On Monday, after many delays, the campaign to vaccinate Palestinians with permits to work in Israel and the settlements finally began. The plan calls for vaccinating 120,000 workers with the Moderna vaccine. The vaccination clinics will be located on the Israeli side of the checkpoints and run by Israeli health workers together with representatives of the Civil Administration in the West Bank and the Defense Ministry’s Crossing Points Authority.
This is an important and welcome step that must be the first in a series of measures that will culminate in the vaccination of the entire Palestinian population. The logic that says Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinians ends at the checkpoints must be rejected. All the more so in light of the ownership claims of successive Israeli governments over the territories themselves.
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Israel has a responsibility – epidemiological, moral and legal (deriving from an occupier’s obligations under the Geneva Convention) – toward all the Palestinians in the territories, not just those who work for it. Any attempt to evade this responsibility will contribute toward continued incidence of the coronavirus within Israel. But no less important, it will provide evidence of the irrationality and immorality that underlies Israel’s occupation regime. If Israel controls the entire area – which it certainly does – and all the entrances to it, then it has a duty to ensure the welfare and well-being of everyone who lives in this area. The Palestinians are not only labor in our construction sites and factories; they are also human beings who deserve protection against the virus.
Instead of trading vaccines for promises from foreign countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem, the government should give all of its daily vaccine surplus to the Palestinians. It’s inconceivable that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chooses the purchase of diplomatic support with leftover vaccines over inoculating the Palestinians.
Israel must seek closer medical cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. In addition to vaccinating the workers, the government should immediately provide sufficient vaccine for Palestinian health care workers and members of high-risk groups. Later, it should cooperate with the PA in obtaining enough vaccine to inoculate the entire population. In addition, Israel should facilitate the delivery of vaccines to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This process must be independent of the negotiations over the return of captives and of human remains.
This is not only the right thing to do from every possible standpoint, it is also in the interest of public health in Israel. The coronavirus does not care about the Green Line. Vaccinating the population on one side of this line while failing to vaccinate millions of Palestinians living on the other side will undermine efforts to end the pandemic. The road to ending it runs through vaccinating the Palestinians. So does the road to being decent human beings.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.