Virus or Hope Infection in the Camps?
Amid conflict between virus infection and hope “infection”, how did the Palestinian community in Lebanon confront the epidemic, in terms of revealing the equation of behavioral inadequacy or moral vigilance on the impact of the influencing dynamics? How has society shaped its defense mechanisms to confront the epidemic? Given the awareness of the real situation’s fragility, living conditions, and weak health system, including the performance and effectiveness of UNRWA with a new challenge to face due to its financial situation and reduced funding after the suspension of US support.
Due to the spread of a virus that is crossing borders, continents, countries, classes, races, ethnicities, nationalities, sects, and political affiliations, immunity becaa frequent need to remind us that we live in an interconnected world.
The outbreak occurs in a negative environment of increasing discrimination and racism; fear and uncertainty caused by the virus turn into blaming scapegoats. A reality that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “the tsunami of hatred,” given the substantial rise of racism. Vatican Pope called on the world governments to “an infection of hope” and “detachment from selfishness.”
Humanity’s need for a “hope infection” as a vaccine for the pandemic revealed that human immunity starts with behavioral immunity. This is especially true given the unprecedented global outbreak of social exclusion and systematic bias policies that disregard the rights and needs of women, workers, the elderly, blacks, ethnic minorities, refugees, and vulnerable groups. There was a concern that migrant workers would inadvertently spread the epidemic once they could leave, because of the desperate conditions of life during shut down.
The energy of the Palestinian society in Lebanon has provoked the imbalance of the behavioral immune system by reviving negative stereotypes. The cartoon published in a newspaper in remembrance of the Lebanese civil war compared Palestinians to Coronavirus, to project crises on others and blaming the Palestinians for yesterday’s sins by digging up the painful moments and harsh experiences in the history of the Lebanese Palestinian relationships.
In this context, a Lebanese political leader called for “extreme measures in the surroundings of Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps and demanded that they are prohibited from going in or out,” which revives the image of seven decades of discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, and punishment. How was the stereotyped image shaped according to prejudices revived? How did the camps acquire the negative and despicable image as the source of the pandemic, an image which purpose is to stir up hatred and stigma of inferiority?
Given the conflict between virus infection and hope infection, the LPDC called for “all efforts to reach a safe environment free from the dangers of this deadly epidemic.” The Lebanese Minister of Health visited Al-Jalil camp accompanied by the Palestinian ambassador in Lebanon and several officials. He addressed the Palestinian refugees: “We belong to the same social fabric, the camp and Baalbek are one”.
The source of the popular internal energy was the moral vigilance of the people, which reminded that one could depend only on oneself, which translated into the resistance of denial and political selfishness, and in overcoming the ineffectiveness of local, national and international institutions. The biggest challenge that the Palestinian camps had to face was its initiative to implement preventive measures, which included the closure of the subsidiary entries. Volunteer youth teams and civil defense teams relied on their efforts to equip themselves and establish tailoring workshops to make masks and distribute them free of charge. They bought protective garments, checked the temperature of every person entering the camps and sterilized all its gates, and nearby neighborhoods and villages. We have witnessed an atmosphere of support, giving and volunteering among camp residents and Palestinian associations established by people from the camp living abroad. Media campaigns were launched as well as social initiatives. Local and civil agencies were also mobilized to monitor and control the crazy rise in prices and worked hard to get an exemption or reduction on rents or subscriptions allowance and on fees or to postpone payments. Relatives got closer to each other, especially those who reside in Europe, who managed, through their associations, to pay the debts of shops and pharmacies on behalf of sick and needy people inside the camps.
The epidemic in the camps stimulated an “infection of hope”, which served as a test for patriotism, an immunity system test for ethics, and a measurement scale for our principles, values, and humanity. No society or country today can build a wall to protect itself from the virus. Taking the lead against this challenge requires bringing together national monitoring, prevention, and response arrangements to address inherent preferential policies. Excluding minority groups undermines the effectiveness of any response to epidemic challenges and lays the foundation for more fragmented societies. Joel Millman, the senior press officer at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), called upon governments to treat refugees and migrants with dignity and respect because the health of communities is linked to the health of the most marginalized members in society.
Strengthening the behavioral immune system can crush the infection. However, we should address the misunderstanding concerning the Palestinian presence inside and outside the camps and should better understand the components of this presence. It should be emphasized that positive energy embellishes the image and reflects positively on the reality of a fraternal coexistence. Only by accepting the other, we can resolve our current fears and historical obsessions.
Immunity is made stronger by developing the active Palestinian youth bloc and allowing it to express itself inside the camps in a positive way. By doing so, this bloc will act as a defense against epidemics prevailing due to neglect, exclusion, and marginalization. It will also work towards restoring the real image that would guarantee the establishment of positive political stands, relationships, outlooks, and actions.
It is high time the positive image wins over stereotypes, through reconciliation, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, a spirit of volunteerism, moral superiority, sacrifice, success, and originality. Restoring the camp’s symbolism as an invigorator of a patriotic and activist culture makes it a witness, not a perpetual victim.
Palestinians in camps have a national right and a commitment to dignity, justice, and the right of return.