The Path to Eradicating COVID in Israel Runs Through the West Bank and Gaza

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A Palestinian Muslim cleric receives a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in March in Ramallah.
A Palestinian Muslim cleric receives a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in March in Ramallah.Credit: Nasser Nasser / AP Photo

The Israeli approach to the coronavirus battle is clear: The vaccinated of your city come first. The campaign to deliver the third shot was launched with almost complete public disregard for the vaccination gaps among different countries, and for the moral and epidemiological question of whether it is proper to provide boosters for Israelis when so many other countries cannot even manage to deliver one dose.

The call by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom to stop the booster shot campaign so long as there were countries who have barely started to vaccinate didn’t manage to divert attention from the local argument between those who are pro-vaccine and those who are coronavirus deniers. Adhanom tweeted last week, “Ten countries have administered 75%+ of #Covid 19 vaccines, while low-income countries have received just over 1%.”

This isn’t “just” a moral problem, but one with epidemiological consequences, he noted. “The more people remain unvaccinated against #COVID19 globally, the more opportunity the virus has to spread and evolve into potentially more dangerous variants, which increases the risk for everybody,” he wrote. Dr. Dorit Nitzan, the WHO's regional emergency director for Europe, explained that unvaccinated countries “are a hothouse for the development of new strains of the virus,” and until the global vaccination rate reaches 60 percent, it won’t be possible to protect everyone long-term.

In Israel the situation is even more complex. While the number of Israelis who have gotten the third dose is closing in on a million people, in the West Bank only 13 percent of the Palestinian population has gotten one dose of the vaccine, and only nine percent have gotten two. In the Gaza Strip, the situation is even worse.

Israel has the wherewithal to make sure the Palestinians get vaccinated, and is also obligated to do so under Clause 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power must ensure the application “of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemic” in the territory it occupies.

It’s time for Israel to wake up and understand that it is not an island nation, neither from an epidemiological perspective nor from a moral one. There are two peoples in Israel and the Palestinian territories that constitute one epidemiological unit. This means the path to eradicating the virus in Israel necessarily runs through the West Bank and Gaza.

The debate over the need for a third shot must not be allowed to blur the fact that Israel must make vaccinating the entire Palestinian population a top priority.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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