Osama Dukmak is a member of the university committee at the Youth of Jesus Homeland Group in Palestine.
Throughout the years, humanity has faced several wars against viruses. Starting from the plague of Athens in 430 B.C until this moment where COVID-19 has infected more than 3 million people, the war has never been simple. But the human race was able to survive because of our unity and the ability to adapt to changes. Yes, this is the reason we have survived. Unity has been and will always be the solution.
Two months ago, we had 195 countries, 4,300 religions, 6,500 languages fighting against this virus; however, today, we have one united world battling the coronavirus with medicine and science as their common language. Although we are not equipped with the medical tools and systems in Palestine, we were able to overcome this crisis due to the medical cooperation with countries around the world.
In Palestine, the government declared a state of emergency early after the diagnosis of seven cases of COVID-19 in the Bethlehem area. The police closed all the roads and the citizens were obliged to stay home, as they needed to use disinfectants and wear gloves and face masks. Everything was closed except grocery shops and pharmacies. Most of the Palestinians who were diagnosed with COVID-19 got the virus through working in the Israeli settlements or by dealing with those who worked there.
Every year, Christians and Muslims celebrate Easter and Ramadan in a very special way. However, this year was different. Coronavirus limited these celebrations, due to the protection actions that have been taken by the government, which eventually led to closing all the churches and mosques and prevented public gatherings. On 24 April, religious leaders stood on the terrace of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and offered their prayers in Arabic, English and Hebrew for the relief from coronavirus. This was their prayer: “Lord, we bring our prayers to you asking that the authorities in Palestine and Israel may share the will and their resources to limit the spread of this deadly virus. So many Palestinians are already suffering from the loss of employment, a lack of food and medication. We pray that the Israeli government will work with the Palestinian authority to provide the necessary emergency support. Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayers.”
Easter was totally different. Every year, we used to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem. We used to gather from different local and international cities as a big family and attend the liturgies of Holy Week, but this year it was difficult because of the lockdown. But this didn’t diminish our spirit. This was the first Holy Week with no celebrations for Holy Saturday or Easter. Nevertheless, we all shared our prayers through social media and we are really happy that we were able to join Masses and prayers through the live stream from the church. Seeing people from all over the world standing together fills your heart with hope and joy.
My Muslim friend expressed the situation in Ramadan saying: “Well, this year started with the spread of coronavirus pandemic. As it continues to spread, we notice that it’s unstoppable! And unfortunately, it eventually reached our land. Now, there won’t be any gatherings or any family smiles and laughs.” Expressing his sadness, he adds: “Ramadan started and we are still in this dilemma. Our mosques are closed; we can’t go to pray and do our religious rituals in this holy month. It just breaks our hearts.”
The beginning of anything is always difficult and complicated. When the virus started spreading in our country, my family and I were terrified. We felt scared for our lives, the elder’s lives, people who have weakened immune systems, and the entire world that is being affected by this tiny unseen and unknown virus! We cannot forget the economic aspect of this crisis. Each time the government extends the state of emergency, people are suffering more and are on the edge of being broken. It is not easy for both sides: the government and the citizens themselves. Unfortunately, poor families are being affected the most. However, we have always had this hope: no matter what we will fight, we will remain strong and have faith that God will rescue us. Together we will overcome the situation. In Bethlehem, the church started giving necessary goods to the families, focusing on the poor and elderly at first. Palestinians have shown that they can handle the situation and help their brothers and sisters. With joy in their hearts, they supported each other during this crisis.
Although we are facing an uncertain economic future, we are united in the Holy Spirit and we can overcome all the hardships that will face us. People affected by coronavirus are thankful for the unlimited support they received from the doctors and everyone. I have seen that people did not lose hope. They always shared encouraging Bible verses and uplifting messages through social media.
As a 5th year medical student, my clinical rotations at local hospitals and my clinical clerkship in summer have been postponed. On the other hand, our studies continue. We continued having online lectures using “Zoom” and spent the pandemic period preparing for exams, learning new languages and building better and stronger family relationships.
Although this pandemic has brought fear and anxiety and has taken over social media, our faith in God has kept us strong enough to face it and filled our hearts with joy and hope, knowing that God is always on our side and he is there for us. Throughout this period, I always reminded myself of this Bible verse: “When I am afraid, in you I place my trust.” (Psalms 56:4) Hardship doesn’t mean that God has forgotten us. It means that he has a future for us, and we need the strength through prayer to be prepared for it. At the end, passionate hearts that are committed to a shared vision can accomplish the impossible!