First published by the Arab Weekly on 15/3/2020
The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and the group’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noting that the number of cases outside China increased 13-fold in two weeks, said he was “deeply concerned” by “alarming levels of inaction” over the virus.
Apart from China, Italy’s action was perhaps the most draconian, effectively placing 62 million residents under lockdown to slow the spread of the disease, which saw 200 people die in a 24-hour period.
In the United Kingdom, the first MP to catch the virus was Nadine Dorries, ironically a health minister in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. There has been a debate about whether Johnson should be tested because Dorries and Johnson attended the same reception a few days earlier.
The virus could cross the House of Commons to infect Labour, Liberal Democrat or Scottish National Party MPs because it does not discriminate between House members on the basis of political affiliation party, gender or sexual orientation. Viruses do not discriminate between people and they certainly cross the floor of a parliament from government benches to opposition benches.
The virus outbreak, which started in China, crossed borders and landed in countries thousands of kilometres apart, extending the above analogy that it does not discriminate between its victims and it does not see a victim from one developed country as superior to another from a developing country. This is confirmed by the fact the two major centres of the outbreak outside China are Italy and Iran.
The same has been seen in the Palestinian territories and Israel. The coronavirus has infected both Israelis and Palestinians in almost equal measure. It did not see Jewish Israelis as more superior to Palestinian Arabs and therefore to be avoided.
Israel insisted on citizens arriving at Ben Gurion Airport be committed to two weeks of house quarantine. It barred travellers from several countries from entering and was considering expanding that to all countries, having seen the number of coronavirus cases rise to 97. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu banned indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
The Palestinian Authority placed all of Bethlehem under quarantine after seven tourists at the same hotel tested positive for the coronavirus. It decided to close schools and universities for a month.
There have been at least 29 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Palestinian territories. One of the latest cases was in the northern town of Tulkarem. The patient is said to have contracted the virus in Israel.
Again, this demonstrates that the virus does not distinguish between Jewish Israeli or indeed a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a Palestinian worker from the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem.
Even in Israel’s self-declared capital Jerusalem, the coronavirus will not distinguish between East and West Jerusalem or between a Jewish, Christian or Muslim worshipper. Its victim is any human being who crosses its path.
While a rabbi a priest or an imam may pray for his flock’s protection from the virus, the coronavirus will be unperturbed by one more than it is by another. The coronavirus could strike a Muslim on Friday, a Jew on Saturday and a Christian on Sunday. It has no respect for holy days.
This should provide Palestinian and Israeli religious and political leaders with food for thought. At the end of the day, a Jew, Christian or Muslim bleeds, cries and laughs in the same way. They could give each other blood, body organs and bone marrow and actually do so. They like each other’s food and culture, even if they do so secretly.
A Jewish Israeli is likely to be treated by a doctor of Palestinian origin at Hadassah Hospital and when a Palestinian from Gaza needs specialist treatment he could be treated by an Israeli doctor in Haifa.
They may fear the other but often rely on each other for support and can see each other as equal. However, the ideology of Zionism does not see Jews and Palestinians as equal and rabbis often talk of non-Jews as “goyim”, a lesser human being.
This was reinforced by the passing of Israel’s Nation-State Law in 2018, which gave Jews the right of self-determination in Israel (whose borders are not declared) but not non-Jews. The non-Jews include Israel’s 20% Palestinian citizens and if taken together 6 million Palestinians in historic Palestine. It gave Jews across the world the right of return but not Palestinian refugees, expelled in 1948 and since then.
If peace is to come to the Holy Land, Palestinian Muslims and Christians and on the other side Israeli Jews must see each other as equal human beings who will inhabit the holy land for decades to come. It is time for freedom, justice and equality to become a reality and for the coronavirus to be defeated by all.