The Gaza Strip, April 2020.

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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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.