Covid-19. Two months of lockdown at the French countryside south west of Toulouse, only an hour from the Pyrenees and the Spanish border. This unprecedented and surreal experience brings back memories of 1990 when in the summer, Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Kuwait.
During the subsequent (first) Gulf War, Saddam threatened to pound Tel Aviv with chemical weapons, a threat that ultimately never materialized, but understandably caused a lot of fear. In response to the threat, a lockdown similar to the one at present was imposed on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip where I worked for UNRWA, the UN agency providing critical services to Palestinian refugees. Furthermore, each Israeli household was required to set up a ‘sealed’ room and the state provided gas masks for each inhabitant.
In view of the poor state of housing in the Gaza refugee camps, sealed rooms were not an option for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living there and in the West Bank, and Israel had provided gas masks only for the handful of expatriate staff working for international organizations. I vividly remember the painful situation when one of UNRWA’s radio operators, a local staff member, instructed us by radio to don gas masks during one of the first air raid alerts, while there was none for him.
As I did then, I am acutely aware of the privileged position in which I find myself also during the present lockdown. Spending this time at the countryside, with an abundance of fresh air, renewal prompted by springtime, working in and around my old farm house has been very rewarding. I bought the house a decade ago but until now not had the chance to spend much time in it, and it has been great to see it become more of a home with every day passing. The lockdown has also provided an opportunity for reflection and some strategizing.
I hope the current worldwide lockdown will turn out to be a global reset; a fundamental reconnection with our most basic values, our shared humanity and, to use the words of Maya Angelou, a realization that "We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." Back to the Near East I hope that Covid19 has helped to bring home that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict died many years ago and that we are currently in a one-state reality, where Israel not only ultimately dictates the strategy to fight the current pandemic, but governs all aspects of life of the two peoples, including the Palestinians who are deprived of the most basic rights (Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank) or second class citizens (Palestinians in Israel). A one-state reality governed by an apartheid system in all but name. As the experience in South Africa has shown, institutionalized oppression calls for resistance and will never be sustainable. Hopefully also for the Palestinians, this will ultimately lead to justice and equality: ‘one man, one vote’.