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Searching for the New Normal, in Abnormal Times

A Letter from Doug Dicks, serving in Israel and Palestine

September 2020

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Dear family and friends,

Greetings from yet another lockdown in the Holy Land!

As the Coronavirus continues to spread across the world, Israel has taken the unprecedented step only days ago to lock down for a second time – the only developed nation to reimpose such a lockdown, in the hopes of curbing the spread of the virus. To date, Israel has one of the highest COVID-19 infections rates in the world.

Just prior to the country entering its second lockdown, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, issued an apology to the Israeli people, saying that the government had failed in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and he appealed to the people to follow the new restrictions that were going into place, and just prior to the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah). He said in a statement that “we did not do enough as leaders to deserve your attention. You trusted us, and we disappointed you.” He went on to say that “decision-makers, government ministries, policy implementers must work for you and only for you. To save lives, to reduce infection, to rescue the economy.” He added that “I understand the feeling that none of these were done satisfactorily. And now…we are forced to pay the price again.” He ended by saying that “the trust of the people is beyond value. We must do everything to restore personal, medical, and economic confidence to our fellow citizens….This is a second chance, and we must take it because we will not, I fear, get a third one.”

For some months now, wearing a face mask has been mandatory while out in public in Israel, and the fine is rather stiff – 500 New Israeli Shekels, or about $145.00 at the current rate of exchange, if one is caught not wearing one. With “mask police” stationed at strategic (and sometimes secretive!) places throughout the city, the public has, by and large, adhered to the policy. Not only must a mask be on one’s face at all times, but it has to be worn properly, and that means, up and over, and covering one’s nose. This is how I and many of my friends and colleagues move about and continue to engage in daily life.

Following the continued threat of annexation, and in response to Israel’s government officially contemplating annexing large areas of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority cut off any security cooperation with Israel in late Spring. In the Palestinian Territories, the virus is also raging just short of being out of control, yet the Palestinian Authority, which early on had done such a good job of locking down and curbing the spread, seems to have taken a hands-off approach in recent months. Wedding halls re-opened early in the summer, as did restaurants, bars, churches and places to gather, setting in motion what may yet prove to be a catastrophic decision. There is no law which stipulates that one must wear a mask while out in public in the West Bank, and indeed, many people, sadly, don’t bother wearing one at all.

On August 13 the world witnessed an unexpected shock, when the United Arab Emirates announced it would work towards a full normalization of relations with Israel. The Palestinians called the deal “a treacherous stab in the back.” Only days later, on August 16, the two countries connected phone service between the two nations. My cell phone rang, late in the evening on that day, and sure enough, a Palestinian friend from Abu Dhabi rang me, just to make sure the service worked!

At the White House signing ceremony on September 15, the Gulf nation of the United Arab Emirates was joined by Bahrain in expressing its desire to also normalize relations with Israel.

The Palestinians, needless to say, felt betrayed by the normalization of ties with Israel by yet another Arab country (or in this case, two countries!) while their suffering and human rights abuses, their continued land confiscation and the demolition of their homes by Israel continues to go largely ignored.

According to the Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OCHA-OPT), the period from March to August 2020 saw the demolition or confiscation of 389 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, on average, 65 per month, the highest average destruction rate in four years. The agency warned that the demolition of essential structures during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly worrying, as it further compounds the overall situation in the West Bank. “The global pandemic has increased the needs and vulnerabilities of Palestinians, who are already trapped in the abnormality of prolonged military occupation. Unlawful demolitions exacerbate these vulnerabilities and must stop immediately”, OCHA-OPT warned.

If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, it is this: that what we thought of as “normal” is anything but normal! We are all learning to live into a new normal, which for many feels uncomfortable and unsettling.

At this time of abnormality and uncertainly, may we be open to the spirit, and willing to transform our minds and our thoughts, as we live into a new normal, in our work, in our homes, and with our colleagues, family, friends, churches, and mission partners. May we be reminded that God calls us to pursue justice, and only justice, in our pursuit of a better world.

I wish to thank you all for your continued thoughts, prayers, communications, and financial support, without which, my work and presence in this part of the world would not be possible.

Please take care and continue to stay safe!

God’s peace,


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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