Zionists' Criminal Denial of Vaccines to Palestinians

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 population.

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.[1] This includes ensuring that the people under occupation receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

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."[2]

At the end of February, a medical advisor for Médecins Sans 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."[3]

Until mid-March, it was even the official policy of the Israeli 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.

An 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.

The 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 Gaza.

"37,440 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have been delivered, according to a statement from UNICEF.

"The international COVAX scheme, backed by the WHO, should cover up to 20 per cent of vaccine requirements for the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians have sourced some limited quantities of vaccines from elsewhere.

"A 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 Palestinians.

"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."

2. "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 more likely to have a COVID vaccine than in Palestine," Matthias Kennes, Médecins Sans Frontières Medical Advisor, Palestine, 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

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