Coronavirus: blockaded Gaza looks on wryly as world isolates itself

There are no cases of the virus reported so far in the strip

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“Dear world, how is the lockdown? Gaza.”

This is just one sly dig at the international community among a torrent of social media posts that have emerged from the blockaded Gaza Strip during the coronavirus pandemic.

The sight of a world locking itself down seems to have unleashed a wellspring of emotions in Gaza, from sardonic political commentary to schadenfreude.

This from a tiny coastal enclave that has for years lived with enforced isolation and confinement.

“Have you got bored with your quarantine, the closure of your crossings, your airports and your trade? We in Gaza have been living this for 14 years,” one social media user posted this week.

“Oh world, welcome into our permanent reality."

Gaza, measuring 375 square kilometres, is home to about 2 million Palestinians, more than half of them refugees.

Its access to the outside world along 90 per cent of its land and sea boundaries is controlled by Israel, and by Egypt on its narrow southern border.

An Israeli-led blockade has put restrictions on the movement of people and goods for years, amid security concerns after the 2007 takeover of Gaza by the militant group Hamas, and three subsequent wars that killed thousands of Palestinians and about 100 Israelis.

But the restrictions they fight against may also have contributed to slowing the entry of coronavirus, with no cases reported thus far in Gaza. The paradox is not lost on Gazans.

But prolonged closure and isolation have contributed to the crippling of Gaza’s economy, with unemployment at 52 per cent and poverty levels of more than 50 per cent.

Standing in his empty metal factory in northern Gaza City, businessman Youssef Sharaf recalled the years when he used to be able to export electric heaters to Israel and the West Bank.

“I had 70 people working here. Today I only have one,” Mr Sharaf said.

Although the underlying causes of his closure were man-made, he empathised with those facing shutdown because of disease.

“It is tough,” Mr Sharaf said. “May God be with them.”

In Gaza’s small but resilient high-tech sector, the obstacles that stop travel abroad also forced early adoption of teleconferencing and other practices that world is now catching up with.

At Gaza Sky Geeks, an incubator for young entrepreneurs, computer programmers and web developers work remotely with international firms.

“Because of the years-long blockade on us, Gaza people better understand the current situation in world countries,” said Angham Abu Abed, 24, a computer engineer who works with a software company in Britain.

“We hope the blockade on us will end and we hope the virus will disappear from the world.”