Survivors of world conflicts offer perspective amid a pandemic

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As Western countries reeling from the coronavirus pandemic awaken to a replacement reality of economic collapse, overwhelmed hospitals, grounded flights and residential confinement, it’s tempting to think the top of days is at hand.

But for millions across the center East and in conflict zones farther afield, much of this is often grimly familiar. The survivors of recent wars, too often dismissed because the pitiable victims of failed states, offers hard-earned wisdom in times like these.

Few have more experience with lockdowns and closures than the Palestinians. During the uprising referred to as the Second Intifada within the early 2000s, Israel pack up parts of the occupied West Bank and Gaza for weeks on end, using checkpoints and curfews to undertake to quash it.

In 2002, Israel imposed an around-the-clock curfew in Bethlehem for weeks as troops battled Palestinian militants holed up within the Church of the Nativity, built on the location revered by Christians as Jesus’ birthplace.

Jamal Shihadeh remembers being stuck in his home for 25 days before he slipped out and fled to a close-by Jewish settlement so as to figure . He ended up sleeping within the factory until the closures were lifted.

Now he’s stuck reception again. Israel and therefore the Palestinian Authority sealed Bethlehem and severely restricted movement after several residents and tourists tested positive for the coronavirus.

The virus causes only mild symptoms in most patients, who recover during a matter of weeks. But it’s highly contagious and may cause severe illness, including pneumonia, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems.

“A virus outbreak is far more serious than an Israeli invasion,” Shihadeh said. “You can stand back from the soldiers, but I’m unsure you’ll stand back from an epidemic .”

Now he and his wife and sons, who are stuck reception since March 5, live much an equivalent way he did in 2002. They watch the news and Arab soap operas on TV, they play cards and socialise, and that they await things to enhance .

Other things weren’t important

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power in 2007. Travel in or out is heavily restricted, and lots of Palestinians were trapped in their homes for days or weeks at a time during the three wars the miltant group has fought with Israel.

During the 2008-2009 war, Mohammed al-Attar awoke one morning to the sound of tanks, aircraft and gunfire. By then, much of his relatives had gathered on the bottom floor, with about 80 people sleeping within the front room , kitchen and other areas faraway from outer walls or windows.

The family had stocked abreast of mattresses and basic goods, but after five days they raised white flags and were evacuated to a faculty that had been became a shelter.

“We were just praying for it to prevent which we might stay alive,” he said. “Other things weren’t important.”

Gaza has only reported two coronavirus cases, but there are fears that even alittle outbreak could overwhelm its health care system. There are only about 60 ventilators within the territory of two million, and most of the breathing machines are already in use by patients with other ailments.

Long before the pandemic, Gazans were forced to adapt to daily hardships. Most only have a couple of hours of electricity each day , the faucet water is undrinkable, and therefore the percentage is about 50 per cent. It’s nearly always been difficult to go away , even for those that can afford it, and now the borders with Israel and Egypt are sealed.

We expect it to happen to us

In Sarajevo, the lockdowns have revived painful memories of when the town was besieged for 46 months during the Balkan Wars within the 1990s.

Bosnian Serb fighters were deployed on the encompassing hillsides and pounded the town with cannon fire . there have been severe shortages of food, water and electricity, and snipers gunned down those that ventured out.

It was the type of thing you hear about on the news, the type of thing that happens in faraway countries. That’s what the people of Sarajevo thought.

And then it happened to them.

Aida Begic, a filmmaker who was an adolescent at the time, recalls how even after fighting began in other parts of the country, nobody in Sarajevo thought it might reach them.

“Then it happened, and it lasted for 3 and a half years,” she said. “When something like this (pandemic) is occurring , we don’t doubt that it’ll happen to us. We expect it to happen to us. We are certain that it’ll .”

Now, many are drawing on lessons from the war. Some are buying wood-burning stoves, seed potatoes and onions. Begic knows people that have bought up to 40 kilogrammes (90 pounds) of flour.

“Someone who hasn’t had our experience might not remember that they need to buy extra cold cream and other similar everyday products,” she said. “We remember the items we missed during the war.”

An enemy that we do not know

The comparisons with wartime lockdowns only go thus far , as those that have lived through both readily acknowledge.

Hanaa al-Yemen, a 55-year-old mother of three in Lebanon’s port city of Sidon, lived through her country’s 1975-1990 war and various other bouts of violence, including the 2006 war between Israel and therefore the Hezbollah militant group.

But she said the coronavirus pandemic, and therefore the countrywide lockdown imposed to contain it, is like nothing she’s ever experienced.

“We wont to be so frightened of the warplanes and therefore the random shelling, but we could still leave sometimes and work,” she said. “Today there’s an enemy and a danger that we don’t know, we can’t see or touch it, and it can strike us or a member of our family at any time.”

In Cuba, which is under a 30-day lockdown, many became masters of self-sufficiency through decades folks sanctions and a number of other periods of severe stagnation within the centrally planned economy.

“We’re always storing things,” said Taimy Martinez, a 41-year-old administrator during a state-run business. “If we’ve chicken, we use it little by little. If we’ve money to shop for canned foods , we do. Sugar, a touch of bread to form toast, we make it last.”

“I can endure a three-week quarantine if we start today,” she said.

In the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, lockdowns are a fact of life for many years . Pakistan and India have split the region in two, each claiming it in its entirety, while residents have long demanded independence or union with Pakistan.

Last August, India stripped the region of its semi-autonomy. Fearing mass protests or a full-blown uprising, it ordered the region’s 7 million people to remain indoors for months and imposed an information blackout, isolating internet and even telephone company . Indian troops arrested thousands in anticipation of protests.

It’s happened before, and residents of Indian occupied Kashmir have learned to form the simplest of it.

“I can enumerate a minimum of half a dozen things which curfews and security lockdowns have taught us,” said Sajjad Ahmed, a schoolteacher.

He says volunteers have mobilised to assist the elderly and infirm. Parents have learned to home-school their children, and nearly everyone has mastered basic care , often by treating those wounded in clashes with security forces.

When extended families are stuck inside for weeks or months at a time, they share stories, imparting a way of history which will provide strength in times of turmoil.

“It helped us to rediscover the family and social talk,” Ahmed said.

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