An Apartheid Time Bomb... Keeping the Vaccine from Palestinians Threatens Israel

Thursday 6 May 202108:16 pm
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قنبلة موقوتة يغذّيها الفصل العنصري… منع اللقاح عن الفلسطينيين يهدد إسرائيل

Israeli journalist Ronny Linder warned that the vaccination data against the novel coronavirus in Israel is impressive, but it will “pay a hefty price for not vaccinating its Palestinian neighbors.”

In her analysis, published on May 2nd, Linder indicates that Palestinians suffering from the viral outbreak in Gaza and the West Bank are like a “ticking time bomb”, as mutated strains of the virus that can partially or completely resist the vaccine are likely to spread among them in a way that threatens the economic and health situation in Israel.

Figures show that only 3.3% of Palestinians have received the vaccine, amid soaring cases and deaths, including those in recent weeks.

Last week, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla celebrated in a tweet the conclusion of the first deal of the year 2020 with the state of Israel, supplying it with millions of doses of the coronavirus vaccine, with a clause allowing millions of additional doses to be purchased if needed.

Bourla’s tweet quickly sparked widespread reactions, with Twitter users demanding that the vaccine should be provided to Palestinians, just as they were to Israel. Figures show that only 3.3% of Palestinians have received the vaccine amid soaring cases and deaths, including those in recent weeks.

In contrast, Israel has become the most population-vaccinated country against COVID-19 in general and has already succeeded in vaccinating 90% of the groups most at risk. As a result, Israel has been completely free of COVID restrictions for several weeks now.

Apartheid Responsibility 

Recently, the world has been immersed in discussions regarding Israel’s legal and moral responsibility to vaccinate residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in light of the great discrepancy between the expanding vaccination of the Israelis versus the tragic situation that the Palestinians are living in.

Both the international press and social media are littered with articles, publications, and statements from prominent figures such as King Abdullah of Jordan — who spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos about the gap between the two peoples — discussing the extent of Israel’s commitment to vaccinate its Palestinian neighbors. The epidemic is spreading throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, amid a declining health infrastructure and limited resources, with residents living under a long list of restrictions imposed on travel and gatherings, as well as school closures.

While Palestinians are struggling in their fight against the COVID wave of cases and are unable to vaccinate a moderate number of people, Israel has been extensively talking of having excess doses, including the 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it has said it has no intention of using.

While Palestinians are struggling against the viral wave, unable to vaccinate a moderate number of people, Israel has been widely talking of having excess doses, including 10 million AstraZeneca doses that it said it has no need for

The Israeli journalist says that the public and media discourse in Israel isn’t raising the idea of giving the vaccine to the Palestinians, with whom the Israelis share their air. Rather, word is that the Israelis are thinking of giving the surplus vaccinations to India and those that arrive at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

Israel has previously vaccinated the 110,000 Palestinian workers with an Israeli work permit in order to protect the settlers and Israelis with whom these workers are forced to deal with. As for the Palestinians who do not enter the occupied territories on a daily basis, Israel has remained silent towards their plight.

This silence was highlighted by the words of the Director General of the occupying State’s Ministry of Health, Professor Chezy Levy, during a visit to the vaccination center for Palestinian workers, saying that “the vaccination of Palestinians is a matter of Palestinian health institutions, and officials of the Palestinian Authority with experience and knowledge can be assisted.”

Law scholars have stated that international law obliges the occupier to assume responsibility for the public health of the population under his control. On the other hand, Israel claims that the Oslo Accords transferred the responsibility for a variety of matters — including that of public health — to the Palestinian Authority.

However, Adi Niv-Yagoda, an expert on medical law at Tel Aviv University, says that “the Oslo Accords determined that authority in a number of civilian areas, including health, has been transferred to the Palestinian Authority. But the Fourth Geneva Convention contains an article stating that the ‘occupying power’ is obligated to adopt preventive measures to combat the spread of infectious diseases. Another article affirms that the obligation of the occupying power cannot be curtailed by agreements concluded with the occupied population.”

“In practice, and for a variety of reasons, some of them depend on Israel and others do not,” Yagoda added, “An important, stable, and comprehensive health care system has not been developed in the Palestinian territories, neither in Gaza nor in the West Bank.”

He also stated, “The complex relationship between Israel and the Palestinians — particularly Israel’s near absolute and effective control, coupled with the fact that there is no complete Palestinian sovereignty like the one defined in the Oslo Accords — imposes a great deal of responsibility on Israel, including within the domain of health.”

The Development of a New Strain

In her article, the Israeli journalist poses that, “Regardless of the legal and even moral debate, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Coronavirus is blind. It does not recognize borders and international law, and Israel is not exactly an ‘isolated island’, as it is often called. Rather, it shares borders with unvaccinated Palestinians, among whom the pandemic is spreading.”

In January, the Assembly of Experts, a leading professional and non-political organization providing advice in combating against the emerging Coronavirus, said that, “all attendees agree that there is a clear need to vaccinate the Palestinian population, because the Palestinian and Israeli populations are pandemic viral ‘contact vessels’.” The experts went on to say, “We must take active steps, to the extent that the Palestinian Authority agrees to receive assistance from Israel, in order to help these residents get vaccinated.”

Last March, a group of Israeli human rights organizations — including Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, Adalah–The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Rabbis for Human Rights — filed a petition with the High Court of Justice (or the Supreme Court of Israel) demanding that Israel “ensure that the novel Coronavirus vaccine is provided to all Palestinian residents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

The petitioners discussed at length the existence of health considerations for Israeli citizens, citing a position paper issued by the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians from the Israeli Medical Association. The paper states that “In the event that the virus continues to spread among the unvaccinated, there is an increased risk of developing additional mutations and strains of COVID-19, which can be partially or completely resistant to the vaccine. Therefore, collective immunity is required in this community, whose members all live in close proximity.”

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