coronavirus outbreak”

  2. jon s on March 22, 2020, 4:54 pm

    The Hamas authorities took the decision to close the border crossings to Israel and to Egypt as a precaution.
    One may also ask why Hamas hasn’t built more hospitals , hasn’t invested more in health care, education , infrastructure. Also agriculture industry and commerce. Not priorities , I suppose.

    • eljay on March 22, 2020, 5:57 pm

      || jon s: … One may also ask why Hamas hasn’t built more hospitals , hasn’t invested more in health care, education , infrastructure. Also agriculture industry and commerce. … ||

      jon s, I completely agree that Palestinians:
      – should receive from America the (same amount of) funding America currently provides to Israel (and which – accord to some ZIonists, anyway – Israel doesn’t need);
      – should have unrestricted air, land and sea access into and out of their own country; and
      – should be able freely to solicit investment in and development of their country.

    • echinococcus on March 22, 2020, 9:25 pm

      “One may also ask why Hamas hasn’t built more hospitals , hasn’t invested more in health care, education , infrastructure. Also agriculture industry and commerce”

      Because that is the occupier’s exclusive responsibility — instead of continually destroying everything and mass-murdering the owners of the entire land. The occupied people’s only responsibility is to resist and expel the occupier.

      One may also ask what, when the time comes, the appropriate penalty will be for vile propagandists of racist colonial fascism.

      • catalan on March 23, 2020, 9:20 am

        “One may also ask what, when the time comes, the appropriate penalty will be for vile propagandists of racist colonial fascism.”
        Echino. You seem to imply that there will be a violent punishment against a blogger who asked why Hamas has not built more hospitals. I think that the dissociation from reality of the pro Palestinian movement is complete; between punishing bloggers and hoping that something called “the world” will “come in and liberate the Palestinians” it is truly scary just how removed from reality that is. Meanwhile there is an actual plan put by the American president to resolve the conflict. Sad.

      • echinococcus on March 24, 2020, 5:07 pm

        The Catalan thingy is possibly too busy counting his beans to learn the history of the end of the major aggressive occupations…

      • catalan on March 24, 2020, 5:41 pm

        “The Catalan thingy is possibly too busy ..”
        Mr coccus,
        You are laboring under the absurd assumption that contempt is a sign of brilliance. It’s like they said when we were little – you need Other people to say you are smart not to keep repeating it yourself. I hate to disappoint you but there is nothing amazing, earth shattering or especially clever in your laments and threats beyond the sad and pathetic sight of a fragile ego.

  3. Ossinev on March 23, 2020, 10:10 am

    Meanwhile Coronavirus or not it is IDF business as usual in the West Bank.
    Yet another ferocious evil rock throwing “terrorist” eliminated by those brave colonial “defenders” in the most moral yawn puke etc

  4. bcg on March 24, 2020, 12:02 pm

    @Catalan: ” I think that the dissociation from reality of the pro Palestinian movement is complete…. Meanwhile there is an actual plan put by the American president to resolve the conflict. Sad.”

    I take what Israel’s security establishment says as pretty indicative of reality. Here’s what Commanders For Israel’s Security” has to say about the “actual plan”:

    “There is no risk-free unilateral annexation…Any unilateral annexation – of a single settlement bloc, all settlements, or the Jordan Valley – undermines Israel’s security:…”

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