Marwa Ghannam, a data coordinator with B’Tselem, moved to Bethlehem just days before the city shut down.
I’m 30 years old, from Haifa. I moved to Bethlehem to live in a large house by myself. I hardly know the city and it’s surrounded by checkpoints and the Separation Barrier. I’ll have to go through a checkpoint to get to work in Jerusalem and back. But after seven years in Jerusalem, I’ve found the apartment of my dreams in a fascinating Palestinian city, in an old stone house with lots of windows, sunshine and hope.
When my mother said that the checkpoints could close one day and I wouldn’t be able to visit them, I reassured her it wouldn’t happen. Because I write detailed reports for B’Tselem about roadblocks and closure of villages in the West Bank, I know it can happen, but I was trying to spare my mom the worry.
Well, on 9 March 2020, it happened. Occupation by virus
The health ministry directives sentenced me – and everyone else in Bethlehem – to fourteen days of isolation. I asked myself: “Closure? Why closure!? For a week now, the Israeli health ministry has been publishing its epidemiological investigations of patients inside Israel, but no one is closing their cities and communities!” It was a shock for me and for the residents of Bethlehem and the West Bank. Friends told me that in 2002, Bethlehem was put under full closure for 40 days and they’re supposedly used to it.
So, I started my new life. I worked from home. I got together with friends on video chat and talked to my family from afar to make up for missing them. All I could see, most of the time, was the world outside my window and sometimes in my imagination.
One day, when I went out to get supplies, I saw a man ringing the church bells at the top of the tower up ahead and the voice of the muezzin joined him from the mosque nearby. I walked to my car through the empty city. It was raining. In my head, I was writing the script for an apocalypse.
The fourteen days of isolation are over, but new developments have put the whole country in isolation. I had to decide whether to stay in Bethlehem alone until God knows when, or try to go back to my parents, despite the closure and roadblocks
I packed a suitcase, started the car and went back to my parents.
Marwa Ghannam, B’Tselem data coordinator
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Israel’s regime of apartheid and occupation is inextricably bound up in human rights violations. B’Tselem strives to end the occupation, as that is the only way forward to a future in which human rights, democracy, liberty and equality are ensured to all people, both Palestinian and Israeli, living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.