Palestinians all too familiar with oppression of lockdowns
If you think the coronavirus pandemic is the worst thing you have experienced, you haven’t experienced the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which has been far more brutal and lethal than any virus could ever be.
I was in occupied Palestine during the First Intifada, writing on the resilience and strength of the Palestinian people in the face of Israeli military oppression. My family lives in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Beit Jala, Beit Hanina and Beit Sahour. I know what they are forced to experience every day by Israel’s oppressive government.
For many, the words and phrases most associated with the coronavirus outbreak — “lockdown,” “stay at home,” and “shelter in place” — may be new, but they aren’t to the Palestinians. They have lived with curfews, lockdowns and severe restrictions, and often been unable to buy groceries, get medical attention or even visit relatives for more than 70 years. They know what it is like to go without food, without schooling, without celebrations or events.
Israel has adopted more than 65 laws that discriminate against the Palestinian people simply because they are Christian and Muslim, rather than Jewish. One of the first grants immediate citizenship to any Jew from any country around the world and of any nationality or origin, but denies that same privilege to the Palestinians, who have been living on that land since time immemorial.
My family name, Hanania, is a Hebrew Word — not Israeli, by the way. It means “God has been gracious.” My family, we believe, originated from the Hebrews and converted to Christianity in the first century, while even some converted to Islam in the seventh century. We have Christian, Muslim and Jewish relatives, so our history and rights are clear to everyone, except the Israelis. As heavily armed Israeli soldiers wandered through Palestinian cities and villages, we hunkered down eating mujaddara, the rice and lentil dish that became the symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s brutality.
As I watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urge “unity” with his political rivals, I wonder where that has been in the country’s dealings with the Palestinians.
There have been so many Palestinian deaths over the years that the world has become desensitized to them
So far, there have been more than 420,000 cases of the coronavirus worldwide, and there have been about 19,000 deaths. But those numbers continue to change so, by the time you read this, they will be less than what is reality. And yet the Palestinians have seen even worse statistics that continue to increase daily. The deaths have been staggering over the years. Tens of thousands died during the war of 1947-49. More than 20,000 were killed during the Israeli assault on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, including the civilians massacred under Ariel Sharon’s terrorist direction in Sabra and Shatila. Another 2,000 Palestinians were killed during the First Intifada, during which I secretly walked the streets at night with my cousins, collecting “rubber” bullets that were in reality lethal metal balls covered in a thin plastic coating. More than 2,300 were killed during Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2014.
There have been so many Palestinian deaths over the years that the world has become desensitized to them. Palestinian deaths are little more than numbers in a news report, usually presented in such a way as to defend Israel’s extremist government. But those deaths are dwarfed by the injuries to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, maybe even millions.
This week, Israel’s government and the Palestinian Authority it controls issued orders to lock down citizens, block immigration and travel, and close all cultural and educational activities and events to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But, when it is over, life will return to “normal” for the Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis will be free to live a fantasy life of happiness, blocking the trauma they cause from their eyesight with an 8-meter-high concrete wall. The Palestinians will return to being oppressed, brutally beaten, and arrested by Israeli soldiers and the Shin Bet. They will continue to scramble for food, any work, and see power outages, restrictions on their movement, and punishments that range from beatings to killings for actions involving protest and militancy, which Israel labels as “terrorism.”
Pandemics are not as bad as occupation. If you want to know how to survive this coronavirus pandemic, take a look at how the Palestinians have managed to survive Israeli brutality. And why not take a minute to eat a plate of mujaddara with your family to show some solidarity.
What Palestinians have been forced to go through over the years under Israel’s oppression is no different than what the world is now going through as a result of the coronavirus. Although the truth is that Israel’s oppression has been far worse and there still is no antidote for that virus.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania