Israel is vaccinating at record speed, Palestinians are still waiting for their doses. The question of who is responsible for inequality is causing controversy.
Discrimination? Israelis are vaccinated, but the majority of Palestinians are not Photo: dpa
BERLIN taz | Vaccination world champion or apartheid state? The success reports about Israel’s Covid vaccination campaign are causing a heated debate around the world. Many admire the country after Benjamin Netanyahu’s government vaccinated more than a tenth of the population in no time at all. Critics, however, object that the Palestinians are excluded from the territories occupied by Israel – more than four million people.
First of all: Israel will remain vaccination champion even if the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are included in the bill. According to government figures, around 1.5 million people in Israel have already received a first dose of vaccine. Depending on the calculation, that is between 10 and 16 percent of the people living in Israel or in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Either way, the country is a long way ahead worldwide.
But it is also a fact that it is almost exclusively Israelis who are allowed to roll up their sleeves. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have to wait for the vaccination to start – probably for weeks. On Tuesday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health announced that the first vaccine doses were not expected until February.
The contrast is strongest in the case of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. Israeli citizens who have access to vaccinations and Palestinians with no prospect of a syringe live here in the immediate vicinity.
Serious allegations from Amnesty and HRW
So is a significant part of the population discriminated against? Amnesty International called on Wednesday: “The Israeli government must stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and ensure that the Palestinians living under occupation (…) receive an equal and fair supply of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Even for the lawyer Kenneth Roth, managing director of Human Rights Watch, there is no question “discriminatory treatment”, as he did on Twitter wrote. A number of Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations had previously formulated legal arguments in a joint statement:
“Article 56 of the 4th Geneva Convention expressly provides that an occupier has the obligation (…) to take preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics”. This duty includes supporting the purchase and distribution of vaccines to the (…) Palestinian people. “
However, this is what the Israeli lawyer and media activist sees Daniel Pomerantz different, the opposite is even the case: from a legal point of view, Israel should not interfere in the Palestinian vaccination strategy without the leadership in Ramallah asking for it, he told the taz. The background: In 1995 the Israelis and Palestinians agreed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would be responsible for health care.
Annex III, Article 17, of the Oslo II Agreement states:
“The Palestinian side will (…) apply the current vaccination standards for Palestinians (…).”
“Israel and the Palestinian side exchange information about epidemics and contagious diseases, work together to combat them, and develop methods for sharing medical records and documents.”
Ramallah relies on Russian vaccine
There is certainly cooperation in the health sector, including with Covid-19 tests, but it does not exist when developing a vaccination strategy. Nothing is known about an official request from the PA to the Israeli government to provide vaccine for the occupied territories as well. The Palestinian Ministry of Health did not respond to a taz request.
“Legally,” says Pomerantz, “the PA has the right to make this decision, and Israel must not disregard it.” Instead of working with Israel, the PA has pursued its own strategy over the past few weeks: while Israel is on the expensive ones Vaccines from Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna, the management in Ramallah claims to have primarily – but not exclusively – tried to obtain the Russian vaccine Sputnik V.
The PA applied for support from the Covax initiative launched by the WHO, which aims to promote the equitable distribution of cheap vaccines in poorer countries as well. So far, however, no vaccine has arrived in the Palestinian territories.
With the PA’s own vaccination policy, the situation becomes even more complicated. Because the Sputnik vaccine developed in Russia is not approved in Israel. Without Israeli cooperation, however, he will hardly get into the occupied territories, since Israel controls the borders. “Israel cannot pass on a vaccine that is not approved for its own citizens,” warned the human rights organizations in their joint statement.
Human rights activists: Oslo doesn’t matter
In response to a request from the taz, neither the Israeli organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) nor Amnesty International want the PA to apply. While the Oslo Accords transferred health care to the PA, “the extent of Israel’s control over the movement of people and goods, including health workers, patients and medical equipment, has resulted in that responsibility being primarily name”, announced PHR director Ran Goldstein on Wednesday.
Amnesty International argues in a similar way: “The Palestinian system of government is very limited in terms of what it can and cannot control,” Saleh Higazi, deputy Middle East director, told taz. Israel bear with it continue to take responsibility for the right of the Palestinians to health, they both agree.
“By developing a vaccination program that ignores an entire population group under its control, Israel has further exposed the system of institutionalized discrimination,” says Higazi, “a system in which a group is legally granted rights and protection during one others are also denied the same rights and protection by law. “
The legal controversies change little for people living under occupation. As long as the PA does not actively seek coordination and the Israeli government does not feel responsible, they will probably not receive any of the possible vaccines in the next few weeks, while at least some of the settlers in the immediate vicinity should soon be immune to this Coronavirus.