‘Close and unprecedented’ was how the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHA) described Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in its first ‘COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report’ on 24 March. This has not stopped antisemites and anti-Zionists the world over trying to exploit the pandemic to demonise the Jewish people and Israel. Cary Nelson examines the phenomenon, focusing on a recent letter published in the medical journal The Lancet before being withdrawn.
BLAMING THE JEWS AGAIN
As Gaza was acquiring its first two cases of the coronavirus in March 2020, the world’s longest hatred inevitably found local expression. A Palestinian newspaper in Gaza published a cartoon Star of David adapted to mimic the virus, at once combining malice and contempt.
The star is blue; it bristles with a score of the protein extensions or spikes characteristic of COVID-19 graphic representations. Judaism, not simply Zionism, the text declares, is ‘the most dangerous virus for humanity.’ The same month the virulently anti-Zionist publication Mondoweiss, edited in the US, printed a cartoon by the well-known and prolific political artist Carlos Latuff showing multiple coronaviruses weaponised by Israel to attack Palestinians.
An elderly and obviously distressed Palestinian woman wearing a headscarf and draped in the Palestinian flag faces a curved line of huge corona viruses resembling mines at sea. The curved security barrier is behind her with an Israeli soldier holding a machine gun leaning over it. Above him a helicopter circles. Other soldiers recede along the wall into the distance until reaching a guard tower topped by an Israeli flag. Frail enough to be balancing on a cane, she is nonetheless encircled by hostile forces. Her expression is anxious and puzzled. The caption announces ‘Israel and coronavirus unite against occupied native Palestinians.’[i]
The facts at issue were irrelevant to both artists. If Palestinians were suffering, Israel must be to blame. If the Trump administration insisted on designating the pandemic’s source as the ‘Chinese Virus’ or the ‘Wuhan Virus,’ for the worldwide anti-Zionist movement it would effectively be the Jewish virus. A pandemic of signification immediately acquired an anti-Semitic constituency. The Trump’s administration’s nomenclature meanwhile gave license to anti-Asian aggression.
For its part, the Independent Voices Canada website in March announced an ongoing series of dispatches: ‘The brutal siege of Gaza, and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, are tinderboxes for the Coronavirus.’ By March 27, the IVC website was highlighting a dispatch from Khalil Abu Yahia, a 24 year-old English teacher in Gaza City: ‘The sad thing that we are thinking here in Gaza is that Israel is going to get away with this: they will not be held accountable for our health. Because if you ask yourself why we’re suffering, and why we’re not getting proper treatment for the virus, it’s because we weren’t born to Jewish mothers.’[ii]
Writing in Fathom in his 31 March piece ‘COVID-19: Blaming the Jews for the Plague, Again,’ Lev Topor summarises the new conspriracism: ‘Some Turkish and Iranian politicians and officials blamed the US and Israel for spreading the virus for strategic reasons, while jihadists accused the Jews of an anti-Muslim conspiracy and white supremacists blamed the Jews for spreading the virus to further their global dominance and financial gains. Antisemitic conspiracy theories began spreading even more quickly than the disease itself, on some official media outlets, as well as the regular internet and on the dark web.’ Topor places this rhetoric as the heritage of the longest hatred: ‘Throughout history, Jews have often been treated as scapegoats, accused of being the cause of society’s problems, perceived as being diseased or as a group deliberately spreading disease among non-Jews.’ Topor proceeds to detail numerous new slanders already proliferating in the pandemic context:
Some Turkish and Iranian politicians and officials blamed the US and Israel for spreading the virus for strategic reasons, while jihadists accused the Jews of an anti-Muslim conspiracy and white supremacists blamed the Jews for spreading the virus to further their global dominance and financial gains . . . In Iran, Professor Ali Karami from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-run Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences appeared on Iranian television and described COVID-19 as a ‘biological ethnic weapon,’ created by the ‘Americans and Zionist regime’ to target Iranian DNA . . . . In March 2020, Turkish officials and other public figures accused Israel of population dilution – ‘This virus serves Zionism’s goals of decreasing the number of people and preventing it from increasing,’ the head of Turkey’s Refah party said . . . . In January 2020, white supremacist and former congressional candidate Paul Nehlen said Israel had ‘unleashed a bio weapon’ against China that was ‘meant to teach you that they control your destiny as well.’
