TEL AVIV, Israel - The Jewish state is coming under pressure over the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which is likely to be exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We created the largest jail on earth in Gaza," Israel's former head of the country's security agency Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon said Thursday.
"We treat almost two million people as prisoners. Let's assume they are bad guys and that's why we keep them in jail. Even prisoners in jail have some rights and we have a responsibility when it comes to these prisoners," he said.
The tiny strip has been under a blockade for the past thirteen years, which Israel says has been imposed for security reasons, but which has collapsed the Gazan economy and destroyed any prospect of a normal lifestyle for its inhabitants.
The blockade has heavily restricted health and medical supplies as well as food and lifestyle products. Israel has been reluctant to ease restrictions because it says it will open the strip up to the smuggling in of weapons.
The blockade is not only enforced by Israel, but also by Egypt. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also imposed sanctions on Gaza.
According to the United Nations, children account for 55% of the population of Gaza.
Hospitals are bare of essentials, particularly since the Trump administration ended funding to UN agencies operating there in 2018.
In January, Prof. Raphi Walden, president of Physicians for Human Rights, in talking to The Jerusalem Post, described the situation in Gaza as "appalling Just terrible conditions. The main hospital in Gaza has empty shelves, they are missing critical medications. There was a time they did not have the liquid needed to clean the skin before surgery. Everything is missing. It is a real humanitarian disaster there."
According to the 'Post 3,000 Gazans are in quarantine and nine have tested positive, but only 144 people of the two million population have been tested.
Last week, Israel's Defense Ministry's military unit COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) reportedly delivered hundreds of coronavirus testing kits to Gaza.
This after the Mossad had acquired 100,000 testing kits through the week from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel's Channel 12 which first reported the news said another four million test kits would arrive in Israel in the following days. A report in The Jerusalem Post two days ago confirmed the kits were being sourced however that article has now apparently been deleted.
The 'Post said it was understood the kits were being sourced from Gulf countries. If correct it would raise concern in some quarters, in that Israel was being supplied with in excess of 4 million test kits for its nine million population, while it was only passing on 'hundreds' of kits to Gaza which has a population of 2 million.
Aside from a drastic shortage of test kits, that is only the tip of the iceberg for Gaza. Dana Moss, director of advocacy for Physicians for Human Rights Israel told The Jerusalem Post there are only 70 ICU beds and 65 respirators in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, "according to the United Nations, 95% of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption. How do you maintain sanitation?" she asked.
Moss said the medical staff lack training and that there is such immense overcrowding that quarantine is near impossible.
"Everyone is aware that once coronavirus comes to Gaza, it will be a crisis because the health system in Gaza is in a state of catastrophe," she said.
"Because Israel controls freedom of movement in and out of Gaza, there is a very strong argument that Israel has a duty to pass along medication and medical equipment," to the people there.
The former Shin Bet chief was not only concerned about the humanitarian aspect, but what it could lead to.
"After almost 40 years working for the security of Israel, I saw the behavior of peoples and societies when they are really, really in despair, when they lose any hope and when they feel they have nothing to lose," Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post. "If the people of Gaza feel they are going to die as a result of this crisis," he said, "they are likely to march against our soldiers and our people."
"When it comes to the humanitarian crisis, we can try to do everything to change the perception of the people in Gaza about the Israelis and Israel," he said. "When all of us face a humanitarian crisis, we understand that we are all human beings and let's try to see what we can do together and how we can cooperate."
Ayalon said that Israel must open the borders to Gaza for anyone willing to enter and help, from Physicians for Human Rights in Israel to governments or NGOs from around the world.
"Let's say China, now that it is a little after its peak of this crisis, is ready to send experts and maybe even equipment into Gaza," Ayalon said. "Even if we are not deeply excited about having the Chinese in the Gaza Strip, we need to approve it. We need to approve any government entering the Strip that wants to assist."
"We cannot survive unless we are perceived as being a good-standing member of the international community," Ayalon added. "We do not want to be the only members who 'killed' hundreds of people because we failed to take action."
Since the beginning of the crisis, Israel has allowed the entry of critical supplies and equipment into Gaza: examples of critical supplies include swabs for collection of samples and other laboratory supplies required for Covid-19 testing, and Personal Protective Equipment to protect health workers, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said in a statement released on Friday.
The statement also noted Israel's cooperation in allowing health workers and other personnel involved in the Covid-19 response to move in and out of both Gaza and the West Bank.
(Photo credit: AFP).