On December 19, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on live television. This launched a fast-paced national immunization campaign that saw more than one million Israelis, or about 12% of the country’s population, receive the vaccine in less than two weeks – the highest rate in the world.
Several factors paved the way for Israel to take the lead in the global vaccination race. Being a relatively small country – both in size and population – has certainly helped. Having a digitized national health system that requires all citizens to be registered has also helped. In addition, unlike other states, the Israeli government has not hesitated in recruiting the military to help administer and distribute the vaccine. There is also a political dimension to the rapid deployment – Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival and winning the vaccine race could tip the scales in his favor in the next election in March.
But there is a dark side to Israel’s “vaccine success”: As it immunizes its citizens against COVID-19 at an unprecedented rate, the Israeli government is doing nothing to immunize millions of Palestinians living under it. military occupation. In a cruel irony, hundreds of expiring doses were reportedly thrown into Israeli clinics last week, while millions of Palestinians are denied the vaccine.
Indeed, while the vaccine rollout in Israel includes Palestinian citizens of Israel, it does not include approximately five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
Since 1967, these two Palestinian territories have been under Israeli military occupation, the latter also suffering from a blockade since 2007.
Among other things, this regime of absolute control has had a direct and detrimental effect not only on Palestinians’ access to health care but also on the quality of care offered in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli occupation has left the Palestinian health system under-supplied and with insufficient medical facilities. For years, rather than being allowed to develop their self-reliance, Palestinians living in the occupied territories have been forced to rely on outside help to meet their most basic health needs.
So when COVID-19 hit, Palestinian authorities were unable to implement effective pandemic mitigation strategies or procure the drugs and vaccines needed to protect Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has yet to obtain a sufficient amount of vaccine to immunize the Palestinian population against COVID-19. And because of his dire financial situation, he will need significant outside help to make any substantial purchases.
Several PA officials have raised the possibility of obtaining a quantity from the COVAX program, the WHO-led program to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries. But it is likely to take a long time – vaccines for COVAX have not yet obtained “emergency use” approval from the WHO, a prerequisite for distribution to begin.
In early December, the Palestinian Authority also claimed to have reached an agreement with Russia to receive some four million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine in the coming weeks. However, Russian officials recently informed the Palestinian Authority that they did not yet have enough supplies to fulfill non-national orders.
All this would not have mattered if Israel had fulfilled its legal, moral and humanitarian obligation to vaccinate Palestinians living under its military occupation.
Israeli officials are trying to shirk responsibility by claiming that the Palestinian Authority has yet to ask Israel for help with getting the vaccine and that under the Oslo accords which never materialized , all vaccination programs in the West Bank should be led by the PA.
Yet this ignores the fact that Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention expressly provides that an occupier has the duty to ensure “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics ”. In other words, the Israeli regime has a legal obligation to procure a sufficient amount of COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians living under its military occupation.
Additionally, Israeli law and international law prohibit Israel from allowing the distribution of a vaccine in Gaza and the West Bank that it has not approved for its own population. Thus, Israel is not only responsible for vaccinating Palestinians living in the occupied territories, but also has a legal obligation to ensure that the vaccines they ultimately receive meet the health system’s approval criteria. Israeli.
Since the onset of this unprecedented global public health emergency, however, Israel has not only refused to meet its clearly defined legal obligations to the Palestinian people, but has also created a false image in which it is working with the Palestinian Authority to win. the virus.
In March of last year, for example, when it “authorized” the entry of medical supplies and equipment into Gaza, Israel received praise from the UN for its “cooperation” with the Palestinians. in the fight against COVID-19.
Indeed, the Israeli regime, which single-handedly depleted the capacity of the Palestinian health system during its decades-long military occupation, has been praised for allowing the transport of some medical supplies donated by international actors to Gaza. This, despite its responsibility under international law as the occupying power to provide the supplies itself.
Creating the impression that Israel is helping bona fide Palestinians fight the virus while keeping them under occupation was a remarkable achievement of the Israeli propaganda machine. But this is not surprising given that Israel had concealed its regime’s violence with such illusions for decades.
Indeed, Israel is often praised by the international community and the media for letting the strange Palestinian patient from Gaza seek treatment in hospitals in Tel Aviv. However, in these “well-being” stories, the real reason Palestinians have to travel to Israel for treatment is rarely mentioned: the crippling military siege that prevents local hospitals from obtaining equipment and supplies. necessary to heal themselves.
There is no doubt that each time the Palestinian Authority succeeds in securing a shipment of vaccines, this achievement will again be presented to the international community as a sign of “great coordination” between Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, in order to deliver vaccines to Palestinians living in the occupied territories, the PA will have to coordinate with the Israeli regime, which maintains full control over everything entering and leaving the West Bank and Gaza. Therefore, when and if the Israelis “allow” the vaccines to be delivered to the Palestinians, they will likely be praised by many members of the international community for “cooperating” and “coordinating” with the Palestinians.
Palestinians, of course, are not the only ones to have been virtually kicked out of the vaccine race before it even started. Most countries in the South have also been excluded from the race, with most of the vaccine doses available in the short term going to rich countries that have the funds and political clout to purchase them. But the Israeli military occupation and unparalleled control over the Palestinian population make the challenge facing the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza particularly daunting.
Places like the occupied territories, where health infrastructure is weak and where it is difficult to maintain basic social distancing or hygiene requirements, should be prioritized in immunization efforts. And yet, because of the dominant structures of oppression, they will not be.
As the world watches with awe of Israel’s rapid vaccination program, it must not ignore the bigger picture – the fact that the Israeli regime refuses to provide the vaccine to the millions of people over whom it rules with force.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.