Hebrew University professor Yehuda Bauer cites a Jordanian example: ‘As’ad al-Azouni, a Jordanian journalist, wrote on the Donia al-Watan website on March 16 that ‘this virus is unquestionably a result of the secret Jewish hatred for the whole world.’ He writes that ‘when the Jews caused the outbreak of World War I, they got the Balfour Declaration’ and when they ‘caused’ the outbreak of World War II, they got their ‘colony’ in Palestine and ‘now they want to cause the outbreak of World War III so they can declare the establishment of the Kingdom of Greater Israel.’’[iii]
The Anti-Defamation League is formally tracking anti-Semitic COVID-19 accusations internationally, documenting a number of them in its 25 March report ‘International Scapegoating of Israel and Jews for Spreading COVID-19.’[iv] In France, ‘Alain Mondino, head of a party list belonging to the far-right National Rally political party, posted a video on social media trying to link Jews to the spread of the coronavirus.’ ‘French far-right figure Henry de Lesquen spoke at a “Swiss Resistance” meeting in Aigle and said “There’s worse than coronavirus—judeovirus (Jewish virus).”’ Echoing a number of similar slanders, ‘Ivo Sasek, a Swiss Holocaust denier, posted on his organisation’s website, klagemauer.tv, an article falsely accusing Jewish American George Soros of spreading the virus.’[v] The trend is mounting across Europe: ‘In an article published on the extremist Spanish website, kaosenlared.net, the far-left Basque political party, Herritar Batasuna, wrote: ‘Today, March 14, we emphatically declare that the coronavirus is an instrument of the Third World War that has unleashed Yankee Zionist imperialism. The Anglo-Saxon capitalist and Zionist elite that is the enemy of all Humanity has taken a further step in its criminal and genocidal offensive.’
‘CLOSE AND UNPRECEDENTED’: ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN COOPERATION IN THE FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19
Meanwhile, in the real world, Israeli and Palestinian health authorities throughout the area continue to be in contact with each other to discuss strategies for containment. A senior Palestinian official in March told The Times of Israel that Israelis and Palestinians ‘set up a special mechanism to communicate “moment-by-moment” on all issues related to the virus.’[vi] On March 24 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHA) issued its first ‘COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report.’ After detailing steps taken in Gaza and the West Bank, the report concludes that,
Since the start of the crisis, the Palestinian and Israel authorities have maintained a close, unprecedented cooperation on efforts aimed at containing the epidemic. Representatives from both ministries of health, as well as from Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), have been meeting on a regular basis to agree on matters of mutual concern, such the understandings concerning Palestinian workers employed in Israel. As part of these efforts, COGAT is facilitating four trainings for Palestinian medical teams, while the Israeli MoH donated over 1,000 testing kits and thousands of PPEs to the West Bank and Gaza.[vii]
The persistent and paradoxical pattern of quiet Palestinian cooperation with Israel combined with public excoriation of ‘the Zionist entity’ is noteworthy. The ongoing contradiction between cooperation and condemnation by Palestinian authorities now has a decades-long history and is unlikely to abate in the current crisis. That gives anti-Zionist venues that know better, like Mondoweiss, the ammunition they need to accuse Israel of unqualified heartlessness and malice despite evidence to the contrary and worldwide peril. For example, Yumna Patel’s March 27 Mondoweiss essay ‘Coronavirus cases spike in West Bank as laborers return from Israel’ ignores all Israeli efforts to assist Palestinians and instead accuses Israel of a ‘racist and inhumane’ policy of dumping sick Palestinian workers at checkpoints.[viii] Of course many workers would want to return home in the face of a pandemic before it was too late to do so, and in fact, the Palestinian Authority on March 24 called on all workers in Israel to return to the West Bank. Yet Mondoweiss certainly does not need to convince its loyal readers that Israel is the source of all the world’s miseries. What it aims to do instead is to help readers incorporate the new pandemic phenomenon into their existing anti-Zionist ideology and rhetoric. Such ‘news’ stories also give anti-Zionist academics the means to weaponise the crisis to sustain and amplify their own hostile voices.
