Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

COVID diaries: Life on hold

Mohamed Shurrab | 06-09-2020

Civil defense crews bring water to quarantined Gazans

On, Monday, the 24th of August, I check my phone before getting some sleep. That’s when the news comes across: The Ministry of Health is reporting the first four coronavirus cases inside Gaza. I searched for more. These first four people (that we know of, at least) were not quarantined. That means they shook hands, talked to, stood next to many others freely. They must have exposed tens of people.  

These first cases of “community-spread” COVID were reported in tandem with a wave of bombings in the southern part of the Strip, where the quarantine centers are located. It seems like we are involved in a two-front fight against two viruses—the coronavirus and the Israeli occupation.

Another nine cases of people testing positive were reported two days later. In addition, an elderly man named Rabah Lubbad died from the virus. His was the first death from COVID in Gaza, but we know the number will increase as more infections occur. There are a lot of people who are testing positive but who have few or no symptoms. Therefore, the number of actual cases is still unknown and is probably far higher than we realize.

This prospect is alarming, considering that we only have 100 ventilators for 2 million people. Rubbing salt in the wound, the Israeli occupation forces closed Abu Salem crossing for a time—the only gateway through which Israel allows imports and exports. Only food basics were allowed in.

Based on personal experience, misfortunes never come alone. And sure enough, the arrival of corona came along with several personal adversities in my life:

Flu or corona?

Coincidentally, I developed a bad cold Monday, the same day the COVID news hit. I was sure it was just a cold and I would recover soon. I took one Paraflu tablet and drank some hot tea. But it didn’t help, and I began to worry. It was the first time I had ever suffered from a cold so severely for four days in a row. I tried to persuade myself that I was fine, because I was too intimidated to ask for a COVID-19 test.

My tawjihi year in question

All the public services closed, including schools. As a tawjihi student (last year of high school), I am feeling apprehensive. Will I be able to complete my studies this year? I searched for news to assure me, but in vain. The unstable internet connection in Gaza makes it difficult to participate in classes online.

Typically, students hate school, and that is the case for me as well. But tawjihi is different. It is the year that determines your future. Without an excellent grade average (above 90% or A+), I will not be able to study abroad. And even then, travel isn’t 100% guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed in Gaza.

As an A student, I take some extra tutoring sessions in mathematics and physics. I contacted my tutor to check my answers to the equations he had assigned before quarantine. Normally, I could check myself if internet and electricity were available. But the first few days of the lockdown were one continuous crisis.

For cooking gas, we fill metal cylinders like these

No gas

On Tuesday, August 24, our gas-supply cylinder ran out. (We are totally dependent on fuel imports from Israel for any type of power and pay to fill big cylinders with natural gas.) We have an extra one, but I when I opened the valve, I smelled gas. A leak. I turned it off. I didn’t know what to do. There is a strict curfew and all the shops are closed. I made some calls to see if I could get another regulator for the cylinder, but no luck. We had to eat canned food. The next day, a friend returned my call and said he could give us regulator. He saved the day!

On that day, we were in the midst of one of our periodic fuel crises. From August 16 until September 2, Israel cut off our supply altogether like it likes to do to force us into submission. Our only power plant and we got only two to four hours of electricity a day amidst and a wave of record-breaking hot weather. 

Missing my workouts

During Ramadan, late-night gym sessions were popular. Now, they are closed

Two months ago, I bought a membership in gym. I decided to commit to it, no matter what the hardship. I was committed enough to prefer working out at the gym to hanging out with friends. I found new friends at the gym and started enjoying the training. But now, like all other services, the gym is closed. For me, this is the greatest hardship. But I will try to continue my healthy diet and training at home.

Most people go to gym to lose weight or build muscle. But I go because of my fear of feeling vulnerable. The continuous assaults of the Israeli occupation and the other uncertainties of life in the concentration camp called Gaza have taken their toll on me, even at the age of 16. To cope, I write—and work out.  

 Vacillating between boredom and fulfillment

I feel guilty when I waste time. And that’s what this lockdown feels like. So, I have started reading, beginning with a book titled عالم بلا خرائط (A World Without Maps). It is a love-turns-into-revenge story set in the author's imagnary village. I also wrote this piece for the world to read.

Life is turning lifeless here. Two million people are dependent on only 100 ventilators. I hope we can overcome this pandemic with the least possible damage. Peace be upon all of the world.   



Posted: September 6, 2020

Mentor: Pam Bailey

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