This piece is adapted from the full essay that was first published in Fathom Journal.
1. Blaming The Jews Again
As Gaza was acquiring its first two cases of the coronavirus, the world’s longest hatred inevitably found local expression. A 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 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 caption announces ‘Israel and coronavirus unite against occupied native Palestinians.’
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.
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.’
Anti-Zionist conspiracy theories about the pandemic are proliferating.
2. ‘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.’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.
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.
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. 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. 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.’
If Hamas can control its hostility, the virus can actually be contained, as all entering Gaza are being quarantined. There are fewer than twenty confirmed cases there, and all are in isolation. Meanwhile, contrary to anti-Zionist conspiracy rhetoric, Israel is helping on multiple fronts.
- Cary Nelson is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an affiliated professor at the University of Haifa.