EXPLOITING THE PANDEMIC: THE LANCET CASE STUDY
It is easy to cast out far-right anti-Semitism from a zone of supposedly rational debate. Some of the more virulent anti-Semitic conspiracy theories do come from the dark web. Some spring from pervasively hostile countries like Iran. Anti-Zionist faculty members prefer to believe they are engaged in reasoned critique of Israeli policies. But coronavirus conspiracism does not establish a clear line between rational and irrational argument. At best there is a continuum along which one may place different rhetorical strategies and claims. This emerging conspiracism echoes centuries of anti-Semitism based on medical accusations. As Topor reminds us, ‘During the Black Death pandemic of the Middle Ages (1347-61) Jews were accused of “poisoning the wells.”’ Now, ‘Al Masdar, an Algerian news website recently published a report titled ‘”A Zionist organisation is behind the coronavirus and the Zionist entity (Israel) claims to have found the vaccine.”’ The Jews distribute the virus, then control the cure; they want us under their power.
Such views actually underlie a letter that recently appeared in a distinguished biomedical journal, The Lancet. While the publication was withdrawn by the journal’s editors shortly after being distributed, it is worth analysing the letter’s arguments because they are both unique and representative. What is unique, first, is that such a letter made its way into a major medical journal, and, second, that the journal’s editors did the right thing and removed the letter from their website after receiving several complaints (including one from me that made a number of the points raised here) detailing what was inaccurate or biased in the letter. But the letter is unfortunately also representative of what are likely to be an increasing number of publications by academics, journalists, and activists taking advantage of a world crisis to denounce Israel for any spread of the virus in Gaza and the West Bank.
In their 26 March letter in the The Lancet, titled ‘Structural violence in the era of a new pandemic: the case of the Gaza Strip,’ David Mills and three coauthors join a small but counterproductive effort to weaponise the serious concern that Gaza could succumb to the COVID-19 pandemic by using it to comprehensively delegitimise the Jewish state.[ix] Following the pattern modelled for years in the international BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement, they make no realistic suggestions about how to improve Gaza’s fragile, decaying infrastructure and instead concentrate on demonising Israel. Nor do they hold Hamas leaders responsible for their indifference to the general health and welfare of Gazans, the iron and cement smuggled from Egypt used for attack tunnels not building hospitals.
Before addressing the ‘Structural violence’ letter directly, however, it is important to establish some facts about conditions and prospects in Gaza, something Mills and his coauthors are not inclined to do. Their interest in using the pandemic to castigate Israel is part of an emerging anti-Zionist consensus.
With raw sewage in its streets and coastal waters, with its contaminated aquifer, with unreliable electricity supplying its water treatment plant and hospitals, and with its high population density, Gaza has for years been at risk of a comprehensive health emergency. Thus it seems on the surface reasonable to warn it is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. But not without addressing what needs to be done to avoid that disaster.
Oddly enough, as Sanaa Alswerky recently observed, the naval and land blockade actually provides a measure of protection from the pandemic.[x] Travel to and from Gaza has long been severely restricted and comprehensively monitored both through the blockade maintained by Egypt and Israel and by Hamas itself. The main point of transit for people is the Rafa crossing on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, supplemented by the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing with Israel. As I write, as of 7 April, there are but thirteen coronavirus cases confirmed in Gaza.[xi] The initial two cases represented Gaza residents returning from Pakistan. An additional seven infections were limited to security personnel who came in contact with the first two. A tenth case was reported on 2 April. All are among those being held in some 25 quarantine facilities. A March 24 OCHA report details Gaza’s containment strategies:
Since 15 March, all incoming travelers from Egypt and Israel have been sent to isolation for 14 days to one of 21 compulsory quarantine facilities set up in health facilities or schools, with some 1,400 people currently accommodated there. Additionally, over 2,000 people who entered Gaza prior to 15 March are currently in home quarantine. A field hospital has been established in Rafah to isolate and treat confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the first two cases detected in Gaza on 21 March.
