Israel Still Refuses to Vaccinate Palestinian Workers, but Lets Them Return to West Bank Homes

Tens of thousands of Palestinians laborers had to stay in Israel under restrictions that have been in effect since the start of its third coronavirus lockdown

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Palestinians on their way to Israel at a checkpoint near Ramallah, last year.
Palestinians on their way to Israel at a checkpoint near Ramallah, last year. Credit: Emil Salman
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

Israel said on Thursday it would let Palestinian workers in the country return to their West Bank homes starting Sunday, relaxing some restrictions that meant tens of thousands of them had to spend the night in Israel since the start of its third nationwide lockdown.

Some 30,000 workers have been sleeping in Israel on a daily basis, in a bid to prevent infection by people moving between Israel and the West Bank. However, some officials assess that many other workers return to the West Bank each day illegally.

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The Defense Ministry's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced the policy change on Thursday, allowing workers to come into Israel daily.

Israel has refused to vaccinate any of the Palestinian workers. A Health Ministry statement from February 10 says that Palestinians working in Israel legally or not will not be vaccinated against COVID.

Most of these workers are employed in the construction industry. On Thursday the head of the construction union, Raoul Sarugo was scheduled to meet with officials at the ministry to resolve the issue. He said the union has proposed a plan to vaccinate laborers at eight checkpoints, and that it would finance the logistics of the operation. The plan is pending Health Ministry approval.

Palestinians get their temperature taken before entering Israel, in April 2020.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA / REUTERS

MK Hiba Yazbek of the Joint List sent a letter to the ministry demanding that the Palestinian workers in Israel be vaccinated, calling Israel’s policy “cruel, racist and outrageous.” The ministry has not yet responded to the letter.

Israel has also failed to vaccinate Palestinians living in the country without clear status. These include for example, alleged "collaborators" who cannot safely live in the West Bank, and Palestinians whose center of life is in Israel, most often through marriage.

Physicians for Human Rights says that Palestinians who have sought to get a vaccine in Israel have thus far been rejected. The organization has appealed to the ministry to clarify instructions that Palestinians living in the West Bank are entitled to be vaccinated. The ministry has not yet responded to the letter.

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