The world is struggling with a Covid-19 lockdown – but there’s one place where it has hardly changed a thing. There, a walled-in existence is a decades-old reality, and will remain so after the pandemic. The place is Palestine.
Lavender-scented three-ply toilet paper. Fresh bread with olive pieces. Half a kilogram of pears. The 10am SoulCycle class. We’ve all heard people bumping their gums about what they’re not getting or doing during the Covid-19 lockdown.
It’s ripped the arms of our consumerist societies completely out of their sockets.
Yet almost everything we could possibly desire is on tap, either through ordering it using an app and having it delivered, or by going to collect it.
The vast majority of us don’t have to consider anything when it comes to the supply of goods, or plan more than a few hours in advance. You can have an entire household’s worth of furniture and electrical goods delivered to your door within 24 hours.
The same applies to our personal freedom. Before this, who of us even considered not being to go to certain places in our cities? The idea of the government asking – and not forcing – us to refrain from moving around as we please is real to us only in the sense that it could be a plot from one of the Rock’s disaster action movies.
Now the handcuffs are on us. We’re locked up. Locked up – but still with our plasma TVs, Netflix subscriptions, grocery deliveries, clean water, access to medical care if needed, and also our human rights.
It really is a gold-plated incarceration.
So spare a thought, please, for the people of Palestine. They would love to be in our Covid-19 lockdown, our jewel-encrusted confinement. Having what we regard as our basic rights stripped away would be a dream scenario for them.
Forget about not being able to buy organic chicken legs or pick up a prescription for heartburn; they aren’t able to do that anyway, even in the best of situations.
They are living their normal day-to-day lives at the moment, with rampant unemployment and chronic shortages of medical supplies. Figures suggest they only have a paltry 63 ventilators and 78 ICU beds for their entire population of 4.6 million. There’s also a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical staff, and acute shortages of much-needed items like cardio-monitors, emergency carts and portable x-ray machines.
At the time of writing, there have only been 134 recorded cases of Covid-19 in Palestine – but that probably says more about their ability to diagnose, as they don’t have functioning hospitals, never mind the expensive testing kits being snapped up by richer countries.
Electricity blackouts are frequent, and people have no access to the sorts of goods and services that virtually all of us regard as everyday essentials. And there aren’t any luxuries to even mention, so let’s not go there.
At its best, the GDP of Palestine is $10 billion, less than a third of Coca Cola’s annual earnings.
The state is split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
It would be bigger, but for years Israel has illegally annexed strips of land and built houses for their citizens. It has also choked off all routes in and out of Palestine, trapping every man, woman and child in an aggressive, vice-like grip.
There’s a 26-metre-high wall (‘barrier’ is the official term) erected around Palestine and monitored by armed Israeli soldiers, so by definition they have never known true freedom or been able to go where they want. There is also an air and sea blockade, preventing anyone from leaving but also stopping anything being delivered directly, especially in a time of crisis like this.
All of this has gone on while the leadership of the US, UK, Germany, France, Canada and other global powers have pretended not to see anything. Donald Trump’s recent outrageous so-called “peace plan” was yet another humiliation.
Even if they do donate the odd relatively small amount of financial assistance, the same goes for the so-called Arab brothers of Palestine; the royal rulers of Qatar, UAE and Bahrain are more worried about keeping the oil and gas prices up. And Saudi Arabia’s princes’ free time is spent hatching plans to chop up dissidents in their embassies.
Anyone who did have a voice and used to sound the alarm for Palestine has had to take a backseat and deal with the unexpected impact of Covid-19.
But really this should make us all rise up, as now we’ve experienced a taste of what it feels like to be them.
We are struggling and finding it tough to not see loved ones, be unable to buy what we want, eat anything we feel like, and be forced to stay home.
What would it be like to live our entire lives under those conditions?
The bizarre thing is, the Palestinians would snap your hand off to live like that; they continually endure conditions many, many times tougher.
Proud Palestinian Mrs G El-Sawaf, who is from Ramallah in the central West Bank, spoke to me yesterday of her personal experience. “This is everyday life for the Palestinian people, without the luxury of packed supermarkets but [with] the threat of encountering an armed Israeli soldier,” she said. “The Palestinians have been in isolation and living in misery under sanction for years and now have the added threat of this killer virus. In some way, this pandemic was destiny to the rest of the world and should be a lesson for those who value their freedom.”
When this is over, let’s not forget them again. Our golden handcuffs will be released soon enough. Their well-worn and rusty shackles must be removed too.
Right now, all of us are Palestine.
By Chris Sweeney