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What Israelis saw when they saw me: Chinese. Dangerous.

‘CORONAVIRUS’ someone screamed. I turned around, and saw a teenager snickering at me. What can we learn from this?
Dr. April Chan (Courtesy)
Dr. April Chan (Courtesy)

‘You guys should go sit by the bar instead’ a man yelled at us on the dancefloor of a bar in Tel aviv. What a strange thing to say, I thought at the time – it didn’t occur to me what he meant until the next morning.

I am a British doctor who has spent a significant proportion of the last few years in Israel to be with my Israeli partner. I love coming here – the comparatively warm weather, abundance of landscape, the youthful energy that buzzes into the atmosphere both day and long into the night… Ethnically I am Chinese, but this fact has never felt apparent to me. In fact, on the contrary, most locals have always welcomed me with open arms and been intrigued to talk to me about why I have chosen to spend my time in Israel and what life was like living abroad. I always felt accepted, until now.

A few days after the incident at the bar, we were out to celebrate Purim in Jerusalem. It was my first time spending Purim in Israel and I was excited to see what the joyous festival was all about. ‘CORONAVIRUS’ someone screamed. I turned around, and saw a teenager snickering at me. A few minutes later ‘corona, corona, corona’ some girls chanted, walking by, laughing and giving me side-glances. Later in the night, ‘CORONAVIRUS’ someone else boomed. This time it wasn’t a cheeky teenager – it was a man, staring straight at me with no hesitation. That was it, we ended the night.

On this visit, I entered Israel when there were no restrictions from the ministry of health regarding entries from most of Europe, including the United Kingdom. During my time here, the majority of people have continued to be as wonderfully welcoming as always. As the number of coronavirus cases continue to expand globally, related racial incidents have been reported all over the world. Nonetheless, the shock for me comes from experiencing this from a place I once felt so comfortable.

On the 9th of March, the Israeli government ordered a 14-day quarantine for all passengers arriving from abroad. Whilst protecting public health and stratifying risk is important, we have to ask ourselves – what is the message we have received and where does that leave our integrity? Years of working as a doctor has taught me that medicine is not just about calculating morbidity and mortality statistics, but about compassion, equality, humility. Now at a time of fear, have we been left skeptical and suspicious of others? Perhaps, we need to trust that the public health measures will protect us, and as individuals, turn inwards and take this opportunity to learn not only about science and health hygiene, but also patience, kindness and virtue. When this is far behind us, I hope that our future generations will look back at us as a progressing society and judge that we faced this crisis with unity.

About the Author
April Chan grew up in Hong Kong before moving to the United Kingdom to train as a doctor. She earned her MBBS from Hull York Medical School, and continues to practise in north-central England. Her career interests include obstetrics and gynaecology, as well as travel and expedition medicine. She travels frequently to Israel, where her partner resides.
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