The prison authorities’ announcement comes as Israel faces new calls to immunize millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli Prison Service said it will start vaccinating all jailed people against COVID-19, including Palestinians, following calls from rights groups, Palestinian officials and Israel’s attorney general .
Israel has administered at least one dose of the vaccine to more than two million of its citizens, becoming the world leader in per capita vaccinations. But apart from the prisoners, Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip have yet to secure their first supplies.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said Palestinian prisoners would be the last to be vaccinated as part of the campaign to vaccinate all imprisoned people.
Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit wrote to Ohana condemning the comment as “tainted with illegality,” according to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv.
Israeli and global rights groups, including Amnesty International, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, have also launched public calls for Israel to vaccinate the estimated 4,400 Palestinians held in its prisons.
According to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, around 250 Palestinians in Israeli jails have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced last week that the first doses of the vaccine would be distributed to prisons in the coming days.
The prison service issued a statement on Sunday saying: “following the vaccination of staff … the vaccination of prisoners will begin in prisons in accordance with the medical and operational protocol established by the prison service”.
Local media Maan quoted the Israeli Prison Service announcement as saying that vaccines would be available to “all prisoners”, and “without distinction.”
He added that those who refused to take the beatings would have to sign a voluntary waiver form.
Reacting to the announcement, a spokesperson for Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip, said Israel “has an obligation to provide prisoners with vaccines.”
Earlier Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) also called on Israel to immunize the 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Omar Shakir, HRW director for Israel and Palestine, particularly criticized the practice of vaccinating Jewish settlers in illegal West Bank settlements, but not Palestinians.
“Nothing can justify the reality of today in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are getting vaccines, while those on the other don’t, depending on who they are. Jews or Palestinians, ”Shakir said.
“Everyone in the same territory should have equitable access to the vaccine, regardless of their ethnicity,” he added.
Last week, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Israel had “ignored its duties as an occupying power and racially discriminated against the Palestinian people, depriving them of their right to health care” .
The Palestinian Authority (PA) said it had signed contracts with four vaccine suppliers, including the makers of Sputnik V.
The supplies would also go through a World Health Organization vaccination program for poor and middle-income countries.
The Palestinian Authority has said it expects to have enough doses to immunize 70 percent of the Palestinian population, both in the West Bank and Gaza, with doses expected by mid-March.