Occupied Palestine: In The Shadow Of The Pandemic – OpEd
By Yanis Iqbal
The situation in Palestine is grim. Unemployment levels are alarmingly high – 121,000 Palestinians lost their jobs in the wake of the first lockdown and employment figures declined by 17% in Gaza. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics issued the findings of its labor force survey for the third quarter of 2020, which show that the unemployment rate rose to 28.5% of 2020, up from 24.6% in the equivalent period of 2019. Some 40% of Palestinian households have lost more than half their income and food insecurity rates have soared.
Dr. Akram Kewidar, an assistant professor at the Israa University, Gaza, told me that the “pandemic has destroyed Gaza’s economy”. Talking about the health situation, he stated that “Israel says to us: end your violence first then we will allow the entry of equipments. They call our struggle for liberation “violence”. Israel has bombed Gaza’s airport and does not allow essential supplies to come. Respiratory Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) are direly needed here”.
There are more than 19,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases with nearly 90 deaths in the Palestinian enclave. Of Gaza’s 100 ventilators, 79 have been already taken up by Covid-19 patients. 32% of basic drugs and 62% of drugs and materials for medical laboratories are not available. This shortage is a direct result of Israeli restrictions. Israeli Ministry of Health controls the import of pharmaceuticals to the Gaza strip, allowing the importation of products already registered in Israel, comprehensively blocking imports from neighboring markets.
Basic staples such as fuel, electricity, spare parts, and medicines are all controlled by the Israeli Office for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a division of the Israeli military. Until 2009, COGAT allowed items into Gaza that were categorized into 42 types; all other items were prohibited. After 2009, these limits were to some extent loosened but overall, the materials coming into Gaza are unpredictable and goods normally stay in the limbo of Israeli “processing” for months and even years at a time.
Zionist Settler Colonialism
The rapid deterioration of material conditions in Palestine is inseparably interlinked to Zionist settler colonialism which has systematically negated Palestinians and frenziedly denied them any attribute of humanity. As Edward Said put it, “All the constitutive energies of Zionism were premised on the excluded presence, that is, the functional absence of “native people” in Palestine”. This paradox of the “present absentee” – of the one whose identity is shadowed by nonidentity – leads to the unending dehumanization of Palestinians because the collision of imagined absence with concrete presence requires that settler colonialism constantly remain on the offensive: since the Palestinians are always present, the potential for resistance always exists; given that, Zionism tries to simply wipe out this fact of anti-colonial resistance. Thus, “The penniless native population,” wrote Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, would simply have to be “spirited away” to make room for Jewish immigrants from Europe.
To attempt the erasure of its subjects, settler colonialism practices pure force. The Israeli state not only violates foundational laws but also wants its subjects to understand in no unclear terms that law is indeed being violated—fear cannot be but generated through lawlessness. Colonial power is sought in the absolutist and abject use of force without norms. Normlessness is the only way colonialism actualizes itself. Zionism itself intends that Palestinians should comprehend that lawlessness is not an “exception” but is the only way it knows how to govern. In other words, the colonizer does not seek to legitimize its lawlessness as an exception but seeks to demonstrate its capacity to be lawless without seeking legitimacy.
As Frantz Fanon claimed, “In the colonial countries…the policeman and the soldier, by their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action maintain contact with the native and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge. It is obvious here that the agents of government speak the language of pure force. The intermediary does not lighten the oppression, nor seek to hide the domination; he shows them up and puts them into practice with the clear conscience of the upholder of the peace; yet he is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native.”
The language of pure force not only comprises of immediate presence and direct action; it is intricately woven with a social machinery of violence which exposes Palestinians to the continual threat of death that becomes a permanent shadow accompanying them. Operating subtly, the suspended violence of settler colonialism forbids, deters and complicates simple actions, undermines preferences, disrupts daily schedules and silently kills.
Therefore, Israeli military occupation saps the colonized of their life not simply by shooting and killing them but by tearing them apart with dull details—permits, rules, quotas, rations, curfews, Jewish colonies, bypass roads, closed areas, barriers, the destruction of cultivated fields, the confiscation of agricultural land, and the implementation of a siege policy that aims to “put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger”. In this way, birth, death, housing, eating, working, farming, access to water, health care and education get permeated by the logic of everyday violence. The end result of the colonizer’s suspended violence is the complete alienation of the colonized. In his preface of “Black Skins, White Masks”, referring to the Algerians, Sartre wrote, “the Arab, permanently alien in his own country, lives in a state of absolute depersonalization”.
Israeli Occupation – Pandemic Edition
When seen in the context of settler colonialism, it becomes evident that the Covid-19 crisis in Palestine has been amplified and exploited by Zionists to further their own objectives of extermination. Through the development of a complex bureaucratic structure of permits, checkpoints, and zoning laws aimed at the control of the movement of people and goods, Israel has purposefully de-developed Palestine, converting it into a devastated place extremely vulnerable to the vagaries of the pandemic.
The strategies of enclosure and fragmentation have turned Palestine into the occupied space so poetically described by Fanon: “The town belonging to the colonized people…is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where, nor how. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other, and their huts are built one on top of the other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire.” Unequivocally acknowledging the role of Israeli settler colonialism in exacerbating the Coronavirus crisis for Palestinians will greatly contribute to the anti-colonial struggle against Zionism.