As various countries
experience problems in
the broad and timely delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, Israel is promoted
as a paragon of efficiency, with various
figures cited to claim how fast and thoroughly it has vaccinated its
Such a narrative is in utter denial of
Israel's brutal and racist
treatment of the Palestinian people. Of the nearly 14 million
Palestinians worldwide, some 5.2 million live under Israeli
occupation. As much as the Zionists would like a free hand to commit
their crimes with impunity, international law imposes certain
obligations on an occupying power.
This includes ensuring that the people under occupation receive
Two UN special rapporteurs
issued a statement on January 14 that
pointed out that "Israel has not ensured that Palestinians under
occupation in the West Bank and Gaza will have any
near-future access to the available vaccines. The COVID-19 pandemic has
been ravaging the West Bank and Gaza in recent months, and has
fractured an already badly under-resourced
Palestinian health care system. We are particularly concerned about the
deteriorating health situation in Gaza, which suffers from a
13-year-old blockade, serious water and electricity
shortages, and endemic poverty and unemployment." They noted at that
time that vaccines that were ordered by the Palestinian Authority were
not expected for many weeks. "This means
that more than 4.5 million Palestinians will remain unprotected and
exposed to COVID-19, while Israeli citizens living near and among them
-- including the Israeli settler population -- will
be vaccinated. Morally and legally, this differential access to
necessary health care in the midst of the worst global health crisis in
a century is unacceptable."
At the end of February, a medical advisor for
Frontières, noted that while Israel had managed to vaccinate
nearly 4.2 million people (roughly 50 per cent of Israelis) with
a first dose and 2.8 million people with two doses (about 30 per cent
of Israelis), "only several thousand doses are available in the
Palestinian West Bank, and a delivery of 20,000 reported
to have arrived last weekend in Gaza scarcely scratches at the surface
of the needs. At a generous maximum, assuming that the 35,000 reported
Sputnik and Moderna vaccines are all
available, that would be around 0.8 per cent of the Palestinian
population." He noted that at that time, Israel was moving to
vaccinate young and healthy sections of the population
considered to be at low risk. "If asked why vulnerable people cannot be
vaccinated in Palestine, I do not know how to answer. It is
inexplicable and unbelievable. Worse than that -- it is
unjust and cruel," he added.
The advisor went on to
detail the difficulties in various regions of
Palestine, and highlighted the especially dire situation in Gaza where
"they have much more severe shortages of
medical supplies and pharmaceuticals because the blockade is so strict.
Their capacity for COVID-19 treatment is lower, so their need for the
vaccine is all the higher. And the recent
delivery of 20,000 vaccines will not be enough to protect both the
health care workers and the people most vulnerable to needing critical
COVID-19 medical care."
Until mid-March, it was even the official policy of the
health ministry to deny vaccinations to Palestinians living in Israel.
Supposedly the ministry is now permitting Palestinians
in Israel with work permits to be vaccinated.
important aspect of the global fight against the COVID-19
pandemic at this time is to ensure that as many people as possible are
vaccinated. The World Health Organization and
others have even established the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access
(COVAX) initiative to more broadly distribute vaccines, especially in
the face of hoarding by wealthy countries, such as
the U.S., UK, Canada and Israel, among others.
BBC reported on March 22 "The first consignment of vaccines
provided by the COVAX scheme to help poorer countries access supplies
has now arrived in the West Bank and
"37,440 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and
24,000 doses of
AstraZeneca vaccine have been delivered, according to a statement from
"The international COVAX scheme, backed by
the WHO, should cover up to 20 per cent of vaccine requirements for the
"The Palestinians have sourced some
limited quantities of vaccines from elsewhere.
delivery of 10,000 doses of Russian-made vaccine [Sputnik V] has
arrived, 2,000 of which have been sent on to Gaza. Gaza has also
received 20,000 Russian vaccine doses donated
by the UAE. [...]
"A recent report by the World
Bank says that the Palestinians will
need more financial and logistical help in order to cover 60 per cent
of the population.
"It has urged Israel to consider
donating extra doses it has ordered but does not need to the
"Israel says it is giving 5,000 doses
to the Palestinians, 2,000 of which have been delivered to the West
Bank so far."
1. Under the Fourth
Geneva Convention, Israel has a responsibility as an occupying power to
ensure the provision of medical
supplies to the occupied people, including "adoption and application of
the prophylactic and preventative measures necessary to combat the
spread of contagious diseases and epidemics" to
"the fullest extent of the means available to it."
"Israel/OPT: UN experts call on
Israel to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians,"
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights, January 14, 2021.
3. "In Israel, you're 60 times
likely to have a COVID vaccine than in Palestine," Matthias Kennes,
Médecins Sans Frontières Medical Advisor,
February 22, 2021.
4. "COVID-19: Palestinians lag
behind in vaccine efforts as infections rise," BBC News, March 22, 2021.
This article was published in
Volume 51 Number 4 - April 4, 2021