Image Credit: Gulf News

As the world battles the outbreak of a deadly virus, COVID-19, more virulent viruses continue to linger. In the past couple of weeks, we witnessed the rage over one ugly virus: racism.

The killing of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the hands of a white policeman, sparked massive protests in more than 150 American cities that called for justice and equality. ‘Black lives matter’ is the motto of the protests that shed light on the systematic racism faced by African Americans and other minorities in the US.

Racism in the US is so institutionalised, especially in law enforcement agencies, that dozens of legislations and national initiatives over several decades have failed to prevent the cold-blooded murder of innocent black men and women by police forces in the 50 states.

Hopefully, the current protests would lead to real change, although that is doubtful under the current administration. This administration supports the de facto impunity the police seem to enjoy when the victim of their brutality is an African American or of a Hispanic origin, for example. A majority of these crimes don’t make it to a court, or the cases are thrown by judges who are systematically sympathetic to the police. For many of those judges, especially the hundreds who have been appointed since 2016, black lives don’t matter.

The Israeli occupation virus...has been killing innocent Palestinians for the past seven decades with absolute impunity — due to the blind support of Washington and the horrendous apathy of the world.

- Mohammed Almezel, Editor at Large, Gulf News

The official US statistics show a high number of unarmed black Americans are shot by the police regularly. Just weeks before Floyd was pinned to death, another African American, Breonna Taylor, was shot at least eight times after three officers stormed her flat in Louisville, Kentucky, to serve a search warrant in a drug investigation. The police department claimed the officers used their weapons after Taylor’s boyfriend fired at them.

The coronavirus kills people. The racism virus also kills people. In this region, we have a virus that has resisted decades of remedies. While the outrage over racism in the US made headlines all over the world, the lethal virus in our region continues its onslaught unchecked. It is the Israeli occupation and its daily grisly symptoms that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians. Its latest gruesome manifestation failed to get any attention — even in the Arab media, unfortunately.

It happened last Saturday. Iyad Halaq, a 23-year-old Palestinian was shot dead in occupied Jerusalem. You might not have heard of him as most of us in the media were busy reporting on the pandemic or the US protests.

How a cold-blooded murder went unnoticed

Iyad, a nice and quiet young man who mostly kept to himself, would walk every day to school from in his home in Jerusalem’s Wadi Al Joz area to the Old City. His school is the Elwyn El Quds centre, a school for children and adults with special needs. You see, Iyad was autistic. And according to his family, he was “at the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum and that he had trouble communicating with people”.

The autistic Iyad met, as he walked to school last Saturday, strangers in the form of the heavily armed Israeli soldiers who started yelling at him. Like many autistic people, he got scared and ran away. He did not manage to go far, though. He was shot twice in the chest and died on the spot. As usual in all its war crimes against the Palestinian people, the occupation army claimed that the soldiers thought he had a gun on him.

This travesty of justice, which has gone unnoticed by the international community and mainstream media, follows a pattern of Israeli crimes against Palestinians. Even Israeli NGOs are shocked by the sheer indifference of the world, particularly the US government, to such crimes.

According to the Israeli organisation, B’Tselem, nearly 5,000 Palestinians have met the same fate as Iyad in the past 10 years. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, Israel has not stopped its campaign of abuse, killing and collective punishment.

A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag in front of Israeli forces during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near Tulkarm, on June 5, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

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It is highly unlikely that people would pour on to the streets of New York, London, Paris, or even Cairo or Baghdad for that matter, to demand justice for Iyad and other Palestinian victims and an end to the occupation virus.

The coronavirus will ultimately be defeated, and most probably soon; the testing of potential vaccines is already underway. The racism virus in the US could very well be tamed because the entire country, including the political establishment, have realised that hate crimes, based on colour or class, must end. These practices have no place in the 21st century.

But the Israeli occupation virus seems to be resistant to any possible cure. It has been killing innocent Palestinians for the past seven decades with absolute impunity — due to the blind support of Washington and the horrendous apathy of the world, including many in the Arab world. Even Benjamin Netanyahu’s dangerous plan to annex the occupied West Bank, which could come as early as July, failed to elicit condemnation.

People around the world backed the anti-racism protests in America. Sympathetic rallies were held in several European cities. Because it is the right thing to do. And most importantly, black lives matter. But tragically Palestinian lives don’t.