The Covid Vaccine is Underscoring Israeli Brutality Against Palestinians

While it begins to vaccinate its own citizens, Israel claims it has ‘no responsibility’ to give access to millions of Palestinians under its control.

By Abu Khalil

Photos by AnnaMarie Bruni

Israel has begun the process of deploying the newly approved coronavirus vaccines to its citizens at a rapid rate. At a rate of 60,000 vaccinated a day, the Jewish State is moving quickly to administer the vaccine to its roughly 8 million citizens. Yet the Arab inhabitants of Israel and the lands it illegally occupies, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, will not enjoy the same expedience for deploying the live saving vaccinations. The nearly 6 million Palestinians residing in the aforementioned ‘territories’ face enormous political and logistical obstacles to receive inoculations against the virus that has killed 1.67 million people worldwide.

This disparity in medical care highlights the uneven access to critical human needs that Palestinians endure. Israels military occupation of Palestinian populations has historically manifested itself in uneven access to water, food, currency, fuel, and medical supplies — yet access to crucially needed vaccines in a pandemic may represent a first in the 80 year history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel effectively controls all lands inhabited by Palestinians. Those where they do not occupy, such as Gaza, are under rigid blockade and Israel controls all supplies in and doubt. Palestinian and Israeli populations are tightly mixed throughout historical Palestine though Jewish residents enjoy markedly more rights such as freedom of movement, land ownership/buying, and marriage. This distinction between Jew and Muslim will constitute a religious test which will effectively determine access to the Covid-19 vaccine and dictate a ‘have and have nots’ vis-à-vis medical access. Frighteningly ironic for a nation founded on religious persecution. 

This distinction between Jew and Muslim will constitute a religious test which will effectively determine access to the Covid-19 vaccine and dictate a ‘have and have nots’ vis-à-vis medical access. Frighteningly ironic for a nation founded on religious persecution. . 

The unequal access to the vaccines between Arabs and Israelis has not gone unnoticed by the World Health Organization (WHO). “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe,” said Gerald Rockenschaub, the WHO chief for the Palestinian territories. “It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that countries that can’t purchase vaccines on the global marketplace have their needs met adequately.”

It goes without saying that there is little scientific efficacy of only vaccinating one group in a land populated by two. Palestinians and Israelis often live in close quarters inside of ‘Israel proper’ and share population movements in and out of the occupied territories. Millions of Palestinians hold special work visas allowing them to provide much needed cheap labor inside of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli military personnel move in and out of the West Bank on a regular basis. 

The Israeli government has received 4 million doses of the recently-approved vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech. It is reportedly prepared to begin administering the vaccine to 60,000 residents a day through its national health programs. This health system is not available to Palestinians. The Israeli regime plans to distribute “green passports” to those Israelis who are vaccinated. This will allow an additional layer of expanded freedom of movement to Israelis that is denied Palestinians. Previously denied tmovement throughout their lands on account of ‘terrorism,’ Palestinians will now be refused visitation from one part of Palestine to another on behalf of ‘contolling the virus ’ — all the while being denied the vaccine.

The Palestrinian Authority and non-governmental organizations say Israel is obligated to provide vaccines to Palestinians as quickly as possible given the fact they are under control of the Israeli military.

“Israel bears moral and humanitarian responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population under its control,” said an appeal to the Israeli government by Physicians for Human Rights this week.

In comments to the media, however, Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein flatly rejected that reasoning though he could not evade questions regarding Israel’s self-interest in expanding vaccinations into a population that lives in close quarters with its own.  At least 400,000 settlers illegally occupy lands in the West Bank and up to 350,000 in East Jerusalem.

“There is no responsibility, but it is in our interest to help as far as the coronavirus is concerned,” Edelstein said.

Though Palestinian populations may seek vaccines from other countries, — such as China or Russia — they still face massive obstacles in the form Israeli control. Any vaccine would be subject to scrutiny by the Israeli government who typically blocks the importation of drugs unapproved for its own population. In short, Israel may refuse the entry of life saving vaccines into Palestinian territories on account of the drugs not being tested for Israeli use. 

Fears of massive disparities in access to the vaccines was exacerbated by the leak of an internal World Health Organization document this week. The memo warned that vaccines may not reach some countries until 2024. This delay could hamstring global efforts to contain the virus.

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