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Medical Apartheid: Israel Denies Palestinians COVID-19 Vaccines

posted on: Jan 13, 2021

A boy adjusts the protective mask of another in a street outside their homes in Gaza City on March 22, 2020. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

By Ruqyah Sweidan, Arab America Contributing Writer

The world is engulfed in a global pandemic. COVID-19 has been a shock, a tragedy, and an event that has left our future unknown. For the last ten months, we have endured a lockdown to ensure our safety. This measure came with numerous travel restrictions, prevention practices, and continuous caution. Nevertheless, all countries who are facing this pandemic look to one holy grail: a safe, efficacious vaccine.

Currently, there are positive reports on the primary distribution. However, there remains a helpless population who will have to fight much harder for their human right of receiving this vaccine. These people are the Palestinians who live under the occupation and mercy of Israel.

Legal Implications

Struggles of Palestinian Patients. Middle East Eye

International law condemns apartheid of any kind. In this case, two populations under the same power are being treated differently. Officially, the Israeli Ministry of Health has yet to announce its distribution timeline for the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). However, Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention rules that an occupier must ensure “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”

While there are reports that the Russian-developed vaccine will be delivered to the Palestinian Authority (PA), the PA does not have the funds to purchase them.

Again, Israel cannot transfer a vaccine which is not approved for its own citizens. If it were to do so, they would be in violation of the Paris Protocol on Economic Relations, as well as the Israeli Ministry of Health policy which only allows medicine distribution in the OPT that have undergone the necessary scientific and regulatory procedures. ‘Let’s Talk Palestine’ is a liberation collective that advocate for the following conditions to be met.

Palestinian Vaccination Plan

Fragility of Palestinian Health Care. Anera.

Israel must reserve a quantity of vaccinations for the Palestinian population and provide a specific timeline for their transfer. Then they must ensure that these vaccines meet the same standards of approval as those given to the Israeli population. Subsequently, Israel needs to regulate the smooth entry of vaccines and other medical equipment to the OPT, including the special refrigeration. Next, Israel must provide full financial support that is not deducted from the PA’s taxes. Finally, they should lift the closure on the Gaza Strip to enable the proper functioning of its health system.

Contrary, Israel insists upon its own point of view when it cites the Oslo Accords. The agreement made the PA responsible for healthcare in the West Bank and Gaza, but this task had proven too difficult. The PA has a shortage of money, lack of access to vaccines, and no infrastructure to distribute a vaccine. Storing the vaccine at -94 degrees Fahrenheit is especially impossible in Gaza. This is due to Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza’s only power plant. Today, Gazans go at least twelve hours a day without electricity.

Human Rights Observations

Human Rights Watch. HRW.ORG.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti interviewed with Democracy Now and described the brutality of Israel’s cruelty. He talked about Israel’s refusal to vaccinate as a kind of apartheid that didn’t even exist in South Africa. In the prisons, Israeli guards and criminal prisoners will be vaccinated, but not Palestinian political prisoners. In the West Bank, the settlers will be vaccinated, but the Palestinian cities and communities will not. Hence, the horrific land grab and control of natural resources are not the worst of the horrors that Israel has committed. Dr. Barghouti describes this atrocity as vaccination with racism.

Politically, the move is a disaster. Not vaccinating Palestinians shows clear discrimination that will lead to many deaths. However, the leading Israeli party and Prime Minister Netanyahu are only concerned with remaining in power. To do so, they happily satisfy the will of the right-wing lobbyists and voters to continue their oppression of Palestinians and take credit for being the world’s leading vaccinators.

Taking a Stand

Protest Against Lack of Health Care in Prisons. Al Jazeera.

Israel is an ally to the United States. As Arab Americans, we are constant advocates for the rights of our Palestinian counterparts. The American government and the world cannot tolerate Israel’s violation of international law. COVID-19 is already to go down in history as unprecedented and fatal pandemic. It will now also be remembered by Palestinians as yet another heinous abuse of power by an occupier that knows no limits to invoking human suffering.