The coronavirus Covid-19 is a serious test of our humanity, morality and solidarity; resilience, steadfastness and the will to survive are being tested alongside our basic values and beliefs. Some have responded with magnificent displays of self-sacrifice, altruism and integrity, while others have been selfish and self-centered, bordering on the xenophobic. The crisis has unveiled the ugly masks of capitalist and egocentric entities.
Even though the magnitude of the crisis was predictable, major nation states are coping badly, with inadequate protection for frontline medical practitioners. In Britain alone, at the time of writing 19 health workers have died after contracting Covid-19. Nurses in one US hospital have resorted to wearing plastic rubbish bags as “protective” gowns because adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) has not been available. In its belated effort to provide PPE, the Trump administration has been accused of “modern piracy” after allegedly redirecting a shipment of protective masks heading to Germany, and offering to outbid other European countries to be prioritised in the progressively difficult global PPE market.
The European Union is scraping through the ongoing disaster by the skin of its teeth. Some argue that France and Italy could lead a breakaway group of member-states if the EU refuses to back demands for coronavirus aid.
Both countries are suffering in terms of fatalities and lack of protective facilities. For probably the first time in decades, large numbers of Europeans are unable to buy food. Many have lost their jobs and many businesses are either closing or bankrupt. Italy is certainly in economic meltdown; the financial sector is facing unprecedented turmoil that will have dire consequences for years to come. Unlike post-Brexit Britain, Italy can’t print money and hand it to employers. Being outside the Eurozone, the boss of the Bank of England can print billions of pounds to try to stave off an economic crash. This is not an option open to Italy, which can only borrow at interest rates that will burden its shattered economy with more debts.
In an EU recent meeting, French President Emanuel Macron was left irritated by northern EU member-states, principally the Netherlands, for declining requests from financial assistance from Italy, Spain and France. The rising divergent and conflicting standpoints may lead to the EU fracturing into different blocs once the pandemic is over.
As the European countries struggle to contain the spread of the deadly virus, China and Russia have stepped forward to send medical aid to the devastated countries. The Chinese moved when Italy’s European partners were showing it a distinct lack of solidarity. Russia, meanwhile, sent a clear political message to EU members, dispatching nine military transport aircraft loaded with medical equipment and specialists to Italy. The boxes were labelled “From Russia with Love”.
Moscow, like Beijing, took the initiative to exploit Europe’s hesitant response to the virus outbreak. In 2014, EU governments agreed to impose sweeping economic sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Nonetheless, Russia has sought to maintain good ties with Italy.
Pragmatically, it is now capitalising on this diplomatically and maximizing its interests by underlining close relations with Rome in the midst of EU bickering. Russia doesn’t need to drive a wedge between EU members and Italy, however; there is a widespread perception that the coronavirus response is another manifestation of Euroscepticism and will be the straw that might break the EU camel’s back.
Israel’s government, meanwhile, approached Turkey with a list of medical requirements and Ankara approved the sale. It expected the Israeli government to allow a similar shipment of medical supplies to reach the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, rather predictably, the Israelis put a spoke in the wheel and asked for the return of their soldiers captured by Hamas in the 2014 military offensive as a condition for providing assistance to Gaza. The Hamas leadership in Gaza had proposed to reveal details of the Israeli prisoners in return for access to medical supplies and ventilators to combat the coronavirus, as well as Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners at risk of contracting the virus, including the elderly, sick, children and women held by the occupation state.
For centuries, there has been a code of chivalry and morality over and above the rules of combat during times of conflict, but it seems that the rogue state of Israel didn’t get the message. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never misses an opportunity to prove how racist and petty he and his government are. Even during these days of deep crisis, instead of alleviating its illegal and inhumane siege of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government continues to block basic humanitarian aid. This intransigence exposes the true face of the apartheid state. Meanwhile, its soldiers and illegal settlers continue with their attacks against Palestinians under lockdown in the occupied West Bank. In the ongoing test of our humanity, morality and solidarity, Israel is failing miserably while others step up to the mark and shine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.