Gaza, COVID Vaccines and One of the Most Disgraceful Hearings Ever Held by Knesset

Zehava Galon
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Zvi Hauser, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, at a committee meeting.
Zehava Galon

In one way at least, the coronavirus is more advanced than Zvi Hauser. While it hasn’t yet learned how to deceive voters, to steal their votes and to hoard public funds it doesn’t deserve, the virus does not discriminate between people. They are all equal in its eyes.

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This week, Hauser conducted one of the most dreadful hearings ever held by this Knesset, which has already done plenty to sully the institution’s reputation: He opposed supplying coronavirus vaccines to Gazans on the grounds that Hamas is holding the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

My heart goes out to the bereaved families and the families of the missing, and I have no desire to argue with them. But I do have a few words to say to politicians who wormed their way into the Knesset by deceiving voters and are now trying to ride a wave of hatred.

First of all, Gazans are our neighbors. Neighborly relations may not be friendly, but we are still neighbors, and the coronavirus passes easily from one person to another. It is clearly in Israel’s interests for Gazans to be immunized soon. Second, the standard argument made by opponents of transferring vaccines is, “Let the Gazans take care of themselves” – meaning the vaccines will not come from Israel, there are other countries that will donate them. How exactly are they supposed to take care of themselves? Israel is responsible for the blockade that has lasted for 15 years and Gazans have no way to immunize themselves. Everything that enters Gaza (and often doesn’t enter) enters with Israeli approval. Make up your minds: Blockade or “Let them take care of themselves.” The two don’t go together.

Third, Hauser and friends are trying to win votes by spreading hatred as they cynically ignore the fact that everything that was said in the Knesset meeting is liable to be cited by the International Criminal Court in The Hague when it addresses the question of whether Israel employs collective punishment. What shall we call harming an entire public because of its unelected leadership, if not collective punishment?

Fourth, Gazans are not Hamas and Hamas is not Gaza. The Hamas leadership was elected in 2006 and has not won legitimation at the polls since then. Gaza is now home to two million people, about half of them minors, who live in such impoverished conditions that the UN declared the Gaza Strip unfit for human habitation. Israel blocks the rebuilding of infrastructure, electricity is measured in hours and there is a dearth of potable water.

Beyond the clear Israeli interest that all its neighbors live a good life, Gazans are human beings first of all. Yes, we should firmly demand that the Hamas leadership return the missing Israelis, but at the same time our basic humanity should spur us to raise an outcry that Gazans’ health has become a ball in a game among our cynical and brazen politicians. When we keep a vaccine from a Gazan woman who has done us no harm, we lose part of our humanity.

The public has become accustomed to discussions of cost-benefit considerations alone (as if it were a science experiment, we’re used to debating the right diameter for the blood infusion tube, without asking why such a tube is even needed). We and the Gazans are first of all human beings. In a state of hostility, yes, but both sides are still human beings and both have basic human rights. Whoever denies their rights today will deny ours tomorrow. We should know this better than others.

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