It is one thing to blockade the people of Gaza for supposedly security purposes. It is another level of deplorable to deny them a life-saving vaccine
By Shannon Maree Torrens
Published on Haaretz, Jan 11, 2021
As many around the world with the privilege of decision, autonomy and movement are debating whether or not to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them, for others the issue is not when they will receive it but if and how the vaccine will be made available to them.
Such is the case for the people of Gaza.
Israel’s violations towards Palestinians are often justified as protecting Israel’s security and national interests. However, failing to provide vaccines for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has nothing to do with security, and little to do with protecting the State of Israel. It is more akin to a complete disregard for the humanity and lives of Palestinians.
The worst part is that it is well within Israel’s capabilities to provide that vaccine.
In fact, we are seeing Israel leading the world in vaccinating for COVID-19, with nearly two million Israelis, 20 percent of the population, having already received the first dose, yet Israel has failed to step up and vaccinate Palestinians. Israel has reportedly given Palestinians in East Jerusalem access to the vaccine, however the remainder of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are ignored.
Israel denies even the most basic and vital provision of vaccines to Palestinians. The World Health Organisation asked Israel to make the vaccine available for Palestinian health workers but Israel refused, arguing that they did not have enough vaccines, all while surpassing the rest of the world in the rate at which it is vaccinating its people.
Despite the accolades, Israel’s vaccination program cannot possibly be viewed as a success if it fails to vaccinate a large number of people – namely Palestinians – whom Israel has an obligation to vaccinate. If anything, this represents the gross failure of Israel’s vaccination program.
Even if Israel was not the occupying power, with a legal obligation to vaccinate the people within those confines, as a country clearly with the capabilities to purchase and distribute vaccines – as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said “Israel is the world championin vaccines” – Israel should be assisting those in its region who are struggling to gain vaccines.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has secured enough vaccines to ensure that everyone living in the Pacific Island nations will be covered. Australia has also made plans to ensure access to the vaccine in the Pacific Islands – and neither New Zealand nor Australia are engaging in a military occupation of these Pacific Island countries.
This is just what is done during times of global and regional need such as a pandemic. Countries should look out for those in their vicinity and all over the world who need assistance because we are all in this together – and that is before we even consider that Israel is actually obligated to do this under international law with respect to the occupied territories.
If the Palestinian Authority is able to obtain vaccines, which is challenging due to a lack of funds – there are reports that they may receive the vaccine from Russia but this has been stalled – then at the very least Israel must ensure these vaccines are not prevented from reaching Gaza due to border closures and the obstruction of medical supplies.
If Israel does not step in as it should to distribute vaccines to the occupied territories, then it is up to the international community to ensure that Palestinians have access to the vaccine. The Covax regime will only cover 20 percent of the population in the OPT and that will be the total coverage at the end of the program which will take time to deliver. This therefore leaves a considerable number of vulnerable people who will not receive the vaccine.
The World Health Organisation has said that it is coordinatingwith United Nations agencies to ensure the vaccine for Gaza but the extent of this assistance is uncertain at this stage particularly without the cooperation of Israel.
In the vacuum of real support from Israel, others such as the United Arab Emirates have provided assistance to Gaza in its effort to respond to COVID-19, including the provision of medical supplies and testing kits – and potentially vaccines. This is an interesting development in a period in which the UAE signed a controversial normalization deal with Israel. Qatar has also recently provided auxiliary COVID relief to the Gaza Strip.
Israel has said that if it has enough vaccines then it will “considerhelping the Palestinian Authority.” This is a strange and unfortunate statement because providing the vaccine to Palestinians isn’t a choice for Israel nor will it be a benevolent act that should be applauded if Israel does assist the PA with vaccines – it is an obligation under international law.
Israel is ignoring its obligations to vaccinate those beyond its own population, rendering its “successful” vaccination rates that do not include Palestinians a shameful illustration of the complete disregard Israel has for Palestinian lives. It is not just in the best interests of Palestinians, but also Israel to urgently and comprehensively include Palestinians in its vaccination program in cooperation with Palestinian authorities.