Middle East Eye / March 22, 2020
In a more tragic way, isolation has long been part and parcel of the Palestinian reality
I phoned my mother to ask: “What were we doing during curfew times in the Intifada?” My mother laughed, and replied: “We baked. A lot.”
Indeed, I remember our house in Ramallah being full of the aromas of all the different cakes. I also remember the constant patrol of Israeli soldiers on the streets, and the horrible sound of broken Arabic coming out of their armoured green jeeps as they shouted about the imposed curfew, along with a roaring threat that “anyone roaming will be shot”.
They were scary times, and they were times we spent inside our homes, wondering when it would all be over.
In light of the current Covid-19 state lockdowns, Palestinians have been sharing posts across social media in an attempt to highlight the siege on Gaza and curfews in the West Bank. The difference between the curfews and the current state of global quarantine is that, with military-imposed lockdowns, there is the added element that remaining inside does not necessarily ensure your safety, or that of others.
Indeed, at any point, an army brigade can raid your home and claim it to be a military base. Your movement is controlled by guns, and the sound of bombings can be heard outside, along with the live ammunition that seems to relentlessly play like some bad symphony on a loop.
The recent posts across social media reference our history – and present – as an experience that has prepared us for these quarantine measures taking place around the globe because of Covid-19. For Gaza, it highlights the unbearable reality of perpetual imprisonment.
Yet, as the globe tries to reconcile the quarantine measures being undertaken, the reality for Palestinians means living in an unremitting state of closure – except that our lockdown is for neither the sake of our well-being nor that of the world. It is for the single purpose of isolating us, containing us, and ensuring that we are socially distant from one another.
The current worldwide lockdowns – even if vastly different – are a moment for all of us to reflect on our lives and the lives of others.
The fact that quarantines are being imposed as a last resort in a state of emergency for the sake of global safety exposes how detrimental and costly this process is. It cripples economies, stymies social interactions and burdens individuals and families. We are, after all, social beings who are inextricably connected to one another.
As I witness the expansive efforts of solidarity and support in tackling the loneliness and isolation, I can’t but recall the forgotten people and communities who have been in isolation for years. Palestine is only one example amid the incessant inequalities and oppressive forces around the world.
The fact that this isolation – in a more tragic way – has long been part and parcel of the Palestinian reality (as well as the reality of others, from Syria to Cuba) should force us to reconsider how we allow our decision-makers to continue their complicity in the segregation of entire populations, for no purposes other than dividing them, ensuring their lack of access to resources, and maintaining domination over them.
These times are extremely difficult, even for the fortunate ones who are in the comfort of their homes, with access to the necessary nutrition and sanitation products. Yet, I think of the Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of children, in overcrowded jails with no access to proper food, warmth, or anything resembling entertainment, save for the shouts of Israeli prison guards and military personnel. Many are held under administrative detention, without charge or trial.
More than a game
During times of curfew in the Second Intifada, we also suffered from electricity cuts, water cuts, and did not have the social technologies available today. I still remember the marathons of shadow-puppet shows my mother used to have my siblings and I put on.
I remember the games of “blanket armour” she would have us play, as we were ushered to the safest room in the house and forced to cover ourselves with layers upon layers of blankets. It was my mother’s attempt to hide the fact that she was terrified that our house would be bombed over our heads; she was desperately trying to keep us safe, without panic.
Panic is one of the most important emotions that decision-makers around the world want to contain and mitigate in times of pandemic. In times of imposed violence, however, panic is weaponised against us.
We played along with my mother, but we also knew this was more than a game. These are only small parts of the curfew diaries that so many of my generation – and the one before it – can narrate. Worse, for Gaza, these realities have been the status quo for 13 years and counting: the closure, the isolation, and the fear of being bombed, with no real access to proper medical care.
Indeed, Palestinians can give advice on living in daunting isolation with limited resources. We can speak of the makeshift gardens we cultivated in the ruins of bombed-out homes when there was a shortage of produce, or the barbecue parties we had in unison on balconies in Beit Sahour, to remember that we were still human.
We can speak of the shadow-puppet games we played when there was no electricity to console crying children, and we can speak of the difficult speeches that you must give yourself under closure, to ensure you can keep going on.
It would be far better that we didn’t know these things. And in truth, the reality in a time of pandemic is quite different; under military lockdowns, the threat of harm is only directed at a particular segment of the population, with the single purpose of ending their resistance and their presence on the land.
As we confront and fight this ongoing pandemic that threatens us all, it is important to also reflect on the human-imposed realities that we are building and sustaining – and, more importantly, to recognise the importance of confrontation in the face of what kills us: together, whole, and in collective solidarity.
Hailing from Ramallah, Mariam Barghouti is a Palestinian writer and commentator; her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Al-Jazeera English, Huffington Post, Middle East Monitor, Mondoweiss, International Business Times and more.