Opinion |

COVID Vaccines and Palestinians: Israeli Authorities Just Need to Be Human

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
Waiting for a coronavirus vaccination in Tel Aviv's Neveh Sha'anan neighborhood this month.
Waiting for a coronavirus vaccination in Tel Aviv's Neveh Sha'anan neighborhood this month. Credit: Hadas Parush
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

It turns out that a priority system reigns in the distribution of waste at the country’s health maintenance organizations, with some parties getting a raw deal. Earlier this month the Knesset Subcommittee for Policy and Strategy met to discuss the transfer of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority. During the session, the Health Ministry’s international relations chief, Dr. Asher Shalmon, revealed that hundreds of doses are thrown in the garbage every day.

These are doses that were intended for Israelis who never showed up on their designated vaccination day. Shalmon added that without inoculating the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel won’t be able to overcome the pandemic. The conclusion is clear: Instead of throwing leftover vaccines in the garbage, it’s better to hand them over to the Palestinians.

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Shalmon isn’t alone in understanding that checkpoints, a separation barrier and even “the fence,” the Gaza border fence, don’t impress the coronavirus. Epidemiologists repeatedly tell us that Israelis and Palestinians make up one epidemiological unit.

But this isn’t what it looks like through the night-vision lens of committee member Avi Dichter of Likud, who once headed the Shin Bet security service. “I don’t know what an epidemiological continuum is. In the same vein you could say that there was a ‘rocketological’ continuum between Gaza and Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the West Bank. The only consoling thought in Dichter’s shallow pun is realizing that not all ex-military square-minded people are on the left.

In Israel as in Israel, you can’t talk about a gesture to the Palestinians without finding yourself waging a campaign in the war on terror. Even the 5,000 doses Benjamin Netanyahu approved for sending to the Palestinians stirred opposition.

“I really hope that the National Security Council can carefully check who issued the order it received,” demanded Zvi Hauser, the head of the subcommittee. “In any case, I’d like to know [regarding Gaza] whether the government intends to demand the return of the remains of our soldiers and imprisoned civilians.”

“Luckily,” long-distance runner Nir Barkat of Likud was there to think outside the box, like they do in high-tech. “We’re a merciful people, which is a good thing,” he said. “But with terrorists you have to be evil among the evil. In the Middle East we’ve learned that this rule is key to our success.”

So merciful. We’ll never forgive the Palestinians for forcing us not to vaccinate them. At the end of the prattle, it was clear that for Israel, the Palestinians don’t deserve our leftover vaccines.

We certainly won’t ensure that they all get vaccinated. There are always excuses: It’s because of Hamas, it’s because they’re not abiding by the Oslo Accords. There’s never even a minimal amount of generosity, or the dignity required to act like a human being, to take a confidence-building step, to be a partner.

The folly and hard-heartedness aren’t reserved only for Palestinians. Sudanese, Eritreans and people with no legal status living in Israel are also disqualified for vaccination. “We’ve finished the allocation for this population,” Health Ministry officials said. So who’s entitled to benefit from our crumbs? Only someone willing to pay in diplomatic gestures.

The formula has been found: For moving an embassy to Jerusalem, they’ll get vaccines. If they don’t, they won’t. Recipients include Guatemala, which moved its embassy, Honduras, which declared its intention to do so, and the Czech Republic, which declared a willingness to open a “diplomatic office” in the capital.

How bighearted Israel could have appeared if Netanyahu declared that Israel is committed to work with Mahmoud Abbas to promote a campaign of vaccinating the two peoples living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Just imagine how many Knesset seats in the election such a step could have brought him. Maybe we even could have felt the Divine Spirit hovering over the Abraham Accords.

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