Covid-19 is continuing to spread globally with a swift rate. New variations of the virus with complex abilities to spread make it harder to combat the virus.
Especially for vulnerable areas, such as the occupied Palestinian territory, dealing with the diverse implications of the pandemic becomes even harder.
In the mainstream global media, Israel’s vaccination policy is presented as a unique story of success and an example of how a vaccination policy must be maintained. In this direction, many say that Israel achieved a great success by vaccinating its “people.” But the question laying behind this so-called success is, “Who is the ‘people’?” Indeed, it was a successful policy, for Jewish residents of Israel, but what about others? Palestinians are left aside during the mass vaccination conducted by the Israeli government.
This is the untold story of Israel’s so-called vaccination success. Israeli government provides little to no vaccination to Palestine & is only concerned about Palestinians to the extent that the infections in Palestinians threaten Israeli Jews. As of March 2021, only 2% of the Palestinians are vaccinated, hospital capacities of Palestine are full and infections in the youth are increasing swiftly.
Thanks to the assistance of international organisations such as the World Health Organisation, United Nations COVAX Initiative and Medecins Sans Frontieres (“MSF”), the severity is kept as low as possible. However, it is undoubted that there is a serious breakdown in the Palestinian health system which had no proper opportunity to be prepared for a pandemic, mostly due to Israel’s economic blockage.
Furthermore, lack of access to vaccines makes it nearly impossible to combat the virus in Palestine. Dr. Juan Pablo Nahuel Sanchez, MSF Intensive Care Unit Doctor revealed the severity of the situation in Palestine by saying;
In the same direction, Ely Sok MSF’s Head of Misson in Palestine noted;
Aside from Israeli government’s negligence of providing vaccination, it further blocks international medical aid to Palestinians. Despite the fact that Covid is a humanitarian crisis, Israeli policy lacks objectivity and humanitarian approach.
In fact, it is no surprise for the Netanyahu administration to harshly use the crisis in Palestine to consolidate its nationalist supporters & pursue the Jewish settlement policy in the Palestinian territories even faster. For Netanyahu, gaining or consolidating voters is more important than the lives of Palestinians, anyways only less than 1/4 of the Palestinians have the right to vote in Israel.
Israeli Jews and only Palestinians who are interacting with Israeli Jews are being vaccinated. What about the rest of the Palestinians? Israel claims that it is not responsible for the vaccination of Palestinians, but sends vaccines to various other countries. Yara M. Asi, in an opinion published on The Guardian stated that Netanyahu’s policy of sending vaccines to foreign countries is a “reward” to states which decided to move their embassies to Jerusalem. Thus, Netanyahu is manipulating the vaccination policy to consolidate domestic and foreign political support.
Israeli government seems to care about the Palestinians only if there is a risk of infecting the Jewish citizens. Thus, a huge portion of the Palestinian population is trapped inside with no access for vaccination. Netanyahu is trying everything to prevent Palestinians from acquiring vaccines. In fact, Israel delayed the shipment of 2,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines to Gaza strip. Thanks to the COVAX scheme, some vaccines arrived in Gaza and the West Bank in March, but the problem is that the COVAX scheme is intended to cover up only one fifth of the total population.
Furthermore, 37,440 doses of the Pfizer and 24,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccines are also delivered to Palestine. Unfortunately, these numbers are not sufficient for the Palestinians to combat the virus. Palestine will soon become one of the tragic examples of humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, if sufficient vaccination aid is not imminently provided. Israel only cares about the Palestinians who pose the risk of interacting with Israeli Jews. Moreover, the blockage makes it nearly impossible for vaccines to be received by Palestine.
International community must undoubtedly do more to stop Israeli blockage in the first place, rather than planning vaccination amounts that will be sent to Palestine. US President Biden’s decision to restore humanitarian aid of 235 million US dollars to Palestine was a significant step, but the US must also make diplomatic efforts to end the medical blockage imposed on Palestine. Israel’s vaccination policy is indeed an example of Netanyahu’s radical mindset. It is not a really bright story for Palestine. Unfortunately, the international community is failing to draw attention to this truth.