As in the West Bank, all educational institutions have been closed since 6 March. However, other aspects of daily life, including commerce and services, had been less restricted until 22 March, when the de-facto authorities ordered a closure of wedding halls, weekly markets, restaurants and cafes; restrictions were imposed on the holding of public events and Friday prayers.[xii]
The number of quarantine facilities is now 25, and on 30 March the period of confinement was extended to 21 days.[xiii] As local World Health Organisation coordinator Abdelnasser Soboh warns, Gaza’s infrastructure would be incapable of handling a spreading pandemic.
In response to the pandemic, the crossings are largely closed to personal travel. If Gazans continue to test the limited number of people entering the country and to isolate not only those who test positive for the virus but all entering Gaza, it may be possible either to prevent or quite substantially delay the spread of the pandemic into the general population there. Gaza is in fact well positioned to contain the disease. Gaza thus has the opportunity to emulate what Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan have done, rather than copy the containment failure that has overwhelmed Europe and the United States. If an infected Palestinian enters the general population, rigorous contact tracing will be required. Mills and his coauthors misrepresent the facts in claiming that ‘Preventive measures and containment of COVID-19 will be extremely difficult now that the pandemic has reached the Gaza Strip.’ If Palestinian authorities act with dispatch and coordinate with international and Israeli health bodies, the opposite may well turn out to be true.
Shannon Maree Torrens, a human rights lawyer from Australia, argues in Haaretz, that the pandemic makes it imperative that Israel immediately lift the blockade entirely.[xiv] Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian from Gaza currently working for the aggressively anti-Zionist American Friends Service Committee and studying at NYU, makes essentially the same demand in a +972 piece: ‘In this time of pandemic and concern for the health of communities worldwide, it is time to address the full consequences of the unjust partition of historic Palestine — and that includes Gaza . . . If this is not the time to end the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of Palestine, and if this is not the time to address the injustices that have rendered Palestinian life to suffering and pain, then when?’[xv] Others have echoed the same argument. Unfortunately, a security perspective tells us that ending the blockade would mean that Hamas would immediately bring in both additional quantities of weapons and more advanced weapons systems, guaranteeing a serious future military conflict in which more Palestinians would die.
Israel does have a moral responsibility to increase shipments of certain supplies, but it must also not allow Hamas to endanger both Israelis and Palestinians by augmenting its stockpile of offensive weapons. Since the consequences of lifting the blockade would soon prove disastrous, Israel will not comply with that demand. What, one must ask, is the point of advocacy that cannot succeed? Its only effect would be to distract international attention from the need for additional supplies to use in sustaining containment. In any case, the urgent need is for medical supplies, and shipment of medical supplies, which is compatible with the blockade.
Despite claims by Mills and others, in coordination with the WHO, Israel has provided Gaza with an initial shipment of coronavirus detection kits and personal protection equipment, even though Israel’s own supplies of PPE are not yet adequate for Israel’s own needs.[xvi] Israel’s action was very much in harmony with the close cooperation between its health authorities and those in Gaza and on the West Bank that has obtained since the early 1980s.[xvii] While that cooperation has been threatened in Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007, there remains enough good will and sense of responsibility among medical and health practitioners to facilitate collaborative efforts in emergencies. Happily, the medical communities in all three areas maintain values quite different from political constituencies, and they are in regular contact with one another. Additional testing kits and personal protective equipment are reportedly in route.
