Opinion

Will the Coronavirus Make You Empathize With Us Gazans?

When this crisis is finally over, will Israel lift the restrictions on movement that it imposes on the two million people in the Strip?

Mohammed Azaiza
Mohammed Azaiza
Gaza Strip
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Laundry hangs to dry up as a Palestinian boy looks out of Al-Mathaf Hotel, where he is quarantined with others, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease, in the northern Gaza Strip April 6, 2020.
Laundry hangs to dry up as a Palestinian boy looks out of Al-Mathaf Hotel, where he is quarantined with others, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease, in the northern Gaza Strip ApCredit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS
Mohammed Azaiza
Mohammed Azaiza
Gaza Strip

GAZA - Two days ago, my son asked to go down to the yard to play ball. I said no and reminded him of the danger of being infected with the coronavirus. “I know,” he said, “but today there’s a coronavirus hudna” – a truce. It was hard for him to understand that a virus, though different than the wars we’ve lived through, could be such a serious threat, in part because of the population density in Gaza.

People think of their right to freedom of movement as something natural. They are used to deciding when, where and how they will spend their day. The rapid spread of the virus may have been made possible because of people’s refusal to accept the loss of control over their personal lives.

So, dear friends around the world, and especially in Israel – how is life in lockdown and isolation? Prevented from meeting parents, children, grandchildren? How are you managing with the ban on traveling around the country, socializing, operating businesses? How are you coping with the uncertainty about the future? Gazans, who have lived under lockdown for so many years, are very familiar with the feelings of fear and worry for the future it brings.

No, I am not gloating that you are now experiencing something of what normal life is for us. Gazans see what is happening around the globe.

It hurts to see places emptied of life and filled with dead bodies. Gazans are anguished at the thought of people dying without loved ones by their side. When the first infections were discovered in Gaza, a new and terrible fear quickly spread here. This is the first time in 13 years that Gazans are calling for the Erez and Rafah crossings to be closed rather than opened.

But alongside the fear, there is hope: Maybe now the world is more aware of what a lockdown means, one that is not so different from the effect of blockade of Gaza. Maybe people will finally understand how these conditions spur unemployment; how they undermine infrastructure and prevent the normal functioning of a health system; how it discourages the young people who grow up amid this reality that has no end in sight, to the point that they become consumed with thoughts of escape and possibly suicide.

Palestinians on a beach amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus disease, in the northern Gaza Strip, April 6, 2020.
Palestinians on a beach amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus disease, in the northern Gaza Strip, April 6, 2020. Credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Israel clearly realizes that conditions in Gaza are ripe for rapid spread of the pandemic. It also knows that fences and walls won’t stop the virus. The virus won’t discriminate between residents of Beit Hanoun and Netiv Ha’asara. Last month, doctors form Israel met with doctors from Gaza at the Erez crossing. There is coordination between Israel and Gaza and a shared interest in fighting the virus together. But what will happen the day after, once the pandemic is stopped? Will Israel heed our call and lift the restrictions on movement it imposes on 2 million Gazans, or will it continue to argue that it left Gaza in 2005 and shun responsibility for our situation here?

I am currently sitting at home, like everyone, wondering if, when this is over, we’ll understand that our need and ability to work together is of greater value than the urge to control each other’s fate, which dooms us all. Like you, I am waiting for life to return to normal, but not to return to the rockets and arson balloons over southern Israel and not to the collective punishment and closure and the arbirtrary restrictions that infringe on all aspects of our lives.

Meanwhile, allow me to share from my experience what works for me in coping with isolation: Be patient – no one knows when the isolation will end. Build a daily routine and try to stick to it: Get up early, don’t surrender to sleep. Exercise for 20 minutes. Find time for an afternoon nap. Wash dishes – It relieves stress and keeps your hands clean. Find ways to work at home.

Don’t just listen to news, make time for music and reading. Delegate authority to your kids, they love to lead. Get some sun through the window every day, it will give you energy. Try to quit smoking. Cook good food. Stay home. Take care of yourselves.

Mohammed Azaiza lives in Gaza and is Gaza field coordinator for Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

A Palestinian policeman stands guard as a woman, wearing a mask as a precaution against the coronavirus, waits with other people outside a bank to withdraw cash, Gaza City, March 29, 2020.
A Palestinian policeman stands guard as a woman, wearing a mask as a precaution against the coronavirus, waits with other people outside a bank to withdraw cash, Gaza City, March 29, 2020.Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters