Israel’s impressive and remarkable achievement of vaccinating most of its population against the coronavirus cannot be considered complete as long as millions of Palestinians living alongside Israel and under its control remain exposed to the pandemic, without the protection of a vaccine. This is not only a matter of Israel’s moral and legal obligation as an occupying power, which must not be minimized, but also of its own medical and epidemiological requirements.
The so-called Green Line has long since been blurred, with legal and illegal traffic of Palestinians into Israel and hundreds of thousands of settlers who have contact of one kind of another with their Palestinian neighbors. Given these circumstance, Israel’s refusal to vaccinate the Palestinians, with the exception of those who enter it with a permit for work or who work in the settlements, is not only an injustice, but also folly.
The picture is even graver and more puzzling in view of the data. The Gaza Strip is in the throes of a second wave of the pandemic and the West Bank is contending with its third. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and the Palestinian Authority has no vaccines to offer. Whereas in Israel almost 60 percent of the population has been vaccinated, among Palestinians the figure is only 3 percent – and the pandemic continues to rage. Israel has a large vaccine surplus, including 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which it does not intend to use. How can we not give them to the Palestinians?
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A plethora of experts, including the cabinet of experts advising the government and the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, have determined that the widespread vaccination of Palestinians is in Israel’s health interest. The spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is liable to generate new variants, which like all strains of the virus will not stop at the Green Line. Health Ministry Director General Prof. Chezy Levy has said that vaccinating the Palestinians is an internal Palestinian issue. Well, it is not. Absolutely not.
The matter will reach the High Court of Justice next week, in a petition filed by organizations demanding that Israel deliver vaccines to the Palestinians. But even before this reached the court, the government should have given some of the doses in its warehouses to the Palestinians. The occupied territories and Israel are not only a single political unit in many ways, they are also a single epidemiological unit. But the only public discussion in Israel revolves around sending vaccines to India – an important matter and an ethical imperative, but it should not be done before Israel vaccinates its neighbors and subjects.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.