In an important additional step, the China-based Genome sequencing company BGI and the Israeli medical technology company AID Genomics on 6 April announced that they will be building an emergency testing laboratory in Gaza. It will soon perform 3,000 tests daily for Gaza residents. BGI built testing lab in Wuhan, China, in February. AID will provide equipment and personnel for the Gaza lab. The project has been approved on both sides of the border with Gaza.
As the Times of Israel reported in April, citing a Kan public broadcasting report, ‘Dozens of doctors, nurses and medical personnel in Gaza have been trained by Israeli teams in techniques to treat patients infected with the coronavirus,’ adding that ‘A training session was conducted for several hours for around 20 medical staff from Gaza at the Erez Border Crossing by a team from the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. In addition, a group was allowed to leave Gaza for training at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and medical staff from both sides have held conference calls together.’ Unfortunately, ‘Hamas-run security forces arrested several peace activists in Gaza on treason charges after they took part in a web conference with Israeli activists. The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said the activists were accused of ‘holding a normalization activity with the Israeli occupation.’ The activists held a nearly two-hour meeting on Monday over Zoom, an online conferencing service, discussing issues of common interest, including the coronavirus pandemic.’[xviii] Hamas should obviously decriminalise normalisation if it wishes to contain the virus.
A contained pandemic is not, however, one definitively prevented forever. If testing and isolation should falter, Gaza could indeed succumb to an externally introduced infection. Its roughly 100 ventilators, most already in use treating other conditions, would be inadequate.[xix] ICU beds are in short supply. The absolute priority for Gaza, therefore, is containment, a strategy in which Mills and his coauthors seem to show no interest, perhaps because it gives no grounds for condemning Israel. For better or worse, containment is a Hamas responsibility. One might add that Hamas’s lack of respect for civil rights arguably makes enforcement of social distancing in public spaces easier. Separation in crowded apartments is another matter. There again, the key is keeping the virus out of the general population. Notably indifferent to Gazans’ needs, Hamas is, however, terrified of the pandemic and willing to take steps to block its spread.
Gaza’s vulnerability also makes the repair and improvement of its infrastructure, something many of us have demanded for years, even more urgent. One list of priorities, which I have been updating and republishing for several years, numbers eighteen.[xx] It includes issuing permits for more Gazans to work in Israel (while taking Israel’s legitimate security needs into account), rapid construction of a solar array in Israel near the border to supply Gaza with additional electricity, completion of a new water line from Israel to Gaza, and starting longer term projects like the development of a natural gas field off the Gazan coast.
Mills and his coauthors do not advocate any of these practical priorities. Instead they condemn ‘the colonial fragmentation of the Palestinian people and their health systems,’ a reference to the partition of Palestine approved by the United Nations in 1947. And they then display a sad triumph of political rhetoric over realism: ‘The international community must act now to end structural violence by confronting the historical and political forces entrenching a cyclical, violent, and mutable reality for Palestinians’; ‘A COVID-19 pandemic that further cripples the Gaza Strip’s health-care system should not be viewed as an inevitable biomedical phenomenon experienced equally by the world’s population, but as a preventable biosocial injustice rooted in decades of Israeli oppression and international complicity in the struggle for the health, fundamental rights, and self-determination of all Palestinians.’
They imply there is no solution to the threat of pandemic in Gaza ‘unless, of course, they [Palestinians] are granted their legal and moral right of return’ to Israel itself. That is the same unachievable action the BDS movement has insisted on since its founding. Indeed, the Mills letter echoes the BDS movement in insisting on a right of return for ‘all Palestinians,’ a designation encompassing not only Gaza and West Bank residents but millions of descendants in the worldwide diaspora that unfolded in 1947-48.
In an odd way Mills and his coauthors treat the pandemic as the fated outcome of the original sin of the founding of the Jewish state. In succumbing to these political convictions, they fail as physicians to offer any of the advice doctors should offer. The first requirement for physicians addressing the pandemic is that they speak the truth. To do so requires placing Gaza’s options within the broad context of existing international strategies. Either Mills et al do not know the appropriate medical advice to offer, or they are so blinded by hostility to Israel that they cannot communicate it.
