Opinion

Israel Trading in Ventilators for Helpless Gazans Is Inhumane

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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The Gaza Strip, April 2020.
The Gaza Strip, April 2020. Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

If Israel had even a hint of human feeling toward the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, at least during the coronavirus pandemic, it would immediately lift all the bans and allow unlimited medical and economic aid into the enclave. If it showed more generosity and less haggling, it could also achieve a prisoner exchange with Hamas.

But in Israel, where the coronavirus has turned everything upside down, only one thing remains as it was, cruel and hermetic: the Gaza blockade. The entire world has changed except for the biggest prison of all, which anxiously awaits an outbreak with only 65 ventilators, without testing kits for over 2 million people and with shuttered gates whose key is in the hands of the Israeli jailer.

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Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troopsCredit: Haaretz

The height of the humiliation: Early this week, Haaretz reported that Hamas may give Israel information on the two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers held in Gaza in exchange for ventilators. Israeli sources were quick to deny the mere contemplation of such a delivery, prompting Hamas to issue its own denials. Still, there’s no escaping the historical allusion suggested by the headline.

To me the headline recalled the deal struck by Israel (Rudolf) Kasztner with the Nazis, military trucks for Jews. No, it’s not the same, not even close. Gaza does not face a holocaust, only a humanitarian disaster whose scope is magnified by the pandemic. But if anyone in Israel even considered negotiating over supplying breathing machines to the Strip and attaching any conditions to their delivery, that harsh comparison is unavoidable.

Gaza has just 65 ventilators because it has been imprisoned by Israel for nearly 15 years. It is intolerable that an Israeli general decides what, and above all what will not, be allowed in. It’s nothing short of evil. By what right does an Israeli general decide how many ventilators Gaza will have? What’s the source of this evil?

When Turkey wants to aid the Strip, Israel puts up obstacles. Instead of rushing to bring in a few of the ventilators that the Mossad stole from the rest of the world, as the espionage agency’s leaders have bragged, and instead of calling on the world “Don’t forget Gaza,” the Strip is left to choke with 65 ventilators, which are only a symbol of its distress.

In the background is the possible prisoner exchange. Someone thought an agreement could be extorted under the cover of the coronavirus. Gaza has held its fire since the outbreak of the pandemic. They aren’t even sending over incendiary balloons. Israel should have responded with a goodwill gesture. But in Israel, a gesture is a sign of weakness.

The question of who is more humane, Benjamin Netanyahu or Yahya Sinwar, is still open. The Israeli prime minister, like all his predecessors, is responsible for the abuse of many more people. The only asset the Hamas leader in Gaza has is two civilians and two bodies. Sinwar wants to obtain the release of a few of the thousands of his people who are in Israeli prisons, some of whom are political prisoners or are serving draconian sentences.

First, he seeks the release of the old, the sick, the women, the minors and the 55 prisoners that Israel scandalously rearrested after freeing them in the Gilad Shalit exchange, in vengeance for the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens in 2014 and in surrender to pressure from the settlers.

A humane country would have released all of them without conditions, as a coronavirus gesture. So far, Israel is unwilling to free them even as part of a deal. After all, we have to show Hamas who is stronger and whose is bigger.

All we can do is think in horror about the helpless people of Gaza. About their terror of the pandemic, which the Strip is ill-equipped to fight, and about the growing economic and mental despair. At the beginning of the month the Israeli general prohibited computers and communications equipment, so critical during a pandemic, from being brought into Gaza on the grounds that similar goods had been stolen in the territory.

Also, once again, Israel has sprayed crops near its border from the air. The wind carries the toxic materials to the refugee camps and, along with Israel’s even more poisonous intentions, to the provinces of desperation, distress and fear.

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