QUARANTINE - DAY 13 - 18th March 2020
As the world prepares to hunker down and prepare for quarantine over the next month or two, Bethlehem enters its thirteenth day of quarantine. It is perhaps worth remembering that Palestine has lived under such conditions on and off for many years - in particular Gaza, which for the past twelve years has had all borders restricted with very few people allowed in or out. As people across Europe speak about being stopped by police if they go out for non-essential trips or there is talk of the authorities introducing drones to check that people are observing lockdown rules, we can suddenly begin to get an understanding of how Palestinians have been living for many years now, with checkpoints and sudden restrictions. The sound of drones overhead may come to be as commonplace for some, as they are for those living in Gaza.
Last night three more cases were identified in Beit Sahour. At 5am this morning, all roads in and out of this district were blocked. It is impossible to drive freely around Bethlehem and its out-lying districts of Beit Sahour, Beit Jala and Doha, as Mohamed, a young journalist reports:
It is almost two weeks since the authorities quarantined Bethlehem. On day two of the quarantine my father's sister died in Amman. We had to find a way to get to Jordan to attend the funeral. The crossing between Jordan and the West Bank was still open at this time, so I had to get special permission to leave Bethlehem and was able to cross. We knew that Jordan was talking about shutting borders because of the virus so we felt anxious. I have a wife who is six weeks pregnant and a two-year-old daughter, as well as parents who are vulnerable at home, for whom I am responsible. We stayed for 48 hours in Jordan and were able to get back into Bethlehem just before Jordan closed its borders.
I am a journalist so have a bit more freedom to move around Bethlehem than most with my press pass - I also help the emergency teams in Aida who are working hard to distribute food aid to the residents there. A lot of the roads are blocked around Bethlehem so I have to find a route where the road isn't blocked by oil drums (filled with concrete to stop people moving them), and where there is instead a police checkpoint. They require an answer as to why you need to pass through the checkpoints, and you will be turned back if it isn't a good reason.
It is a difficult time for us. My two-year-old daughter and pregnant wife haven't left the apartment for two weeks. My wife had to give up her work when the quarantine began and my daughter's kindergarten was shut. My wife enjoyed her work, so it is hard to spend fourteen days with an active two-year-old in an apartment. My mother lives nearby and has diabetes and my father has lung troubles. I worry that they will catch the virus. I am the only one who goes out and gets food for all of us.
But it is good to be with my family every day. Last night thousands of Palestinian workers queued for hours to pass through the checkpoints before they closed to go and work inside Israel from other parts of Palestine (not Bethlehem of course). They made the difficult decision to leave their families before Israel shuts all crossings in and out, knowing that they will not be able to return to the West Bank for at least two months. During that time they will spend the night in unheated and unsafe areas where dozens of cases of corona virus may linger. If they have young children, they will miss the everyday changes in their faces and development, as well as being separated from family and parents, and winter and spring will pass without them being able to see or check on them and watch over their children at night while they are sleeping .... God please help our workers during this time of corona, their choices are difficult - either to go hungry among their children, or become strangers to them .. # O Allah, we entrust to you our children and workers.