Three of the four authors of the Lancet letter have medical positions, two in the US and one in Norway. David Mills is a Pediatric Emergency Medicine fellow from Boston Children’s Hospital. He leads a partnership with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Bram Wispelwey is an internist affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. His Doctor of Medicine Degree is from Ben-Gurion University, experience that does not seem to have given him much insight into the realities of Israeli medicine. He has gone on to advocate for Palestinian refugee camps and to write about colonial violence and other topics. Mads Gilbert is an anesthesiologist at University Hospital of North Norway. One of the authors, Rania Muhareb, is a legal researcher with the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq.[xxi] That gives them warrant to address a pandemic and—in the case at least of Mills, Muhareb, and Wispelwey—relevant but politically charged commitments, but does not make them infectious disease experts, authorities on the social and political history of Israel, nor experts on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Publishing their letter in The Lancet does not grant them some sort of collateral expertise that extends to social and political history and theory.
The population of Gaza is about two million. There are nearly another 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. The combined population of Jews and Arabs in Israel itself is about nine million. Needless to say, no country would accept a sudden 50 percent increase in its population. With that demographic change, Israel would clearly no longer be a Jewish state. Moreover, Gaza has been dominated by Hamas for over a decade. The Hamas charter commits the group to the destruction of the Jewish state. It advocates lethal violence against Israelis. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have internalised this agenda. It is strikingly irresponsible and unrealistic to claim that Gaza’s health challenges can only be met by residence in Tel Aviv.
Among the consequences Mills et al attribute to the blockade is the problem of significant food insecurity in Gaza. Yet all published reports by both Palestinian and international health authorities confirm that there is no shortage of food in Gaza.[xxii] The problem is poverty and thus the inability of poor families to purchase the food that is readily available. The UN and a variety of NGOs compensate with free food, but the long-term solution is economic development, something that will be strictly limited until and unless Hamas demilitarises. Meanwhile, despite the pandemic, Israel maintains the massive shipment of goods to Gaza by truck and continues to supply much of Gaza’s electricity by high voltage cable.
With Hamas demilitarised, international investment in and the rapid development of Gaza’s Mediterranean coast would be realistic. But Hamas has little interest in improving the lives of Gazans. In its early years it combined social services with paramilitary aggression against Israel, but more recently aggression has become its only priority. Bizarrely, Mills and his coauthors imagine they can give a concise account of political and historical forces in Gaza without even mentioning Hamas, but it is Hamas that has repeatedly initiated the cycle of violence they deplore. Leaving Hamas totally out of the picture, however, enables them to falsely lay all of Gaza’s problems at Israel’s door.
CONCLUSION: PRACTICAL MEASURES ARE NEEDED NOT THE DISTRACTION OF DEMONISATION
Instead of demonising Israel, those concerned about Gaza would do well to advocate practical steps by Israel and other nations that could actually improve the situation. Despite Hamas hostility, Israel should encourage and facilitate export of light manufacturing and agricultural products from Gaza for humanitarian reasons. And Israel should immediately (and permanently) extend the fishing limit off the Mediterranean coast to at least 15 miles; that would enhance the supply of locally produced protein and increase local income.
Qatar has recently pledged $150 million to help Gaza meet the challenge of the pandemic.[xxiii] That sum could solve some of the area’s infrastructural problems. But other international aid will be necessary as well. Perhaps the looming threat of the pandemic can focus international efforts on the practical steps that are necessary to protect Gaza from disaster. There are other parts of the world, including Africa and India, where the pandemic is most likely to cause much wider devastation. But the situation in Gaza for complex reasons apparently has a greater claim on international sympathies. The Lancet’s readers should not have been deceived about what is at stake, or what must be done and by whom.
