From the Plague to Corona. A reflection of a Week: Palestine # of cases dropped from 44 to 27 (17 announced cured). In Israel # of cases rise from 75 to over 750.
“Our strategy had not changed, but whereas yesterday it had obviously failed, today it seemed triumphant. Indeed, one’s chief impression was that the epidemic had called a retreat after reaching all its objectives; it had, so to speak, achieved its purpose.” The Plague
The Plague was published in 1947 by novel prize winner Albert Camus. I decided to make a blend of incidents from the Plague and what is taking place around us in a week time.
In times as such, when pestilences invade our lives, the lessons learnt from the Plague should be a reminder. A reminder of history that insists on repeating itself in different forms and manners, but yet with unstoppable lessons to learn.
But do we learn?
The Plague took place in Camus’s novel in an Algerian city (was a French colony in the time) called Wuhan- Oran (Wahran in Arabic). A city in which each individual “was bored and devoted himself to cultivating habits. The citizens worked hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest was commerce, and their chief aim in life was, as they called it, ‘doing business.’”
However, the plague shook its tranquil picture to its core, “like a quite healthy man who all of a sudden feels his temperature shoot up and the blood seething like wildfire in his veins.”
At first a dead rat was spotted on the stairway. A doorman died. More rats were dead in every spotted site. However, media did not bother much, because while “rats died in the street; men in their homes. And newspapers were concerned only with the street.”
As death tolls increased, and the doctor of the city became more concerned, the officials insisted not to take immediate actions.
“Everybody knew that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”
“We tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away.”
The doctor “knew quite well that it was plague and, needless to say, he also knew that, were this to be officially admitted, the authorities would be compelled to take very drastic steps. This was, of course, the explanation of his colleagues’ reluctance to face the facts.”
As tolls of deaths increased dramatically, it was finally admitted that it was plague. Thus, plague became the concern of all.
Isolation, isolation, and hence, Exile became the destiny of the city. The emotions start stirring and unacceptable, unrealized, maybe once taken for granted relations are perceived differently. “Thus, too, they came to know the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose.”
“Thus, for example, a feeling normally as individual as the ache of separation from those one loves suddenly became a feeling in which all shared alike and — together with fear — the greatest affliction of the long period of exile that lay ahead.”
Somehow, the description continues with more synonyms of how others feels, from prisoners, injustices held against people and more.
“Hostile to the past, impatient of the present, and cheated of the future, we were much like those whom men’s justice, or hatred, forces to live behind prison bars.”
The city was closed from all directions. Minimal access to everything increased gradually. Yet, the awareness on what was going on was more of a state of denial perhaps.
However, we continue to live in negligence and human arrogance, each believing it cannot happen to him. He is protected or immune!! Thus, “The public lacked, in short, standards of comparison. It was only as time passed and the steady rise in the death-rate could not be ignored that public opinion became alive to the truth.”
Ration and standards of logic become meaningless:
“You can’t understand. You’re using the language of reason, not of the heart: you live in a world of abstractions.”
Since the outbreak of the virus, the Palestinian authority was among the few authorities in the world who took quick action in declaring a state of emergency. Bu people took the closure of schools and universities as an opportunity to “feast”. Shopping, parks, streets continued to be heavily packed with people.
“Many continued hoping that the epidemic would soon die out and they and their families be spared. Thus, they felt under no obligation to make any change in their habits, as yet. Plague was an unwelcome visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come.”
However, the decision to close mosques was not taken until two weeks later. “Believers” decided to pray in streets instead. Staying in mosques with distance. Others took the opportunity to prove out a sheikh-made fatwa of God’s punishment to NON believers. How Islam as they believe is their protector. So did the Jewish believers and the Christians. In the Holland where religions clash in attempts to prove their authenticity, more pleas to God continue to be made.
In Gaza, instead of calling Sheikhs for prayers today… Doctors took the microphone in same masses of people and spoke about prevention instead of prayer…. While the mosques still opened not taking into consideration that masses are the issue not the call for prayer or a call for medical prevention procedures.
