Earlier this week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that he was “continuing to work around the clock to bring in millions of vaccines.” And in fact, the campaign to vaccinate Israelis against COVID-19 is scheduled to begin shortly. The size of the population, the existence of a suitable logistical infrastructure for storing and transporting the vaccines at the requisite low temperatures, and an effective HMO system put Israel in a better position to conduct a broad, speedy national vaccination campaign compared to other countries – and even more so compared to territories like the West Bank and Gaza.
While in Israel people are debating whether to be vaccinated, in the West Bank and Gaza it isn’t clear where they will get vaccines from, when they will get them, and who will pay for them. “We’re in a state of uncertainty; it isn’t clear when vaccines will arrive in quantities that can serve most of the population,” said a senior official of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah.
How COVID – and Israel’s Trump-brokered lovefest with Arab states – are affecting Palestinians
In the coming weeks the Palestinian Authority is slated to get its first delivery of 150,000 doses of the Russian vaccine, out of 4 million expected doses. It is not known if other companies will be supplying the PA with vaccines, or if Israel will do so. Even if the PA’s talks with Pfizer bear fruit, it will supply only a limited number of doses, since the PA can’t store large quantities of vaccines under the necessary conditions.
If the situation in the West Bank is uncertain, then in Gaza there is total darkness. Gaza has lost control over the spread of the virus and and the leadership doesn’t know when vaccines will arrive or in what quantities (as reported by Jack Khoury on Tuesday). According to Palestinian government officials, the expected vaccines are supposed to cover Gazans as well, but international aid organizations in Gaza say they aren’t sure this is so.
As a result, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel approached Health Ministry director general Prof. Chezy Levy and the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, and demanded that Israel supply vaccines to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well. The organization explained its demand by saying the Palestinians are under Israeli occupation and control, they do not have a way to buy the vaccines independently but only through the Israeli authorities, and that it’s doubtful the PA can finance the cost of purchasing and distributing vaccines.
This is a justified demand. Israel has the legal, moral and humanitarian responsibility to vaccinate the Palestinian population, which lives in distress under its control and whose lives intertwine with the lives of many Israelis. Israelis and Palestinians live in very close proximity to each other, so it really isn’t possible to eliminate the pandemic in Israel proper while it is still raging in the other territories it is responsible for.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.