If, as one side argued in a 2014 debate in which Lancet editor Dr. Richard Horton participated, ‘when medical journals do touch on the political aspects of medicine, of which there are many, they must tackle this with the utmost care and do so fairly and judiciously,’ then one may reasonably conclude Mills et al failed that test. In that The Lancet had appointed a special editor to handle the large number of COVID-19 submissions it was receiving, Horton may very well not have reviewed the Mills letter. In his contribution to the debate just referenced, Horton argued that, ‘if one is going to take sides, as sometimes may be necessary, then one opens one’s publication up to a full and open debate.’[xxiv] Eliminating the letter was a better choice than a detour into such a sterile argument.
Given Gaza’s urgent needs, it is fair to say that debate over the issues Mills raises would be a counterproductive and dangerous distraction in the face of the risks the pandemic poses. In that context, one may point out that Mills et al argue that Gaza’s plight is also due to ‘a neoliberal development framework implemented during the past decades [that] has created a profound dependency on aid, placing health care at the mercy of increasingly restrictive international donor politics.’ Perhaps. But Gaza actually needs more test kits and personal protective equipment, not a debate over neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is more directly responsible for the huge reduction of hospital beds in Europe and the US since the 1980s, but for now, even in the West, adding additional beds is more of a priority than holding a debate over neoliberalism.
The pandemic will get worse before it gets better. So will the pandemic of signification. As the pandemic threatens entire countries, fear and racism will escalate. So too will the search for scapegoats. Devakumar et al point out that ‘Matteo Salvini, former Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, wrongly linked COVID-19 to African asylum seekers, calling for border closures.’[xxv] Ignorant, despicable physical and verbal assaults on Asians will increase. And conspiratorial hatred of Jews will intensify. We are in the early days of this unprecedented international crisis. While we need to continue our analysis of the overall pandemic, we also need to resist political distraction from actions that will actually save lives.
[i] Both images were included in a presentation by Dina Lisnyansky (Tel Aviv University) as part of a 30 March 2020, ISGAP workshop on Understanding and Combatting Antisemitism.
[ii] Yahia, Khalil Abu, ‘Dispatch #4 From Palestine on COVID-19, Curfews and Mutual Aid,’ IJV Canada (27 March 2020), online at https://www.ijvcanada.org/dispatch-4-from-palestine-on-covid-19-curfews-and-mutual-aid/.
[iii] Yehuda Bauer, ‘COVID-19 Gives Way to Another Outbreak of the anti-Semitism Virus. We Need a Cure,’ Haaretz (April 10, 2020), online at https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-covid-19-gives-way-to-another-outbreak-of-the-anti-semitism-virus-we-need-a-cure-1.8756594.
[iv] The ADL’s ‘International Scapegoating of Israel and Jews for Spreading COVID-19’ Is online at https://www.adl.org/blog/international-scapegoating-of-israel-and-jews-for-spreading-covid-19.
[v] See Cécile Guerin, ‘Coronavirus, the ‘Soros Bio-weapon’: How Far Right anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories Are Infecting Mainstream Politics,’ Haaretz (1 April 2020) for further details on Soros pandemic conspiracy theories, online at https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-soros-bio-weapon-anti-semitic-far-right-coronavirus-theories-go-mainstream-1.8732195.
[vi] Ahren Raphael, ‘UN praises ‘excellent’ Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in fight against pandemic,’ The Times of Israel (March 30, 2020), online at https://www.timesofisrael.com/un-praises-excellent-israeli-palestinian-cooperation-in-fight-against-pandemic/.
[vii] OCHA, ‘COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report 1’ (March 24, 2020), online at https://www.ochaopt.org/content/covid-19-emergency-situation-report-1. The report includes a mechanism to subscribe to future reports.
[viii] Yumna Patel, ‘Coronavirus cases spike in West Bank as laborers return from Israel,’ Mondoweiss (27 March 2020), online at https://mondoweiss.net/2020/03/coronavirus-cases-spike-in-west-bank-as-laborers-return-from-israel/?utm_source=mailpoet&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly-email.
[ix] Mills David, Bram Wispelwey, Rania Muhareb, and Mads Gilbert, ‘Structural violence in the era of a new pandemic: the case of the Gaza Strip,’ Lancet 2020. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30730-3/fulltext (Accessed March 26, 2020, since removed).
