By Zahra Jawad, BA Politics and Economics
The world is racing to vaccinate its population against the notorious Covid-19 virus. Many see Israel’s vaccine effort as a triumph because it administered first shots to 2.6m citizens as of mid January, and secured more doses of vaccine than it actually needs. The country leads decisively in this race of man versus virus, however serious ethical concerns are being raised as almost all the 4.5 million Palestinians residing in the occupied territories are yet to receive a jab. According to the United Nations, only Palestinians who hold Israeli IDs get the privilege of taking part in the mass immunisation process.
‘Health officials stated in 2020 Israel’s ongoing siege was a death sentence for Gaza’s COVID-19 patients.’
Covid-19 has been nothing short of a humanitarian disaster for the Palestinians. Prior to the crisis, Gaza had been suffocating under the Israeli imposed blockade with access to only six hours of electricity per day, just 500 hospital beds and 70 ICU units. Health officials stated in 2020 that Israel’s ongoing siege was a death sentence for Gaza’s Covid-19 patients.
Earlier this month, the Palestinian Authority made a statement on Israel’s immunization policy, stating that seeking help will give creedence to the case made by Israeli law makers to undermine Palestinian statehood. Israel has claimed in the past that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas hold rights to govern their own affairs, yet the Israeli authorities still remain largely in control. From collecting taxes on behalf of the Palestinian authority to even regulating the central bank, Netanyahu’s right wing regime can pick and choose which aspects of governance they want to deny the Palestinians.
Unapologetic Israeli advocates will cite the much misused Oslo Accords, which state that the Palestinian Authory is solely responsible for the health care of Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza. However, this was only agreed under the assumption that there would be better constructed relations of peace between the two peoples.
Over the years after 1991, we see that now it is far from fair and peaceful. Illegal settlement in the West Bank has grown exponentially since the signing. On the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January, the Israeli government published plans for 2,112 illegal units of housing in the occupied West Bank and 460 in East Jerusalem. Judging by these numbers alone we can see there has been no development for bilateral peace. The unfolding of events since 1991 have done nothing more than slowly erase hope for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
To all those who remain insistent on defending Israel, it’s worth noting that human rights experts have shot back, stating that Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention under article 56 to use preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics as it stands as the occupied power. Israel has violated these terms by doing no such thing. Despite the grim reality which faces the Palestinians, a ray of hope arises as on 11 January the Palestinian health ministry said it had approved the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Despite the good news, Russian officials emphasize the harsh reality of short supply, and the agreed upon 4m doses may be delayed. All this would not be a problem if Israel took up its duty and followed its moral and humanitarian obligation to aid the Palestinians. The overheated debate has caused a massive uproar in the international community, which led Health Minister Yuli Edelstein to publicly announce that Palestinian detainees will receive vaccinations in the coming weeks. However, the Israelis must continue to be held to account – how many lives could have been saved if they had bowed to international pressure sooner?
Photo caption: A mural located near the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip (Credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP, Getty Images).