“The church decides to call for a massive prayer when the plague was no more to be denied. A last plea to God was to be made. However, “to some, the sermon simply brought home the fact that they had been sentenced, for an unknown crime, to an indeterminate period of punishment. And while a good many people adapted themselves to confinement and carried on their humdrum lives as before, there were others who rebelled and whose one idea now was to break loose from the prison-house.”
The doctor, assured in proving himself right continues in analyzing the reaction of people and states:
“I can understand this sort of fervor and find it not displeasing. At the beginning of a pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric. In the first case, habits have not yet been lost; in the second, they’re returning. It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth — in other words, to silence.”
But it was not a race of proving who is right. The proof meant more death, and death was all around. Was it evil? Was its God’s anger and punishment? He believed that “what’s true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves. All the same, when you see the misery it brings, you would need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague.”
“But after all the doctor was a man of learning, a scholar. “He hasn’t come in contact with death; that’s why he can speak with such assurance of the truth — with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its goodness.”
And at some point, as the situation becomes irreversible. Everyone becomes equal and belonging. All what once seemed passive emotions once became collective. “Until now I always felt a stranger in this town, and that I’d no concern with you people. But now that I’ve seen what I have seen, I know that I belong here whether I want it or not. This business is everybody’s business.”
Things are becoming everybody’s business. As days pass by and reading the Plague and the uncontrollable outspread of the virus becomes the only news. More obsessiveness or maybe compulsive obsessiveness takes shape in my system.
It is getting closer. People we know are infected. It reached cities nearby. It reached Jerusalem.
But yet, it is still unspoken reality. I look around and make calculations. Two young women come back from France on El Al, in separate flights. The father of the girl who could not get on the plane went live and spoke angrily on the racist state of Israel. Three days later the man announces his daughter and the friend are infected and they are both in quarantine. The Palestinian officials took them to a special place. Good actions so far.
But one of the girls is from Jerusalem. She arrived a day before. Went to her family. The next day she went to the airport and picked her friend. What happened to her family? The those she met, touched, coughed, whatever in those 24 hours. The people on the two flights? Israel decided to isolate East Jerusalem, as much as isolating the west bank. But where is this going?
“There comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two do make four is punished with death.”
“I’ve seen enough people who die for an idea. I don’t believe in heroism; I know it’s easy and I’ve learnt it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves.”
“There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is — common decency.”
Scrolling in the pages of the Plague, and the Wall of the Facebook timeline. New from all directions. “No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions shared by all.”
Among the first announced infection is a young man who turned from London… They all come from abroad now… Sarcastically… Home is once again the place to be in times when the world can no longer absorb the calamity that is taking place.
It is the president’s grand son. but no one is allowed to spell it out. The president finally makes an appearance… Weeks earlier he was hardly able to spell the name of the “jokes around” virus.
In the race of public appearances, the Palestinian government makes great efforts. This morning, the minister of health takes the stage, surrounded with four or five people with no “social distancing” that is mentioned in every guideline. Reading a speech like paper written in advance, with her horrible Arabic in reading, announces that the numbers of infected people in the isolated Angel hotel in Bethlehem decreased. 17 out of 37 are cured.
Good news? Of course. But people are gathered in prayer in the middle of street in al Bireh. Not far from where the conference was taking place!
Israeli authorities on the other side, declared starting from today full restrictions of movement as the virus becomes a pandemic, and infected people rise in one week from less than a 100 to almost 800.
But when you have Netanyahu as a prime minister, you know that this will be used to hang on to his ultimate goal “a good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian”… and what a time!
“No, we should go forward, groping our way through the darkness, stumbling perhaps at times, and try to do what good lay in our power. As for the rest, we must hold fast, trusting in the divine goodness, even as to the deaths of little children, and not seeking personal respite.”
Until next week….continuing the Plague and observing the Corona.