While Israel is moving at lightspeed when it comes to vaccinating its citizens against COVID-19, millions of Palestinians are being left behind.
As of January 14, Israel began one of the most ambitious COVID-19 vaccination rollout efforts that the world has seen. Over two million Israelis (20% of their population) have been vaccinated since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received the country’s first shot, along with the claim that they would be “the first country in the world to emerge from the coronavirus.”
While most Israelis are looking forward to immunisation, millions of Palestinians in Israeli occupied territories are being told they will have to wait. Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director, called the actions unjustifiable, as many Israelis living in West Bank are being vaccinated while Palestinians living in the same territory are not.
Many, including the United Nations and Amnesty International, have argued that under the Geneva Convention Israel must be responsible for the health care of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule.
Meanwhile, others, including Dr. Shany Mor, from the Israel Democracy Institute, have claimed that the Palestinians are responsible for their own health care under the Oslo Accords, since it allowed the Palestinian Authority to set up their own Health Ministry.
The Oslo Accord, a temporary agreement signed three decades ago, sought to find a peaceful solution between the two nations, which would eventually see Palestine as a fully independent and autonomous state. However, Palestine’s independence never arrived, and today Gaza and West Bank territories are home to almost five million Palestinians, but are occupied by Israeli forces living under Israeli rules. As a consequence, the Palestinian Authority does not have the autonomy it needs to successfully fight against the pandemic.
Israeli Health Minister, Yuli Edelstein, has also responded to claims that Israel was excluding Palestinians from its vaccination efforts, saying that “they have to learn how to take care of themselves,” meaning Israeli citizens would be entitled of receiving vaccinations first before Israel commits to providing surplus doses to their “neighbours.”
The debate came after Gaza declared a COVID-19 disaster, when it saw its health system nearly collapse as hospitals reached full capacity in late 2020.
The Palestinian Authority has ordered and is expected to receive two million vaccine doses in Gaza and West Bank by March. This will only vaccinate one million Palestinians, as each person requires two shots. The World Health Organization is assisting through COVAX, a joint effort with the European Commission and France to help provide and distribute a COVID-19 vaccination to poorer countries, with an additional two million doses also due in March.