Israel is Keeping The Vaccine Away From Palestinians!

Published February 17th, 2021 - 08:33 GMT
A Palestinian health worker holds vial of Covid-19 vaccine at Palestine Red Crescent hospital in West Bank city of Nablus, on 4 February (AFP/File photo)
A Palestinian health worker holds vial of Covid-19 vaccine at Palestine Red Crescent hospital in West Bank city of Nablus, on 4 February (AFP/File photo)

The new type of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has been at the top of the world's agenda for the last year, has entered a new phase with the accelerated delivery of vaccines that have been approved for use.

Currently, the most common expectation among the global public is that the vaccines produced will become successful and that normalization will be achieved rapidly. However, the disproportionate delivery of vaccines at the ongoing distribution phase and the vaccination capacities of individual countries reveal, once again, the disparity of conditions between countries.

The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access program (COVAX), initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure a fair distribution of vaccines worldwide, has not yet been able to find an effective solution to this problem of inequality issue. According to data from the website "Our World in Data," not a single dose of vaccine, as of February 9, had been received by 126 countries, most of which being lower- and middle-income countries. To date, 134 million vaccine doses have been given to the world's population of nearly 7.8 billion, mainly concentrated in developing countries. Following the tensions between the European Union (EU) and vaccine manufacturers over delays in the rollout of vaccines, the EU’s request to supervise the export of the vaccines produced in limited quantities outside the Union was one of the developments that cast a shadow on the fair distribution of vaccines around the globe.

Israel stands out with its vaccination process

Israel, on the other hand, is the state that stands out with its vaccination program, although even superpowers have failed in this regard. Israel is the only country that has managed to vaccinate over half of its total population since December.

Behind this success lies the fact that the Israeli economy has the ability to pay $62 per dose (the US is reported to have purchased vaccines from the same company for one-third of this price), in addition to the country’s healthcare system having a strong foundation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that, by the end of March, their aim was to vaccinate all Israeli citizens over the age of 16.

Despite the positive picture, however, Israel's discriminatory health policies overshadow this successful vaccination trend. What differentiates the discussions specific to Israel from other examples of inequality is the categorical discrimination imposed on the Palestinians living in the Israeli-controlled region. Not even a single dose of the vaccine has been delivered to the Palestinian community living in the West Bank and Gaza, which are currently under Israeli occupation. The only exception in this region was Israel’s pledge for providing 5,000 doses, 2,000 of which were dispatched to the region last week, with an additional 3,000 doses planned to be dispatched, mainly intended for Palestinian health staff.

Even though developed countries, such as EU members, the US and Canada are accused of being selfish, ignoring the rest of the world with their vaccination agreements, they vaccinate, and pledge to vaccinate, their own citizens regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. On the other hand, Israel’s attitude towards the nearly 4.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and the blockade of the Gaza Strip once again demonstrate the inhuman face of the segregationist state policy, which has now become a fact of life taken for granted.

The unending test of Palestinians

The Palestinian people are located in three separate geographical regions. Those who are Israeli citizens, those in the Jewish diaspora, and those living in the occupied-blockaded areas (the West Bank and Gaza). Each of these clusters is not only tested with the violation of their fundamental human rights, but is now also having to deal with the vaccine injustice.

It is reported that the first of these three communities, Israeli-Palestinians, are benefitting from the vaccination program in Israel. The population of Israeli-Palestinians in the country is estimated at approximately 1.6 million. Israeli-Palestinians are a group that had their land taken from them, were subjected to forced internal migration, and are described by Israeli historian Ilan Pappé as the “Forgotten Palestinians”. Through the citizenships they were given, these people were forced to live within socio-political boundaries determined by the state of Israel. The Palestinians within Israeli borders who had been paying their taxes and benefiting from the Israeli healthcare system seized the opportunity to get vaccinated. Non-Israeli citizens amongst them with residence permits living in the occupied East Jerusalem are another group that has the right to get vaccinated.

The Palestinian refugees whose lands were confiscated and who were forced to emigrate after the wars of 1948 and 1967 make up another cluster living in a different area. Refugees who have taken shelter in neighboring Arab states, such as Lebanon and Jordan, and who dream of returning to their lands one day, which seems more and more difficult by the day, with the keys to their homes tucked away, continue their struggle to survive under difficult conditions. They are waiting to be supported by the countries in which they reside, or by an international program, in order to get vaccinated.

Waiting in line for the vaccine: people of the West Bank and Gaza

The portion that is not included in these two clusters, on the other hand, are the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which are legally described as “occupied territories” by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 242. While Israel has established dominance in the West Bank with high-level security apparatuses using the latest technology, it controls the Gaza Strip by the blockade. Sources report that, with the exception of the 2000 doses provided to healthcare professionals, not a single dose of vaccine has been administered to the Palestinian people living in these regions. Israel vaccinating 450 thousand Jews living in the West Bank, but depriving nearly three million neighboring Palestinians of this opportunity, stands out as the most striking event in this picture.

