Vaccine Not for All?

You may have heard last month that Israel had succeeded in vaccinating most of her citizens against COVID-19, and in record time — except for Arab citizens, the native Palestinians — most who have been corralled in enclaves there for over 50 years. The majority of Palestinians live confined behind heavily-guarded security walls, with many denied free movement and other basics, such as electricity (thus, ample running water) and property ownership.

All this trouble intensifies in the time of COVID-19. One of Israel’s first responses to the pandemic last March was to demolish a Palestinian field clinic in the Jordan Valley, along with its quarantine housing and a temporary mosque. The following month, Israeli forces shut down a clinic providing COVID-19 testing to a Palestinian enclave in Jerusalem, arresting its workers. Next, the infamous home demolitions resumed, turning hundreds of Israel’s original residents out into the streets and refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank — with COVID-19 bearing down.

Never mind that all this harassment is apartheid and illegal under international law. The ugly iron walls, funneling long lines of Palestinians through Israeli-armed military checkpoints (on a good day), also impede the delivery of food, hygienic and medical supplies, amounting to a state of siege against the remaining native peoples. This is the bitter irony behind Israel’s “stellar success vaccinating her citizens” in the Holy Land, where once lay the ancient, beautiful and productive homeland of Palestine, now shrunk to two encircled ‘rumps’ (fragments of a shattered state).

Damaged Cargo

In the Trump administration’s mangling of Immigration and Customs Enforcement procedures, countless flights loaded with immigrants just released from U.S. prisons, have deported COVID-positive individuals to El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras.
One day last April, the 44 deportees dumped off in Guatemala City instantly raised that country’s coronavirus contagion rate by 25 percent. ICE’s staging facility for many of these flights has chalked up the highest number of COVID-afflicted staffers of any detention center in America. May this unconscionable wickedness cease — and never recur again!!

A Lonesome Whistle

We’ve heard plenty about how airlines have fared throughout the pandemic. Have you also wondered about passenger rail travel over the past eleven months? Is it hurting? Are the trains even running??

In a normal year, over 40 million people “take the train” in America — whether crossing the continent on Amtrak, or frequently boarding localized commuter rail systems to get around. Well, very few routes have been cut. Most lines have continued in-service, many with lesser frequency and/or more amply-spaced seating onboard. Dining cars and the snack bars are largely closed, with “carry-out” delivered to a passenger’s seat.

I, for one, feel bereft of New Mexico’s Railrunner, which hasn’t run since last March. These excellent commuter express trains connect Belen to Santa Fe, while regional shuttle buses extend the Railrunner’s reach at least from Socorro up to Taos. But there’s light at the end of this tunnel: the CARES Act granted $21 billion to passenger trains and connecting rural transit systems nationwide — and hopefully will resurrect the Railrunner soon!

Nationally, ridership suffered understandable downturns this last year. The Southwest Chief (from Chicago) stops in Albuquerque and Gallup only every-other-day now, same as Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from New Orleans, which takes on passengers down in Deming. Our previous (Republican) governor had eliminated scheduled runs of the Railrunner long before COVID-19, shrinking its service and ridership right in the midst of its build-out phase. Too bad, since passenger rail travel emits half the carbon pollution that airlines do.

And Amtrak trips are 47 percent more energy-efficient than automobile travel. So in planning for re-opening and reviving train travel,

Congress needs to resume updating the system with new “rolling stock” and modernized rail-traffic control. These critical infrastructure projects can put nearly a million Americans back to work bringing the U.S. rail system up to date. And such a pleasant mode of travel would be far more in demand.

Sources: Inalienable, Middle East Children’s Alliance, National Rail Passengers Association

Kathryn Albrecht, El Defensor Chieftain columnist