Israelis And Palestinians Now Have A Common Enemy: The Coronavirus

Mar 24, 2020
Originally published on March 25, 2020 8:10 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Israelis and Palestinians are under various kinds of lockdowns as the coronavirus spreads through both of their communities. The crisis has given them reason to put aside their conflict for the most part and lean on each other a little. NPR's Daniel Estrin sent this postcard from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I called a Palestinian journalist to ask how he's doing. He said maybe people here will remember this as a time when they treated each other as humans. In this small strip of land, the coronavirus is everyone's emergency. Palestinian authorities with limited resources rely on Israeli testing kits and doctor trainings. Israeli hospitals rely on Palestinian medical staff and Palestinian laborers keep Israel's economy alive.

On my jog this morning, my daily escape, I meet Palestinian workers building a stone path. They're among tens of thousands who chose to work and sleep in Israel, possibly for months during the lockdown, rather than return to their families in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Jobs are scarce there. One said the work keeps his mind off the threat of the virus. Israel sees at least 100 new cases a day. The virus also offers an opportunity, says Palestinian peace activist Nidal Foqaha (ph).

NIDAL FOQAHA: Both Palestinians and Israelis realized probably for the first time that the only solution for them both to stay safe and to get out of this crisis is cooperation.

ESTRIN: When I called him, he just finished a video conference with former Israeli security officials interested in how the Palestinians are handling the crisis. He says it's easier now to convince Israelis and Palestinians to do these talks - no more excuses to avoid face-to-face meetups. The virus makes those impossible. An Israeli settler in the West Bank recently caught the virus. Health officials published where she'd been, as they do with all cases, and that's how her Israeli friends learned that she'd been to a Palestinian town at a workshop on nonviolent communication. The settler, London native Maizie Avihayil, is a teacher and says one of her colleagues wants to go there, too, when the corona crisis ends.

MAIZIE AVIHAYIL: One of my colleagues says, wow, when this corona gets out, I'm going to come with you to one of these meetings (laughter).

ESTRIN: Renowned Israeli novelist David Grossman published a column this weekend. When the plague ends, he writes, there may be those who won't wish to return to their former lives. He says some might leave jobs or partners or even start to wonder why Israelis and Palestinians keep battling each other. Even if it does come to pass, he writes, I fear it will fade away quickly and things will go back to what they were before we were plagued.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.