By Abdalhadi Alijla
In 2004, I was selected by the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunication to attend the International Telecommunication Union Annual Congress in Hong Kong. Although I had the visa, the ticket, and packed bags, I was not able to travel as Gaza was put on partial quarantine by the Israeli military that controlled the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. On my way to the Rafah crossing, I had to stop at two main military checkpoints; both of them were involved in splitting the Gaza Strip into cantons, imposing a relatively harsh lock down on millions of the Palestinians for months. Employees, students, patients, and travellers, as well as basic supplies and goods, were not allowed to move between the main parts in the Gaza Strip. That day, the Israeli military did not allow the car through that I was in, and I had to go back to Gaza city. No reasons were given to us as to why we could not cross. That was a normal, unjustified practice that heightened our sense of frustration and hopelessness. In 2006, Israel, after it withdraw from the Gaza Strip as well as after the Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to the political arena, imposed a quarantine on two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, not allowing anyone to leave or move in or out of the Gaza Strip, restricting essential goods and services from entering the Gaza Strip, making it unbearable to a living human being.
These days, as the world faces a global pandemic of Coronavirus outbreak without discrimination between race, nationality, region, or class, there is a unique thing that unites us all, which is quarantine, and in some places a curfew. This quarantine reminds me of the lock down I experienced in Gaza
As a child, I was used to curfew and lockdowns from time to time, and when I grew up, I was forced to be in lockdown for years, along with two other million human beings. The international and regional sympathy and solidarity with the locked-down Palestinians grew steadily, supporting from afar their cause and rights. However, they knew little about the meaning of forced quarantine and being locked-down.
The last two weeks, I received many notifications of cancellations of conferences, including a prestigious international symposium. More than five academic events, which I was supposed to attend have been cancelled amid the COVID-19 outbreak. My feelings were a mixture of sadness that I would not be able to present my work at international conferences and events, and calculated happiness that we academics can have a rest, and also that many will understand the true meaning of lockdown and being in forced collective quarantine. Hundreds of academics in Gaza have been in lockdown for 15 years. They have been denied the privilege of travel, presenting, networking, and collaborating because of the unexplained and unjustified lockdown from 2006 by the Israeli military.
Since 2006, thousands of postgraduate students in Gaza could not and still cannot travel or have lost their scholarships because of the lockdown. In Gaza, international or regional participation in conferences and events is an opportunity to leave for a break from the quarantine, even for short time (when possible) but it is an almost impossible privilege. Gaza was “quarantined” in a dehumanising mechanism, and not to protect public or global health.
The interruption of life, career, work, and studies, putting them into a temporary halt is the reality of the daily lives of Palestinians in Gaza since 2006. However, outside the Gaza strip, there is always a government and institutions that could make life easier, provide services, health care, and economic support, while in Gaza, that is a daydream. In reality, the only event that the people in Gaza talk about is when the next war is, and not when the lockdown will be lifted.
The ignoramus of Gaza’s lockdown is clearer now to the great majority of the people in the Western world, as well as in other parts of the world.
The solidarity and sympathy with the Palestinians could change as it will no longer be based on the Latin conjunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’ or non liquet – ‘not proven’. No one should assume knowing nothing about forced quarantine, siege and lockdown, or not having the experience proven by themselves as they have gone through a milder lockdown and easy siege. Everyone has now experienced the feeling of lockdown and quarantine. Fortunately, this is to save lives, unlike in Gaza, which only causes death and suffering.
However, many Israelis, like the former general director of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority wanted COVID-19 to silence the Palestinians in Gaza. In his article at Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, he sees that the virus is an opportunity to silence the Palestinians, asking if the virus outbreak will do that, in a sick and dehumanising tone. The writer forgot that Israel has done much to destroy the health system in the Gaza Strip. In the 2014 attacks alone, Israel damaged 17 hospitals, 56 primary healthcare facilities, and 45 ambulances. According to WHO, Israel has been denying medical treatment for Gaza patients under security pretexts. Israel has been weaponizing medical treatment against the Palestinians, not only destroying the basic health needs and health system in Gaza, but it working to deny the people of Gaza from being able to seek treatment from outside.
The grief, injustice, and violence that Israel has been imposing on Palestinians in Gaza is a strong reminder that Israel and the international community are directly responsible for the catastrophic consequences that may occur if COVID-19 hits the Gaza Strip. The world has been watching the Gaza Strip being locked down and dehumanized by Israel while dealing with it shamelessly as a humanitarian crisis. The people of Gaza cannot and will not be able with the destroyed health care system, bad nutrition, and lack of resources and capacity to cope with any such outbreak. Israel is causing a long-term catastrophe in an unprecedented way.