I do not think that there is any Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who has not had experience of curfews in their years of living under the Zionist occupation, especially those old enough to remember the First Intifada (1987-1993). The most volatile areas in terms of confrontations and clashes were under strict curfews for extended periods and suffered major food shortages. Breaks lasted just a few days before the curfew was reimposed, usually after renewed clashes or operations against the occupation army.
The curfew policy allowed Israel to be its normal violent self as searches across neighbourhoods and inside homes were made easier in the absence of people on the streets. Curfews were also used by the Israeli authorities as a punitive measure; they hoped that they would act as a deterrent in areas where protests were organised against the occupation or where an operation targeting security forces was carried out. The punishment for breaking the curfew included arrest, beatings, abuse and, occasionally, being fired upon by the occupation forces.
In those days, the Palestinians looked for ways to sidestep the curfew; groups specialised in monitoring the main routes into their city, village, camp and neighbourhood. They provided cover for other groups to move around, carry out emergency work and check on and assist vulnerable families and individuals. Challenging and breaking the curfew demonstrated the will, determination and defiance of the people, as well as their refusal to give up. There were even those who left their homes to confront the occupation soldiers despite the curfew.
This inherited popular culture in relation to curfew policy is still alive in the minds of many Palestinians who felt that to abide by the curfew was to submit to the oppression of the occupation. This was even the case when the curfew was imposed by Palestinian themselves in order to protect the people, not punish or humiliate them.
In these days of the coronavirus pandemic, I would not be exaggerating if I said that there are many Palestinian areas within which orders to stay at home are not being obeyed, especially in the West Bank, where such directives have been in place for over a week. Some people see no harm in going about their normal daily activities. This includes visiting friends and family, as long as it is out of sight of the security forces, who could fine them for leaving their homes for non-essential reasons.
While it is uncommon for a Palestinian institution to impose a policy on the people which is also used by the Israelis in the context of their occupation, today the situation is completely different. This is a global measure, not a local issue. There is a difference between refusing to obey a punitive curfew imposed by the occupation authorities and a curfew imposed by the Palestinian Authority in order to reduce the risk to our health and the health of those around us. We need to understand this. Combatting this virus needs us all to reduce the contact that we have with other people as much as possible, especially given the already stretched health facilities in the West Bank and Gaza. If, God forbid, the virus spreads even more than it has now, the healthcare system is likely to collapse.
Successfully breaking the curfew these days is neither heroic nor defiance; it is a direct threat to the efforts being made to control and contain the pandemic, making life much harder for the medical teams dedicated to protecting us. The longer the virus is able to spread, the longer the state of emergency will be, thus prolonging the curfew and keeping people away from work and studies, friends and family.
If we are to overcome this sensitive stage we need awareness and responsibility at the individual level before anything else; this requires many people to overcome their tendency for disorder and chaos. They must commit themselves to a high level of self-discipline, awareness and concern for the public interest. They must also understand the need to avoid contact with individuals and public gatherings, and be aware of the effectiveness of protective health measures which some still believe to be overly restrictive.
Heroism and defiance have their time and place, as do discipline and obedience. Mixing the two will exacerbate the problem and promote negligence and indifference, especially when there are multiple manifestations of people violating the emergency law. They include parties to celebrate the release of prisoners, which happens daily in some areas where social gatherings and traditions are still upheld.
However, there are exemplars who deserve our appreciation, because they demonstrate their courage through self-discipline. They include some of the prisoners released from Israeli prisons who went straight home and turned visitors and well-wishers away due to the current situation. And those with a death in the family who are content with receiving condolences remotely. Although shedding their social traditions and customs weighs heavily on them, they understand that choosing the public interest over personal desire is a means to develop societies and boost their collective sense of responsibility.
Translated from Felesteen, 30 March 2020.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.