Israel Refuse to Provide the Vaccine to the...
Israel is celebrating an impressive, record-setting vaccination drive, having given initial jabs of coronavirus shots to more than a 10th of the population. But Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza can only watch and wait. As the world ramps up what is already on track to become a highly unequal vaccination push the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories provides a stark example of the divide.
“Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine programme highlights the institutionalized discrimination that defines the Israeli government’s policy towards Palestinians. While Israel celebrates a record-setting vaccination drive, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer – there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
The Israeli government must stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and immediately act to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, said Amnesty International.
Over half a century of occupation and enforcement of a system of institutionalized discrimination in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, Israel has deprived Palestinians of their basic rights and committed mass human rights violations. Israel must end its discriminatory policies and remove any barriers that may hinder Palestinians from accessing or enjoying health care.
Two weeks into its vaccination campaign, Israel is administering more than 150,000 doses a day, amounting to initial jabs for more than 1 million of its 9 million citizens – a higher proportion of the population than anywhere else and it is refusing to provide the vaccine to the millions of Palestinians it is forcefully ruling over.
Among many things, this regime of absolute control has had a direct and detrimental effect not only on Palestinians’ access to healthcare but also the quality of the care on offer in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel’s occupation has left the Palestinian healthcare system undersupplied and with insufficient medical facilities. For years, rather than being allowed to develop self-sufficiency, Palestinians living in the occupied territories were forced to rely on outside help to meet their most basic healthcare needs.
Several PA officials have mentioned the possibility of obtaining a quantity from the COVAX programme, the WHO-led scheme to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries. But it is likely this will take a long time – the vaccines intended for COVAX have not yet gained “emergency use” approval by the WHO, a precondition for distribution to begin.
All this would not have mattered, if Israel met its legal, moral and humanitarian obligation to vaccinate the Palestinians living under its military occupation.
The Israeli officials are trying to evade responsibility by claiming the PA is yet to ask Israel for assistance in procuring the vaccine, and that, under the Oslo accords which never came to fruition, all vaccination programmes in the West Bank should be led by the PA.
Yet this ignores the fact that Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically provides that an occupier has the duty of ensuring “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics”. In other words, the Israeli regime has a legal obligation to procure a sufficient amount of COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians living under its military occupation.