Guest author: Oliver Fink, University of Basel

These have been really weird times – due to our Bethlehem contacts, we were among the first to get ordered into self-quarantine in Israel, even before it started for the whole country. As the restrictions are now slowly easing up, we have been two months under lockdown with minimal movement. Yesterday we were hiking in the nearby forest as a family for the first time for two months. All planned visits from family and friends, as well as our holiday plans to Jordan, had been canceled. We were reduced to enjoying the beautiful spring flowers in our garden “which are here today and gone tomorrow”, reminding us to seize the moment in all its limitations. 

Sometimes the only thing you can do is to focus on the immediate tasks at hand. Despite homeschooling three children but with no further distractions, the time has been very fruitful from a scientific standpoint – two articles handed in, one major presentation given in our research group about project progress (via zoom evidently), and some urgently needed theory-building underway to interpret our field data. 

Regarding the political situation [which included an ongoing Israeli governmental crisis throughout much of the time], the emergency brought forth light and shadow regarding mutual collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians… 

Initially, the relations between Israeli and Palestinian authorities grew stronger, with the pandemic enforcing enhanced cooperation on public health and security issues. According to the ‘Times of Israel’, that cooperation included “sending medical supplies and coronavirus testing kits to the West Bank, the training of Palestinian doctors on treatment methods, the authorization for Palestinian security forces to enter East Jerusalem neighbourhoods – from which they are usually barred by Israel – to help enforce quarantine and provisions to allow the entry of tens of thousands of Palestinian workers into Israel”. Even the UN praised the “excellent” and “unprecedented” Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in fighting against the pandemic. 

Soon enough, that ‘honeymoon phase’ (or rather the strongly perceived common threat) faded. While acknowledging certain coordination, officials in Ramallah proceeded to criticise Israel (“occupation knows nothing of humanity”) in the same way as before the crisis, complaining about ongoing raids of security forces in the Westbank. As the number of infected Palestinians grew, senior PA officials began accusing the Jewish state of purposefully infecting Palestinian workers with the virus and dumping them into the Westbank (some 45,000 of 120,000 authorized Palestinian workers continued to work in Israel, staying for an extended period to limit movement as much as possible). This is a big step for Israel, but at the same time, the Israeli economy strongly depends on these workers – in the supermarket where I did our Corona shopping, generally, you were better off speaking Arabic than Hebrew. 

So, nothing new overall… Sometimes a crisis just enhances what is there all the time, what’s possible and what’s not, the ‘light’ of a unifying threat under the shadow of the typical conflict behavior from all parties. Chekhov once said: “Any idiot can manage a crisis, it’s the daily living that wears you out.” Somehow the crisis management worked despite all the bickering – my wife drove through Bethlehem today without being stopped and Israel significantly rolled back the restrictions, but we are in no way further in handling the conflict jointly, which I consider a wasted opportunity. Maybe what I wanted to bring forward here can be best explained in the words of Kierkegaard: “Hegel explained everything in life, except how to get through an ordinary day.” Sometimes we get the complicated things right, and the seemingly simple things wrong. And sometimes not even a major crisis can teach us how to get through an ordinary conflict day together…