The vaccine disputes between Israel and Palestine have given birth to a new field of competition between the two sides. The disagreement that brings the issue to a deadlock is the parties’ inability to agree on who should be doing the job of vaccinating the residents.

The Israeli administration emphasizes that the management of the healthcare sector in the West Bank and Gaza is the responsibility of the Palestinian side, as stated in the Oslo I Accord signed with the Palestinian wing in 1993. In fact, Israeli Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein claimed that the Oslo Accord did not place on them any new obligations in this regard.

The international community strongly opposes this view. The UN Human Rights Council has declared that the state of Israel is responsible for vaccinating the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank against the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement where reference is made to the Fourth Geneva Convention’s provision on the Occupied Territories, it was emphasized that Israel’s attitude was “morally and legally unacceptable”. The WHO and a number of other international bodies made very similar statements after that.

The Palestinian authorities also criticized Israel's attitude, citing another article in another section of the Oslo Accord, which states that in cases of epidemics and infectious diseases, the parties must share responsibility.

Another aspect that further complicates the situation is the issue of more than 100 thousand Palestinian workers who live in the West Bank but have to cross over into Israel daily to work. This group, which includes many workers who have lost their jobs due to restrictions, effectively poses a fairly intertwined situation in which the parties cannot afford to disregard each other in the vaccine discussions. In the event Palestinians are left out of the vaccination process, the preventative measures taken by Israel will be largely ineffective.

It can be argued that, by waiting for an open call from the Palestinian side to request vaccines, the Israeli side is pursuing a policy of strengthening its supremacy in the region. The image of a Palestinian administration that is struggling to put in place measures and unable to help its own people can then be exploited as a political advantage that will further strengthen Israel’s hand.

Did the Oslo Accord really salve any wounds?

The Oslo Accord, whose relevant articles are referred to by the Palestinian and Israeli sides, was an idealized agreement that claimed to bring an end to one of the longest-running conflicts in the world: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was not long, though, before hopes for peace ran out. With the exception of some temporary arrangements, no concrete steps resulted from the agreement in favor of the Palestinian question, with essential issues (such as Jewish settlements within the occupied territories, the rights of refugees to return to their homes, etc.) left aside. It was a great disappointment for many Palestinians that neither the state of Palestine nor the Palestinian right to self-determination were mentioned anywhere in the accord.

Yasser Arafat, and the first generation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that he headed, was a group that began to take shape in the 1960s with a reactionary stance towards the Palestinian elites, who they claimed had been passive and incompetent during the establishment phase of Israel. It is ironic, as well as reprehensible, that the Oslo Accord had to be zenith of this team’s struggle, after aiming to reach the destination of an independent Palestinian state, and enduring years of exile in Lebanon and Tunisia. Hamas (organized in the years to come) and its policies, the intifadas in 1987 and 2000, and several peace efforts in the meantime have all failed without any tangible gains for the Palestinians. What needs to be highlighted at this point is that problems that cannot be outlined with their most essential components and addressed on the basis of structural measures ultimately give rise to new challenges and injustices in crisis settings (such as the Palestinian people not being able to reach vaccines in this process).

The Israeli administration, which has somehow benefited from the post-Arab Spring conjuncture, has succeeded in increasing its influence in the region through the diplomatic normalization policy it has followed with other Arab nations (the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco). Israel does not give up its activities to build new settlements in the West Bank, which is the biggest obstacle to a permanent solution, in spite of all the decisions of international organizations on the issue. Netanyahu, who managed to stay in power with the aid of domestic political polarization in the country, despite going to the polls three times in a year, months of protests and corruption allegations, has a very strong electoral base that gives him unconditional support. Netanyahu wants to implement a comprehensive vaccination policy and to play it as a trump card in order to fix his tarnished image.

Life after COVID-19

As the country with the fastest vaccine roll-out in the world, Israel’s exclusion from this process of Palestinians who are under its jurisdiction due to ethnic reasons is problematic not only in the light of international legal norms, but also ethically.

At this point, political actors are able to accuse each other by putting forward various legal arguments as bargaining chips. The more powerful party capitalizes on any development as an element of pressure against the opposite party and disregards basic humanitarian norms. It is clear that this climate of stagnation will not benefit any of the communities in the region. The Palestinians living in the occupied territories remain the biggest victims and losers in this picture. Unless a permanent two-state solution perspective is developed, it is inevitable that this unfair status quo will rise to newer crises and afflictions.

Emre Karaca is a writer for Anadolu Agency 

© Copyright Andolu Ajansi

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