The heavens have darkened and everything is closing in around us. Only fate, God or the shaper of history are laughing at us from up high, a bitter, ironic laughter. The irony of fate: For the first time, Israel is tasting some of the hell it has been dishing out for decades to its subjects. With alarming speed, Israelis have entered a reality known to every Palestinian child.
Even the terms have been borrowed from the occupation: Israel is on its way to a lockdown, the army is taking over hotels, the Shin Bet security service is taking over our cellphones, and the Border Police and its checkpoints are right around the corner. It’s no coincidence that Haaretz’s military analyst has been recruited to serve as the coronavirus analyst. In a day or two Tel Aviv will resemble Jenin and Israel will be like the Gaza Strip. What is routine there has become a frightening dystopia here.
Of course, the differences are many. What for us constitutes the end of the world would for them be an easing of the closure, with the pandemic looming over everyone. Still, we can’t but marvel at the similarities. First, the state of siege. The gates are practically locked. No one leaves or enters.
- ‘Panic in the Neighborhood’: Touring Two of Israel’’s Coronavirus Epicenters
- 'Quiet, We’re Sanitizing:' Security Agencies Tightening Grip on Israeli Lives
- Israeli Coronavirus Surveillance Explained: Who's Tracking You and What Happens With the Data
Think of Gaza for 14 consecutive years. Young people who have never seen a passenger plane, even adults who have never been inside an airport, not even dreaming of a vacation abroad. Israelis have difficulties with life without Ben-Gurion Airport even for a moment. Gazans don’t know about a life that includes trips abroad. Where’s that? What does it look like?
Passover is coming soon, and kids and their parents here will go stir crazy without their getaways, malls, cruises, Disney or duty-free shopping. Gazans have no clue what all that means. They know about curfews, which sometimes last for months, like during an intifada. They know about curfews with many more children and fewer rooms, with tanks outside and hatred inside. Imagine the Border Police patrolling the streets checking documents and putting up checkpoints.
In Israel the security forces will behave like caring nurses compared to their thuggish behavior in the territories, and it will still be unbearable for us. How much easier it is when the police officer is one of yours and the state is your own state. How galling and hard it is when they're a foreigner, an invader, an occupier. Still, we’ll get to have some taste of what that’s like.
We’ll also get to taste the taste of lost time, Palestinian time, where you leave the house and don’t know when or if you’ll reach your destination. You go to university but don’t know when and for how long it will shut down. You have a job but try unsuccessfully to get to work.
The economic situation will also become more similar. We already have 100,000 new unemployed – people who lost their work, their business, their entire world. At least for a now it seems to them that they have no future or present, that everything has gone down the drain. And how will they pay the bills and feed their children? This is so routine under the occupation, the reality of decades. Sitting at home climbing the walls for months is elementary in the territories.
The Shin Bet says it will use “digital measures.” Don’t make Palestinians laugh. That’s the most humane way they’re treated by the security service. Let the Shin Bet eavesdrop and track, just stop torturing, extorting and abusing. In the territories the Shin Bet always knows everything, everywhere, with no legal restrictions. Criticism of privacy violations in Israel can only amuse the Palestinians – just like the picture of Home Front Command officers running a hotel. How many hotels have been taken over by the army and turned into headquarters in the territories?
There are differences as well. Even at the height of the pandemic, Israelis will not be humiliated or beaten in front of their children or parents. Their houses will not be invaded in the middle of the night, every night, to carry out a brutal and purposeless search. No one will abduct them from their beds.
Even in the worst of dystopias there is no expectation of snipers shooting at demonstrators’ knees for fun. Our houses won’t be bombed or our fields sprayed. It’s just a temporary siege, with Shin Bet eavesdropping and Border Police patrols, the dream of every Palestinian dreaming of a better life.