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My occupier is my responsibility: Being Palestinian during coronavirus

The entirety of Palestine is now under threat. Everyone — Jew and Arab alike — must submit to the new set of rules that this new occupation has laid down. Now, we all have curfews, we all have checkpoints, we all have the same limitations to our movement and our lives. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, these limitations were obstacles that only a select million or two people had to live with every day. But now, even non-Palestinians have machsomim — checkpoints and roadblocks. Even non-Palestinians’ movements are monitored and fined.

Privilege is on hold for my occupiers. For the moment, they are my equals.

They are my equals now that we all sit under house arrest. All of us have been taken hostage, simply for being human.

None of us can go to work. None of us knows how we will make the next payment, or if we should tell our children to stay abroad because the simple and most trivial part of travel — going through the airport — is now a threat. Another thing that has always been a threat to Palestinians, and now threatens everyone.

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Everyone now labors under the same restraints. The new coronavirus threat is not only limited to Palestine; it has taken over the world.

Churches and mosques now run dry of their parishioners, the icons outside bearing testimony to the creator Who unleashed a threat that we cannot see. The calligraphy catches the uninterrupted rays of light bouncing off the clean carpets of empty prayer lines and through the windows. And yet, we remain connected — not just to those in our communities but to everyone. Who would have imagined a few months ago that today we would live in a world where every one of us makes a difference in someone else’s life? People we have never seen nor fathomed we could be connected to so deeply.

This new threat has spoiled the Zionist talkning points. It turns out that existential threat to Israel was not me. It was not Palestine or Palestinians threatening to kill Jews. It was God.

The threat to Israel was indiscriminate. It evolved, sat and waited for its opportunity to finally dominate.

How small and inconsequential we are, the dear inhabitants of this territory, who watched from our homes, our balconies and our windows as a pestilence passed through this land. We look across the wadis and checkpoints at each other, and then go stock up on the same supplies.

Coronavirus unites our wringing hands over the same thoughts, pervades our restless nights as we watch our children sleep.

Indiscriminate threats teach us that freedom means never having to know that our future is not expendable.

We are all, in every inch of Palestine, fighting an enemy by the most careful of reflection and contemplation. We are asked to weigh our everyday actions and interactions so that someone else’s child might live. And that someone else might be one of them — or one of their elderly.

Your security and continuance has been put in the hands of your enemy. God’s irony has always mocked our short-sighted existence.

My occupiers have become my responsibility because if I save one life, then I have saved all of humanity.

פיקוח נפש

The person I am saving is identifiable and I can see them. They hate me. They occupy me. But I still know that if they live, then so do I. God repeated this statement, that I am obligated to preserve and make life better. That is why I stay home.

But when this coronavirus ordeal is over, will we have learned?

Everything has an expiration date, has an end. Someday, coronavirus will not be in the headlines. And someday, the chaos that holds all of us hostage can end too; will we stay quiet and keep waiting? Or will we take action and write new adages to share that stand the test of time?

Kefah Abukhdeir is a Palestinian-American living in Jerusalem. She co-directs and teaches EduReach a local Palestinian educational and learning organization.

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