Opinion |

Israel's Vaccine Apartheid

COVID strains will not take into account Israel's lies that it's 'not responsible' for Palestinians' health

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A Palestinian girl walks past a coronavirus-themed mural in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 16, 2021. - The Palestinian Authority accused Israel of refusing to allow some 2,000 coronavirus vaccine doses destined for Gaza health workers into the blockaded coastal strip. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, last month. Credit: SAID KHATIB - AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The embarrassing, daily question is: “Have you been inoculated?” The shameful response is “yes.” Those who ask are Palestinian neighbors and friends, acquaintances and interviewees, residents of the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. They don’t intend to embarrass me, certainly not to shame me. They express a human, friendly interest. Usually they respond: “that’s great,” when they hear the answer. The embarrassment and shame are in the fact that we, the citizens of Israel, are inoculated and they are not.

While we are in the respectable first place worldwide in inoculating citizens and residents – the fact remains that Israel has excluded some 4.5 million Palestinians from the population it inoculates, although they all live under its rule. The government continues to claim that it is not responsible for their health. And so here’s a reminder: Each of those 4.5 million people is registered in the Palestinian population registry controlled by Israel .

What is meant by control? Israel determines who is in the registry. If it has not validated a certain Palestinian baby’s birth certificate, that baby is not registered. It is not enough for the Palestinian Interior Ministry to register the information of a 16-year-old girl from Gaza, Hebron or Barta’a, for her to receive an identity card. Israel has to agree. Israeli Interior Ministry officials who work with the Civil Administration must confirm the details of the identity card, otherwise it is deemed as “forged.”

Please show me another country in the world that is “not responsible” for the health of the very people that it determines whether to recognize as “existing.”

And that is in addition to the other matters Israel decides with regard to the Palestinians: the amount of water they consume, the boundaries of their right to freedom of movement, the extent of their economic development, the Palestinian universities in which they are allowed to study, the area of their land that they may cultivate.

The list of areas of Israeli domination over the Palestinians “who are not eligible for our vaccines” is longer than can be thoroughly presented here.

And yet, as expected, apartheid vaccination passes quietly in Israel. Moral considerations do not work with us.

Have you come across any call by philosophy lecturers at Israeli universities demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ensure that vaccinations are given to all the people who reside in this country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River without discrimination? Have you heard any rabbis in Israel asking the government, in the name of their spiritual authority, to ensure that the successful vaccination drive not skip any fellow humans? These are rhetorical questions. There is only one crack in the callousness made thanks to human rights groups: We will vaccinate the Palestinians who work in Israel.

Legal considerations work with us as long as they work for us, and as long as the only legal interpretation is Geneva-Shmeneva. That is, that Israel is not an occupying power and that it is not bound by the Geneva Conventions with regard to its obligations as an occupying power.

Even if international organizations have determined the opposite. When we so please, we decide that the Oslo Accords are legally applicable: For example, the clause that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the health of the inhabitants.

The first arriving shipment of doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, on the Palestinian side of the border crossing south of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip last month.Credit: SAID KHATIB - AFP

And if we so please, we thumb our noses at the fact that the Oslo Accords were supposed to have been valid for five years only, and at the clause that prohibits the parties from setting facts on the ground in a way that may impact the permanent phase.

What remains for the average Jew in Israel to care about is health utilitarianism, as the tardy realization that Palestinian workers must be vaccinated proves. ONE - an international movement to fight poverty addressed last week the unequal distribution of vaccines worldwide, with the wealthy nations hoarding about a billion extra doses, while the poor ones can’t purchase them.

“Each new infection is an opportunity for mutation” reminded ONE in its statement. “Already there are over 4,000 variants of COVID-19 and some variants – like the South African and U.K. variants – are proving more transmissible than other strains.

Each new strain presents a higher risk of the disease evolving to an extent where current vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments no longer work. The leaders of wealthy nations will not be doing any favors for their own citizens or the rest of the world if they stockpile vaccines.”

If this is true for the United States and France as opposed to Mexico and Morocco, it is certainly true for Israel and the Palestinians.

Not only the Palestinians who work in Israel or the settlements rub elbows with Israeli society. Palestinians who come to Israeli shopping malls in the West Bank and settlers who go to Palestinian businesses in Area C, such as grocery stores, car repair shops and falafel stands; soldiers who break into Palestinian homes every night, arrest them, beat them and restrain them, get close to their faces and scream at them; Shin Bet security service interrogators who breathe the same stale air as the people they torture and then return home to spend time with their children in the neighborhood park; Palestinians in Jerusalem have relatives and friends in the West Bank as well as business partners and businesses where they meet each other; Palestinian and Israeli merchants meet; Palestinian Israeli citizens don’t stop meeting their brothers and sisters in the West Bank.

There is no hermetic separation between the two populations, nor can there be.

The cunning mutations do not take into account Israel’s lies that it is “not responsible” for the health of the Palestinians.

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