The mantra “we are all in this together” has been said numerous times every day recently by politicians of various stripes around the world as the Covid-19 pandemic rips through our communities. And it does feel as though we are all under attack, regardless of our status and position in life.
Are we, though, as human beings, really fighting this together? The answer, if you are a Palestinian, has to be “no”. All that “coronavirus” means to Palestinians from the occupied West Bank through to Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip is more suffering, more hardship and more inhumane treatment at the hands of Israelis, who ignore the Biblical command that “thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself”.
Television adverts in many languages advise us on the best way to combat Covid-19. Most of the advice originates from the World Health Organisation, but for Palestinians, many of its recommendations are impossible to fulfil. Washing your hands with soap and water regularly, and practising social distancing are virtually impossible if you live in the overcrowded Gaza Strip where space and clean water, never mind soap, are in desperately short supply.
Bearing in mind that Gaza has been without reliable electricity supply for two decades thanks to the actions of its neighbours in Israel, it is clear that we are certainly not all in this particular crisis together. Far from it. With its “most moral” soldiers reportedly spitting on Palestinians, placing infected people at checkpoints and maintaining the siege of Gaza by land, sea and air, Israel is piling on the misery of life under lockdown in the coastal Palestinian enclave.
As international agencies reach out to help those in distress and rival governments elsewhere in the world set aside differences to send aid to each other, Israel seems to take particular delight in exerting more pressure on the Palestinians to make them especially vulnerable during this coronavirus outbreak.
With around four hours of electricity available per day, more than 70 per cent of the Palestinians living in Gaza are forced to rely on humanitarian aid; half of the population is unemployed. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are simply not equipped to fight this pandemic because their medical infrastructure and healthcare sector has been bombed to hell in three major Israeli military offensives against the largely civilian population.Less than four per cent of the water in the territory is suitable for human consumption, and with a population of two million people crammed into the third most densely populated area in the world, doctors fear the worst if the virus really takes hold. Some are already talking about when, not if, this happens.
Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, there is no over-the-wall solidarity in evidence with anyone living there. In fact, mobs of illegal Jewish settlers in the equally illegal settlements have actually ramped up the armed violence against their Palestinian neighbours during the virus crisis; more than 50 violent crimes have been reported recently.
Empty vessels make the most noise, and the volume pumping out of the White House about victories in the fight against Covid-19 must sound extremely hollow in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Instead of reminding America’s ally Israel about its legal responsibilities as an occupier, US President Donald Trump has blocked $75 million of aid for the Palestinians. His officials did say that $5 million in humanitarian assistance will be given to hospitals in the West Bank, but this isn’t even a drop in the ocean of what is needed so desperately in the occupied territories. Gaza, as usual, is on the receiving end of nothing in terms of aid from the US.
If we — as represented by the United Nations — really are in this together, then Israel must allow much-needed medical supplies and personnel to enter the West Bank and Gaza Strip with essential humanitarian aid. At the same time, Israel needs to stop detaining Palestinian men, women and children without access to legal representation, health care or proper sanitation in its prisons, where they are at very high risk of contracting the virus.Washington is in pole position to insist on Israel stepping up to the plate and accepting responsibility for the land it controls and occupies and the Palestinians who live there. All Trump has to do is attach conditions to the military aid given to the Israelis. The US is not normally shy about imposing conditions and restrictions on foreign aid, so what is the President waiting for?
Without recognition of the fact that the Palestinians are denied their human rights at every turn, there will never be equity and fairness in the fight against this pandemic. Nobody should forget that an “I’m alright Jack” attitude could be fatal in this sort of struggle, because until and unless the most vulnerable in society are protected, then we are all still at risk.
Hence, if Israel cares anything at all about its own citizens, then it should make the health and well-being of its Palestinian neighbours a priority. Covid-19 doesn’t recognise artificial barriers and borders; it doesn’t matter how many apartheid walls the Zionist State builds, it really is not in its own interests to have a major coronavirus outbreak in either Gaza or the West Bank, or both at once. There is a good reason why the Book of Leviticus instructed its readers to “love thy neighbour”. It’s a lesson that Israel ignores at its peril.