As of early September 2020 more than 27 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded worldwide, along with approximately 890,000 deaths. After many months of lockdown, countries are having to re-open despite growing infection rates and fears of a second wave while people adapt to a “new normal” which includes restrictions, social distancing and limited travel.
At the start of the lockdowns, many Palestinians commented that the world now finally understood what life was like for them. Particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, the curfews, the closure of public spaces, the inability or difficulty to travel, lingering anxiety and perpetual uncertainty are features common to Palestinian life. However, this new global reality reflects only a fraction of the Palestinian experience of suffering from nearly a century of ongoing settler colonialism.
Australian scholar, Patrick Wolfe, described settler colonialism as “a structure not an event” and its driving logic as the elimination of the indigenous people. This ongoing settler colonial process is often referred to by Palestinians as al-nakba al-mustamirra (the ongoing catastrophe), and further manifests itself through expulsions, confiscation of land, incarceration, military bombardments and ghettoization processes across historical Palestine.
Part of this system of control has been to divide Palestinians into specific social and political categories based on their geographic location and primarily enforced through identity cards: Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Palestinians in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian refugees in the diaspora. This is an important context to keep in mind when assessing the COVID-19 pandemic and Palestinian capabilities to confront it.