Israel began vaccinating Palestinian workers on Monday. The vaccine drive began at eight crossings between Israel and the West Bank, and on Tuesday will be expanded to industrial zones in Jewish settlements.
Only Palestinian workers who have permits to enter and work in Israel will be eligible for a vaccine. Israeli authorities estimated that some 2,000 laborers received the first dose.
The first stage of the drive will take 10 days, with the second stage taking place three weeks after.
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The campaign was scheduled to begin Sunday, but was postponed last week after a government decision changed its funding source to an unapproved inter-ministerial budget.
Israel's Civil Administration said the drive was met with cooperation as long lines formed at the vaccine sites.
According to Civil Administration health coordinator Amos Zuaretz, the infection rate in the Palestinian Authority lags behind the Israeli infection rate – i.e., that for the most part, the virus is migrating from Israel to the PA. “Therefore it is important to inoculate the people who are in contact with both populations. We are working in coordination with the PA,” he says.
Zuaretz expressed optimism about the odds of the PA obtaining enough vaccines for its whole population, whether through the World Health Organization or through direct agreements with the vaccine companies.
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Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy, who visited the vaccine facility, said: “This is a very important operation. Everyday we host between 100,000-130,000 workers who work shoulder to shoulder with Israeli workers and Israeli employers and we thought it was right to inoculate them in order to prevent infection from passing from the PA to here as much as possible. Vaccinating Palestinians is a matter for the Palestinian health organizations and the people who run the Palestinian Authority. We can assist with experience and knowledge."
Unlike Israelis, Palestinians receive the Moderna jab, which is considered easier to transport and distribute because it does not require extremely low temperatures.
For the purpose of the drive, Israel allocated enough doses for 120,000 Palestinian workers.
Last week, a pilot for the campaign was held at the Sha'ar Ephraim checkpoint near Tulkarem in the West Bank, where 700 Palestinian workers received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Israeli military.
According to the plan announced last week, the Palestinian workers are to be vaccinated on a voluntary basis. COGAT said they had explained to employers they are not allowed to force employees to vaccinate. Employers will be responsible for scheduling appointments and they will not be allowed to come to the compounds independently.
On Monday morning, there was a long line of laborers at the entrance to the vaccine facility at the Rachel crossing (Checkpoint 300). Some came directly from the West Bank, others came from their workplaces with transportation arranged by their employers.
Soldiers collected their green ID cards, checked on the computer to see if they had valid work permits and called them in to the facility one by one. Anyone without a valid permit was not allowed to enter. Inside, a soldier asked the workers to form a straight line on the way to the vaccination stations, where Magen David Adom medics administered the vaccines.
Afterwards, the workers were directed to a tent with a water cooler to sit and rest for 10 minutes before leaving and going back to work. “I’m glad I’m getting the vaccine, I want it, everyone who has kids and a family wants to be done with this thing already. If I could, I’d send my whole family to be vaccinated,” says Othman Khalaf, a construction worker from Dura who works in Jerusalem.