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The Coronavirus Diaries: Virtual Prisoners

Wednesday June 16 2021

Dr Bernard Sabella, Executive Secretary of the Department of Services for Palestinian Refugees in Jerusalem, tells how the country is hoping to return to normal in coming months.

The Covid-19 pandemic made me and Mary, my wife, virtual prisoners at home when it visited its virus upon us in Jerusalem in early March 2020.

A whole month of quarantine with no exit from home necessitated that our son Zack and our niece Maha, who live nearby, bring us our groceries and medical needs and leave them outdoor without physical contact. Daily we followed the local news and international developments of the pandemic. We could not come in physical contact with our granddaughters, Naya (5) and Leen (3), and the only time we saw them was when they passed by our apartment and we could fly kisses and exchange hellos with them. We felt that the situation was surreal.

We were saddened to hear about friends and acquaintances who fell victims to the pandemic. A friend of mine who always offered me a refreshing mint whenever we met walking around for errands in the Old City of Jerusalem passed on because of infection of his entire family. Social media abounded with the passing on of infected people across the country, some of whom we knew. Our ex-parish priest, Father Firas Hijazeen, passed on after he caught the infection visiting with another parish in Syria. Many of the clergy in the various churches of Jerusalem caught the virus. In one case during the ordination of priests in a church in Amman, which follows the Church of Jerusalem, visiting clergy from Jerusalem caught the virus, it was rumored, from families of the priests who attended the ordination.

We followed prayers on the social media as we did not dare to go to church. In fact, during the periodic lockdowns, the churches, mosques and synagogues were ordered closed. At the peak of the pandemic the Church became a Church on the internet. Physical bonding among parishioners disappeared and the Church, like others, was shy from physical contact. One family member who became infected related how the priests stopped visiting her family even when she was fully recovered. She felt sad about it especially since at the beginning of the pandemic the priests had contacted her to ask if she needed any help, considering the family has two disabled members.

At work in the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees, a partner with the Church of Scotland, we exercised utmost caution when allowed to come work from the office. Safety instructions were followed meticulously. When it was not possible to reach the office, we all worked from home. We always checked with our partners across the world and got to know that some of our European and American partners got the virus. We were particularly worried about Gaza where the population density could make spread of the virus quite dangerous. We were in constant contact with our Gaza colleagues for updates on their situation.

And then comes the vaccines, which in the Palestinian Territories are proceeding with close to 400,000 immunized and in Israel with close to 5.5 million immunized. The virus has abated and we are hoping to go back to full ‘normal’ in the weeks and months ahead.

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The Coronavirus Diaries: reflections from Church of Scotland partners around the world

Bangladesh: We Will Survive by the Grace of God
Nepal: Exhausting and Often Heartbreaking
Malawi: God Has Been Faithful to Us
France: Thankful For What I Have
India: Love Your Neighbours
A Nigerian in Scotland: Alone But Not Lonely
Taiwan: When We Work Together, We Achieve the Best Results
Hungary: We Mourn Each Loss
Zambia: Preparing for the Vaccine, and a Third Wave
World Communion of Reformed Churches: The 'Covid and Beyond' Church
Pakistan: Passing the Light
Lebanon: The Lord Will Not Forsake Us
South Korea: 'It is Time For Christians to Hear the Marginalised'
Cuba: Keep Moving On
Canada: Cracks Have Been Exposed
Kenya: Leave No Child Behind
USA: Homes of Prayer
Mozambique: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
A Spaniard in Scotland: The Power of Movement
South Sudan: Being Positive
A Nigerian in Scotland: God is in Charge
Trinidad and Tobago: New Frontiers
Czech Republic: A Challenge for Everybody
Switzerland: An Outpouring of Solidarity and Creativity
The West Bank: A Landscape of Broken Dreams
Nepal: So Many Premature Goodbyes
Malawi: We Must Hold Each Other Close
Nigeria: A Fresh Spiritual Connectedness
Egypt: 'This Is A Time To Witness God'
Guyana: The Strength of our Connectedness
South Korea: A Harsh Reality
Zimbabwe: Convenience or a Wake-up Call?
Sri Lanka: Service is the Highest Form of Worship
USA: Testing Positive
Portugal: The Mission of the Church Has Not Changed
World Council of Churches: A New Dawn is Upon us
Hungary: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit
A German in Scotland: Something New Has Already Begun
Myanmar: We Will Overcome this Hardship
Ghana: This Too Shall Pass
Brazil: The Least We Can Do
Kenya: Caring for One Another in Christ
An Indian in Germany: A Time of Enrichment
Argentina: Time in Between
Malawi: 'My identity in Christ remains unchanged'
Jerusalem: Being Rather than Doing
Malawi: No Lockdown and an Election
Zambia: 'I will never leave you... or forsake you'
Czech Republic: The Covid Cover-up
Zambia: 'All Life is Sacred'
Israel/Palestine: 'The Air is Clear'
Nepal: 'Please Pray for Us'
Malawi: Tough Dilemmas
Italy: 'Together, We Will Get Through It'