June 3, 2020 3.55 pm This story is over 41 months old

Barry Turner: Co-operation is better in a crisis than confrontation

If Israel and Palestine can work together, there can be no excuse for a no-deal Brexit.

If Israel and Palestine can work together, there can be no excuse for a no-deal Brexit.

Encouraging and uplifting stories have been a rare commodity in the last three months. Perpetual bad news has not very often been countered by stories of hope in spite of clapping campaigns and children’s rainbow paintings displayed in windows across the country. While the efforts should be themselves applauded, we have had to listen to pessimistic predictions of death toll, second waves and even of having to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. There is little wonder that dire warnings of a mental health epidemic have been added to our already large array of troubles.

There is however a remarkable story of hope and inspiration. Throughout the pandemic crisis Israel has partially lifted its blockade of Palestinian territories allowing testing kits and other anti-COVID-19 supplies to Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians have reciprocated by turning their textile industries to making much needed PPE and supplying Israeli hospitals and medical services with masks and protective equipment.

This has resulted in a boost in employment for Palestinians who have for decades been impoverished by a conflict that is generations old. It shows us that co-operation is better than conflict in a crisis. It is a graphic demonstration that where a crisis arises, insularity and exclusion are not the best way forward, but that they are the best ally the crisis can have in perpetuating itself. It is not the first time that this has been seen, which makes it all the more peculiar that so many politicians and governments think national chauvinism and the glaring misnomer of national self-interest can ever provide a solution.

The Coronavirus crisis has brought into sharp focus the failings of governments and politicians all over the world. The smoke screen of comparison of deaths, R numbers and who did what right first hides the reality that there were no successes in this pandemic, yes some did ‘better’ than others — but to a large extent there were far more losses than gains. No one ‘got it right’, but we can leave it to the coming years of academic and media interpretations to chew that one over.

One thing above all that has been seen during this crisis is the retreat behind borders. Even in the ‘ever closer union’ of the European Union, border closures were seen in the earliest stages of the pandemic. Member states took very different approaches to the control of the disease based on national and political interests, rather than those of a humanitarian nature. This has resulted in the ridiculous league table on deaths and comparisons of who ‘did it right’ and who ‘did it wrong’. The tragedy of hundreds of thousands of deaths and the, as yet not fully understood, long term consequences of this disease is not a national concern, but one that affects the whole of the human race.

We are as yet to see the last act of this played out of course, on the discovery of a vaccine and effective treatment. Already nations states have been jockeying to ensure they get ‘their’ share and some even prioritise patents over patients. The philosophy of market competition will not work here. The vaccine must be available to all equally or it is no use at all.

The world has cooperated before to fight disease. In 1977 the very last natural infection of Smallpox was recorded in Somalia. A co-ordinated effort led by the World Health Organisation eradicated a disease that ravaged every community on the planet and killed 30% of those who caught it. One of the most remarkable features of that program was that belligerents in wars put down their guns temporarily to pick up hypodermic syringes. Sadly, it was only temporary but it demonstrated that the process of eliminating a threat to all humanity could transcend tribalism and ideology.

As the COVID-19 crisis attenuates, people in the UK may have noticed that the Brexit debate is creeping back into the attention of the press. Within a few weeks it will, of course, be dominant again. No-deal cliff edges will be the existential threat rather than coronaviruses. Our economy already severely damaged will be facing a new threat of trade chaos between the UK and EU. If anything is now clear in the world economy, it is that confrontation is the last thing anybody can afford. Even those states who the press and media suggest to us got COVID-19 ‘right’ are in for a rough ride.

The COVID-19 crisis will be with us for long after the virus itself has been controlled. The crisis is now one of economic recovery and how best to achieve it. It is very clear that none of the world’s economies, now all on the ropes, have the energy to go back into the ring to slug it out. It’s time to co-operate and forget conflict. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.