[x] Alswerky Sanaa, ‘Specter of Coronavirus Pandemic Haunts Life in Gaza,’ The Media Line 11 March 2020. https://themedialine.org/by-region/specter-of-coronavirus-epidemic-haunts-life-in-gaza/ (Accessed 28 March 2020).
[xi] Adam Rasgon, ‘Seven new cases of coronavirus emerge on Gaza Strip, bringing total to nine Times of Israel’ (March 26, 2020). https://www.timesofisrael.com/seven-new-cases-of-coronavirus-emerge-in-gaza-strip-brining-total-to-nine/. (accessed 28 March 2020).
[xii] OCHA, ‘COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report 1.’
[xiii] OCHA, ‘COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report 2’ (24 March – 31 March 2020), online at https://www.ochaopt.org/content/covid-19-emergency-situation-report-2.
[xiv] See Shanon Maree Torrens, ‘Coronavirus Confirmed in Gaza: This Is What Israel Must Do – Now,’ Haaretz (22 March 2020), online at https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-coronavirus-confirmed-in-gaza-this-is-what-israel-must-do-now-1.8698730.
[xv] Jehad Abusalim, ‘Israel’s caging of Gaza is a recipe for coronavirus disaster,’ +972 (22 March 2020), online at https://www.972mag.com/coronavirus-gaza-pandemic-israel-policy/.
[xvi] Yaakov Lappin, ‘Hamas seeks to prevent spread of virus in Gaza, while threatening to hold Israel responsible if it fails Jewish News Syndicate March 25, 2020. https://www.jns.org/hamas-seeks-to-prevent-spread-of-virus-in-gaza-while-threatening-to-hold-israel-responsible-if-it-fails/. (Accessed 28 March 2020).
[xvii] See Cary Nelson, Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, & The Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State (Indiana University Press, 2019), pp. 231-37, for an account of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinian regarding medical education and treatment practices. Also see Tamara Barnea and Rafiq Husseini, eds. Separate and Cooperate: The Disengagement of the Palestinian Health Care System and its Emergence as an Independent System (Praeger, 2002).
[xviii] TOI staff, ‘Amid coronavirus pandemic, Gaza medics trained by Israeli teams,’ Times of Israel (11 April 2020), online at https://www.timesofisrael.com/amid-coronavirus-pandemic-gaza-medics-trained-by-israeli-teams-report/.
[xix] If Israel, as reported, is manufacturing ventilators, some should be reserved for rapid shipment to Gaza if necessary, though I do not see how Gaza could deal with a true pandemic with community virus transmission. Some protective clothing is reportedly being produced in Gaza itself.
[xx] The most recent version is Cary Nelson, ‘What steps toward peace could Israelis and Palestinians take now?’ The Christian Century, 15 January 2020. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/opinion/what-steps-toward-peace-could-israelis-and-palestinians-take-now. (Accessed 26 March 2020).
[xxi] For the record, my fourth book on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict is presently under university press review. I’ve also written more than two score articles on the topic.
[xxii] See Nelson, Israel Denial, pp. 215-17, for a review of the medical literature about food insecurity in Gaza.
[xxiii] Elad Benari, ‘Qatar to provide $150 million to Gaza to fight coronavirus,’ Arutz Sheva (23 March 2020). http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/277660. (Accessed 26 March 2020).
[xxiv] Glick, Shimon, A. Mark Clarfield, Rael D. Strous, and Richard Horton, ‘Academic Debate: Publications Which Promote political Agenda Have no Place in Scientific and Medical Journals, and Academics Should Refrain from Publishing in Such Journals,’ Ramon Maimonides Medical Journal (January 2015), 5, 12.
[xxv] Delan Devakumar, Geordan Shannon, Sunil S Bhopal, Ibrahim Abubakar, ‘Racism and discrimination in COVID-19 responses’ The Lancet (1 April 2020), online at https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930792-3.