From Turtle Island to Palestine: There is No Going Back to ‘Normal’

Gaza authorities are desperately trying to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease.(Photo: Fawzi Mahmoud, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Benay Blend

Shortly before Thanksgiving social media was abuzz with news that President-Elect Joe Biden had conferred with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden over what measure to take regarding the Coronavirus crisis in the States. At the time of their conversation, New Zealand had just 58 active cases of the virus, all in managed isolation facilities. Moreover, because of strict lockdowns, it had recorded just over 2000 cases and 25 deaths. In contrast, over 255,000 lives have been lost in the United States, where new restrictions do not match New Zealand’s lockdown.

“I offered to him and his team access to New Zealand health officials in order to share their experience on things we’ve learnt on our Covid-19 journey,” Ardern said, but she cautioned that replicating the nation’s model everywhere may not be possible.

“While New Zealand has a number of natural advantages that have assisted us in managing the virus,” she explained, “I do absolutely believe that international cooperation continues to be key to getting the virus under control and we are happy to work with any country to share our knowledge and data if it’s helpful.”

It’s good that Biden is opening channels for communication that Trump preferred to close. Nevertheless, there is more to do than just the immediate problem of containing a virus that exposed all of the country’s preexisting problems.

Without those extra measures it will be pandemic redux the next time that there is a crisis. For the United States and for Palestine, both internally and in relationship with each other, there never was a “normal” which reflected models of social justice.

“Our country needs to get it together and start taking care of its people during a pandemic,” explains Rep. Rashida Tlaib. “There is no vaccine that will cure the economic hardship that COVID-19 has caused our communities.”

Perhaps the most important idem post-Covid idem will be healthcare. Writing for Black Agenda Report, Margaret Flowers warns that in a time of rising unemployment in which workers are losing, too, their healthcare, anything less than universal healthcare is unacceptable.

“In a time of the COVID-19 pandemic when over 250,000 people have already died and the University of Washington predicts  over 500,000 deaths by the end of February,” writes Flowers, “we cannot allow a repeat of the failed ACA [Affordable Care Act].” Since its inception, she points out, health insurance and pharmaceutical corporate profits have risen while people still cannot afford to pay for healthcare.

Moreover, Flowers writes, the “racist roots of healthcare in this country run as deep as the slavery underpinnings of policing.”  There is no vaccine, however, to end police shootings of civilians, in particular the poor and people of color. For example, I live in New Mexico, a state with a liberal governor, yet the police recently murdered Rodney Applewhite, a young black man who was simply traveling through on his way to visit his mother.

“The community has a right to know what happened to Rodney,” said Selinda Guerrero, who belongs to the two groups–Building Power for Black New Mexico and Millions for Prisoners New Mexico—responsible for organizing a protest on November 4th in Santa Fe. “We have a right to know, and transparency has not happened yet. [New Mexico State Police] have not revealed what happened to Rodney on the side of that rural highway.”

It is no coincidence that Palestinians suffer, too, at the hands of Israeli police, as almost every time a shooting makes news here there is a similar instance there. On November 4th, not long after Applewhite’s death, Israeli occupation forces murdered 13-year-old Ali Ayman Abu-Alayya while he was participating in a peaceful anti-settlement protest.

Not only do Palestinians endure the same restrictions as the poor and people of color in the US—lack of adequate health care and compensation for paychecks lost while sick, not to mention unemployment—they are doing so under the added layer of the occupation.

Writes Yumna Patel: “It’s become increasingly clear that the last two months of 2020 aren’t going to be as easy as we thought — in Palestine, or anywhere else.”

Without an end to the occupation, the outlook for 2021 does not bode well. Apparently, Israel has agreed to transfer millions of doses of COVID-19 treatment to Palestinian medical workers in the coming weeks. Even so, there is no vaccine to take the place of resistance as it is the only cure for the Occupation.

There is no remedy for the violence of settler-colonial regimes, whether in Palestine or the United States, except for world-wide decolonial movements. Moreover, as Ramzy Baroud explains,

“Any solidarity that deviates from the current aspirations of Palestinians – as articulated by their fighting women and men, by their prisoners on hunger strikes, by their students fighting for the right to education, by these resilient, but often neglected voices – is not true solidarity.”

Writing for Adalah Justice Project, Sumaya Awad and Sandra Tamari warn that “if we limit our demands to what is pragmatic or politically expedient, our movements for justice will always fall short. Let’s dream bigger than what the Democratic Party is selling as progress. Let’s collectively demand the world we know is possible, one where oppressed peoples, from Palestine to Kashmir to Flint, rise up to take control of their own lives.”

In a post-Covid world, there will be no change from above, as President-elect Joe Biden has surrounded himself with old-guard politicians devoted to maintaining the status quo, whether it be national healthcare, support for Israel, prison abolition, or all of the other fault lines exposed by the Coronavirus.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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