We need hospitals, not Israeli guns

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten more and more lives across the world. Health systems are overwhelmed in a growing number of places. In India, where the number of positive cases is rising, the lack of health infrastructure is a known fact and currently, medical and care workers are on the frontline, often with no protection or safety equipment. It would seem obvious that in this scenario, the government should singlemindedly be focusing on tackling this pandemic. And yet, on March 19th, India signed a deal worth 880 crore rupees (USD 116 million) to buy 16,479 Negev Light Machine Guns manufactured by Israeli Weapons Industries.

India has shortages of testing kits for COVID-19. Government hospitals are ill equipped and under staffed, while private hospitals are looking for opportunities to profit even from this situation. We have one isolation bed per 84,000 people and one quarantine bed per 36,000. To stall the spread of the virus, the government ordered a 3-week lockdown, a period during which millions of precarious workers may not have any security of food or income. Many are walking back to their villages, hundreds of kilometers away, in the absence of any transport and facing police harassment. The situation demands urgent action and investment in healthcare and in ensuring food security to the urban and rural poor. And yet we have 880 crore rupees being spent on Israeli guns.

These 880 crore rupees are going into financing the occupation of Palestinians territories, where the threat posed by COVID-19 is exacerbated by the Israeli apartheid and colonialism. In the besieged Gaza strip, there are only 40 ICU beds and 56 ventilators for 2 million people living under the Israeli blockade. The occupied West Bank faces similar dire shortages in terms of healthcare due to Israeli policies, even as home demolitions and raids by Israeli forces continue. Palestinian prisoners continue to be locked in overcrowded Israeli jails where four cases of the coronavirus have been recorded. The catastrophe of COVID-19 under apartheid is brutally encapsulated in the now widely-seen video of a Palestinian worker being dumped at a checkpoint even as he struggles to breathe. He was sick and his employer called the Israeli police as he suspected him of having the virus. It was hours before he could get any help.

Unprecedented moments of crisis throw up possibilities that were never imagined before. As the whole world struggles to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, it should bring us together in solidarity to demand just and equitable systems. It is a glaring fact that India’s healthcare infrastructure is in shambles because its government would rather buy Israeli guns than build more hospitals. Israel can continue its colonialism and apartheid because regimes across the world continue to be complicit in its war crimes, buying arms, sending military aid and abetting the denial of basic rights and dignity to Palestinians and fundamentally diverting public resources to support apartheid. A call for a military embargo on Israel is linked to asking for the same public money to be spent on health, education and other forms of public infrastructure.  As we try to tide over this moment through solidarity and care, we cannot anymore ignore the interlinkages of our oppression and the connectedness of our liberations.

Apoorva is a Palestine solidarity activist.