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Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: 'The Air is Clear'

Features

The Coronavirus Diaries: 'The Air is Clear'

The Coronavirus Diaries: 'The Air is Clear'

Wednesday May 13

The Rev Kate McDonald reports from the Holy Land, where the lockdown is beginning to ease but people are still wary


In any other year, this is the time when the Sea of Galilee’s beaches would begin to fill with caravans and tents, and local hotels would be fully booked.

Smoke from dozens of barbecues would be hanging like a fog around the shores. The disco boat would be sending its music echoing off the Golan cliffs as it travels around the lake. The main roads would be at near standstill as sunbathers and water-sports enthusiasts flock to Tiberias and the kibbutzim of the Galilee.

But this year, the beaches are empty and hotels are closed. The air is clear. The disco boat remains moored in silence. And until last week, traffic was practically non-existent.

As Covid-19 began its spread here in Israel, the government acted earlier than many other countries, closing its borders to foreign nationals, restricting businesses, and imposing limits on movement within the country. At the time of writing, Israel has ‘only’ had 16,400 cases and 254 deaths, and in the last 24 hours, fewer than 20 new cases were reported.

Now the restrictions are slowly starting to ease. Many shops are beginning to open again, some of the younger students are back in school, and people are once again allowed to travel freely around the country. Though people seem happy to no longer be restricted to their homes, there is still a sense of wariness and concern that we may quickly face another wave of infections, possibly worse than the first.

The parts of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control have also been in lockdown since early March when the first cases of Covid-19 were found in Bethlehem, and the PA has extended the state of emergency until June 4. Around 525 cases have been recorded, and four people have died. Gaza has also thus far managed to avoid a wide outbreak of the virus with only 20 people infected and no deaths. The only cases found have been in those in the quarantine facilities and they have been quickly isolated. The spread of Covid-19 would be catastrophic for the population there, most of whom live in densely populated areas, with limited access to clean water, and a health care system already on the brink of collapse.

Though the virus seems to have been largely contained for now, the measures taken to contain it have created a multitude of other issues. Those working in the tourism and pilgrimage industry have been particularly impacted, and our partner Wi’am in Bethlehem has seen a spike in requests for food aid from families of Christian tour guides whose main source of income is now gone. Other partners such as B’tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, and WhoProfits have expressed concerns that while the world’s attention is focused on preventing the spread of the virus, we are witnessing a rise in settler violence against Palestinians, unsafe and crowded housing provided by employers for Palestinians temporarily staying in Israel for work, and heightened forms of surveillance in the name of public safety. 

When I think of the past couple of months, the word that often comes to mind is ‘apocalyptic’ — not in the sense of an end-times destruction, though it has felt like that walking through the empty streets of Tiberias some days — but ‘apocalyptic’ in the sense of uncovering, unveiling. This virus is revealing to us injustices and inequalities already present in our global economy as it disproportionately affects the poorest in our society. It is revealing to us those whose work is most needed to keep our communities running, many of whom are underpaid and under-appreciated. But it is also revealing to us what we most fear, what we most cherish, what we most hope for. So I pray that in this time, we may also know God’s desire for a flourishing world being revealed to us.

As I look out the window at the sun dancing on the Sea of Galilee, I hear the hymn: 

In simple trust like theirs who heard
beside the Syrian sea
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word
rise up and follow thee.


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