While the world struggles against coronavirus, some peoples and countries face a two-pronged crisis; one of contending with the coronavirus pandemic itself and then, if that were not enough, the issue of sanctions as well! This is the situation faced by Venezuela, Iran, Syria, and Cuba (a country which has been under sanctions for more than 60 years!
Palestine also has to fight against this epidemic on two fronts; with minimum resources, but also against the ongoing and intensifying Israeli occupation.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) declared a state of emergency from the first moment in the full knowledge that if the virus were to take hold and spread, there would be no way it could be contained with the PA’s own resources and while the wider world would not be in a position to help.
This was a good decision which helped to constrain a relatively small outbreak of the virus within Palestine, with 266 confirmed cases and 2 deaths thus far, and there is hope that the situation will remain under control.
However, from the other side, the Israeli occupier is continuing its same policy as if nothing has changed in the region or wider world with the onset of the epidemic. To date (11 April) there have been more than 10,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Israel, and 95 deaths. Palestinians have to face this reality, and its implications of this on their own state of affairs, as well as the immediate situation in relation to COVID-19 in Palestine.
The established and long pattern of Israeli behaviour – whether that be the invasion of Palestinian villages, towns and cities; the annexation of Palestinian land; the arbitrary arresting and abusing of Palestinians; or the exploiting of Jerusalem, the Jordan valley and other issues within Israeli politics to be solved at the expense of the Palestinians side – continues unabated and as if nothing has happened.
There is also a very crucial ongoing issue relating to the many Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails (around 5,000) including more than 200 children, 47 women – amongst whom there are 700 sick, 30 of them with cancer. They remain in horrific conditions in Israeli jails and at real threat of being infected owing to the hundreds of Israeli guards and soldiers who have the virus.
The Palestinian people call upon the international community to put pressure on Israel to recognise the extraordinary nature of this crisis and its severity and free these prisoners without delay
There is also a problem with Palestinian workers inside Israel, numbering more than 130,000 in March 2020. While the Israeli side continues to refuse to provide these people with any healthcare or assistance, Israeli soldiers will knock them out of a checkpoint or queue at the slightest display of anything resembling a symptom on the pretext of controlling the spread of coronavirus.
On the other hand, if one were to observe any ‘positives’ to have emerged from this terrible situation; since the onset of the crisis, Jerusalem has again been effectively divided into East (Palestinian) and West for Israeli purposes. This, of course, means that despite its declaration by Donald Trump as the united capital solely of Israel, East Jerusalem is once more being differentiated as Palestinian and treated by the Israeli authorities as akin to one of the occupied territories.
As peace loving people, in Palestine and across the world, we hope that humanity will overcome this tragedy victorious without more losses and that the post-coronavirus period will provide an opportunity for a better world and society than before – with more cooperation; more provision for the social security, health and benefit of the people; and less weapons, wars and conflicts.
The coronavirus crisis shows that international solidarity, and solidarity between people respectful of the differences and diversity between them, is so very important for the future of the humanity.
Dr Aqel Taqz is secretary of the Palestinian Committee for Peace and Solidarity. Dr Aqel lives in West Bank and is an internationally known activist. He has visited to Britain at the invitation of Liberation, touring the country and addressing public meetings in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Oxford and Bristol. He addressed the annual meeting of Trade Union Councils in Manchester. He also met with senior officers of UNISON and RMT.