In light of the above, Israeli government is passively and actively restraining Palestinians’s access to vaccines. On one hand, it does not provide vaccines to the majority of Palestinians; on the other hand, it blocks access to medical aid by the international community. This illegal policy is viciously being maintained for two reasons.
Firstly, Israeli government seeks approval and support from Israeli Jews. Secondly, the Covid-19 outbreak is seen as an opportunity to decrease the number of Palestinians for future assimilation and unlawful Jewish settlement. This attitude of Israel violates Article 56 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 (“Geneva Convention”) titled “Hygiene and Public Health”. This article’s first paragraph is as follows;
“To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the co-operation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics. Medical personnel of all categories shall be allowed to carry out their duties.”
Moreover, Article 43 the Hague Regulations 1907 stipulates that;
“The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.”
Occupying State (Israel)
This provision of the Hague Regulations 1907 is in the same direction with the Geneva Convention and provides the obligation for the occupying state (Israel) to take “all” measures in its capacity to ensure the safety of Palestinians.
It is undoubted that Israel is capable of providing vaccination to Palestinians (since dozes of vaccines are being sent to foreign states and Israel claims to have completed its vaccination of Israelis). Furthermore, “safety” of Palestinians undoubtedly includes the protection of the lives of Palestinians & it is also linked with the public order. One tricky point is that Israel is not a party to the Hague Regulations 1907.
Thus, with a straightforward approach, one might claim that Israel is not bound by the Hague Regulations 1907. However, Hague Regulations 1907 are part of international customary law. This issue was also stated by the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion in relation to Israel’s construction of a wall in the Palestinian territory.
Another legal obligation reaffirming Israel’s duty to provide vaccines to Palestine is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”). According to Article 12 of ICESCR;
- The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
- The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for: (…)
(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;
(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.”
Israel and Palestine both ratified ICESCR, thus they are both bound by its provisions. In accordance with paragraphs 2 (c) and (d) of this provision, Israel is obliged to actively assist Palestinians medically, and this includes providing vaccines.
In a nutshell, Israel (as the “Occupying Power”) is under the obligation to ensure the public health and prevention of disease (Covid-19) in Palestine (as the “Occupied Territory”). These provisions set forth mandatory obligations which states cannot refuse to act in accordance with. However, Israel doesn’t seem to care much about its obligations under international law, when it comes to Palestinians. Let’s keep in mind that Israeli Jews are transferred to Palestinian territories forcefully, which is a clear violation of Article 49 of the Geneva Convention that prohibits such action with the following provision;
The international community is failing to raise voice against Netanyahu’s aggressive and illegal policies towards Palestine and this recklessness results in non-deterrence against the Israeli government.
In light of the above, the claim that Israel is not responsible for providing medical aid to Palestine has no legal basis. To the contrary, Israel is obliged to “actively” protect the health of Palestinians under public international law. This obligation of Israel must be called upon loudly by all members of the international community who respect human life and international law. The World needs a collective voice free and clear of political motives, when it comes to humanitarian matters. Unfortunately, politics usually defuse principles and rules of international law, as we are recently witnessing in Palestine’s fight against Covid.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by Israeli medical blockage is preventable. The international community must take concrete actions to raise awareness about this issue. Political differences must be left aside and Palestinian access to vaccination must be ensured. Humanitarian organisations’s efforts are not sufficient to end the Israeli medical blockage.
States must remind Israel of its legal obligations of ensuring the health of Palestinians. Human life cannot be subject to political purposes and motives. Lives of Palestinians cannot be left to the mercy of the Israeli regime. Furthermore, this radical approach is only able to gain fans from marginalised ultra-nationalist Israelis and Netanyahu will soon witness that these actions of his administration will draw reaction from commonsensical Israelis. Moreover, the international community will not be able to play ostrich for so long in front of this humanitarian crisis in Palestine.
Israel’s vaccination process is promoted as a success story. However, there is an untold story of a serious & illegal discrimination against Palestinians. Unfortunately, most of the people only know the bright side of the Israeli vaccination story, but have no idea on the untold story of Palestine.
Research by Kemal ÜNAL