One of the most respectable newspapers in Israel, dedicated an article in the economic section about how the Palestinians in Israel helped combat the Coronavirus in Israel and did not have many members being infected. In fact, they exceeded all expectations as they were expected to be a somewhat of a troublesome segment of society with many infected members. Health officials were worried that two segments of society would have many cases of coronavirus, the Palestinian and Jewish ultra-orthodox. This is because both communities are relatively conservative, traditional, live in high densely neighbourhoods and usually have a complicated relationship with the establishments. But the Palestinian population in Israel was one of the lowest communities to be infected. The article showed a graft illustrating this gap between the Palestinian and the other populations. In ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods there were almost 800 cases per 100,000, and in mixed ultra-Orthodox and ‘other’ neighbourhoods there were almost 400 cases per 100,000. However, in the Palestinian neighbourhoods there were only 1040 overall cases of coronavirus.
For this reason the author of the article asked why this was the case even though there are some similarities between these communities? He suggested that the Palestinian population were quick to cooperate with the authorities in enacting health measures as they did not want to be associated as a troublesome population like the ultra-Orthodox in the media. This cooperation was the first time Palestinians in Israel were included in an emergency situation, since most emergency protocols involve war, and thus, exclude Palestinians. But even this cooperation took time during the current crisis as the government did not communicate and seek cooperation in the beginning. They did not even translate the relevant documentation at the start. Interestingly, the author claims that what made the Palestinians in Israel adopt a sense of urgency in relations to the virus was the Palestinian Authority’s quick confinement of the virus in the West Bank. They realised the severity of the matter.
Another factor suggested in the article which contributed to the impressing response from the Palestinians in Israel was the extremely high percentage of the Palestinians in the medical field. Almost every extended family had a health professional. A vital component in communicating to the Palestinian communities the importance of the health measures, as well as, actually combatting the coronavirus on the ‘front line’. Furthermore, political, religious and civil leaders took action quickly to organise civil society and cooperate with the authorities. Mosques and churches closed and stressed the need to stay at home and the severity of the crisis. There was a common goal of fighting the virus together for both Palestinians and Jews in Israel, which led to cooperation and communication.
This is something we strive to convey in our work in Musalaha between Palestinians and Israelis. We need to understand that we need to work together for peace and reconciliation. This is a common goal we need to rally behind in great urgency. Like the virus, conflict affects all communities negatively. It brings with it destruction, pain and suffering which exceeds that of the virus. In addition, if we see peace and reconciliation as a common good, our personal and immediate good is equal to that of other people. It liberates us from our zero-sum mentality of having to opposite the other side in order to win. Winning becomes caring for the other side. This is why we have to reach out to different segments of society.
Finally, the article is not claiming that this relationship between the Palestinians in Israel and the authorities is perfect, but it demonstrates the power of large scale cooperation and leadership. These types of events provide an example for more avenues of joined work, communication and prosperity for all. If we worked together to fight the coronavirus, why limit ourselves to global pandemics for such acts? Even though we may feel like a minority as agents of reconciliation, peace and justice, we must continue to strive vigorously and convey to others the urgency of cooperation and the common good. If the Palestinian medical professionals played a vital role in combating the virus and bridging between the communities, can we do the same?
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Musalaha Executive Director — Salim J. Munayer