Vaccinating Palestinians: Who’s Really Responsible?

Lithia Anil - YLT Staff

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The recent claims about the medical apartheid in Isreal-Palestine territory have raised several discussions regarding Israel’s duty as the occupying power to be vaccinating Palestinians. With these claims, a lot of confusion and online debate has followed with misinformation being spread. Therefore, we have compiled all the known facts to give a comprehensive outline of the situation currently happening in the Isreal-Palestinian region.

How it started

Recently Israel was congratulated on various world forums for its effective vaccination movement in the country. While the world was amazed at how fast Israel was getting its citizens vaccinated, notable news organizations ran stories revealing a striking disparity in the country’s vaccination rate of Palestinians versus Israelis. According to Our World in Data, as of April 16, 2021, Israel has vaccinated 61.72% of its population. This puts Israel as the top country to have vaccinated more than half of its population. However, Israel seemed to have shown hesitancy and refusal in vaccinating Palestinians in the Isreal occupied regions of the West Bank and Gaza. According to an article by the Guardian in January of 2021, it was written that “Israel transports batches of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine deep inside the West Bank. But they are only distributed to Jewish settlers, and not the roughly 2.7 million Palestinians living around them who may have to wait for weeks or months.” This revelation led to international attention on how the Israeli government was treating these occupied regions. While arguments were made for and against Israel a lot of confusion still occurred online. 

What the vaccine rollout is like in the Occupied regions 

The regions of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem were occupied by Israel in the year 1967 during the course of the Six-Day War. Since then the nearly 5-million people living in these regions have been under Israel’s responsibility. Israel started its vaccination programme on December 23, 2020. While they were successfully distributing the vaccines to its population, vaccines were not being delivered to the Palestinians even though the cases were soaring in those regions. The Palestinian Authority has limited power in the occupied regions and yet with the help of the Covax scheme which is backed by the WHO, only 20% of the vaccinations requirements would be covered. According to an article by BBC, Israel claims that it is donating 5,000 doses to the occupied regions, with around 2,000 already delivered to the West Bank. Moreover, donated doses from UAE were also delivered to Gaza. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem hold an Israeli residency status and therefore have access to Israeli healthcare which makes it easy for them to get vaccinated. However, most of the argument surrounding this issue was on the basis of whose responsibility it is to vaccinate the people in these regions.      

Is Israel responsible for vaccinating Palestinians?

As the occupying power, it is considered Israel’s responsibility to vaccinate the people in Gaza, West Bank under international law. Israel has just started offering vaccinations to Palestinians travelling from the regions into the Israeli settlements for work. Some reports claim that Israel did not offer vaccinations until early March of this year. The United Nations(UN) Human rights body released a statement in January, states that it is Israel’s responsibility of vaccinating Palestinians in the occupied regions under its control. The statement addresses the justifications made by Israel for its discrimnation as based on the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords was signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as part of a peace treaty in the 1990’s. During many online discussions, pro-Isrealis incorrectly cited one of the Articles, namely Article 17 from the Accords, claiming that its not Isreal’s responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians and but it is the Palestinian Authroity’s job. However, experts have pointed out that Article 17 was talking about vaccinations that were supposed to be administered during the time when the Accords were being signed. It was not talking about the future vaccinations.

While some have also pointed out that the Geneva Conventions are supreme. The Fourth Geneva Convention explains that the occupying power is responsible for the welfare of the citizens of the occupied regions and has to be treated equally and provided equal benefits. This essentially means that even if Israel tried to absolve itself from its responsibility it would be illegal under international law. The statement released by the UN Human Rights council states that, “The Oslo Accords must be interpreted and applied consistent with international law, and cannot derogate from its broad protections. The ultimate responsibility for health services remains with the occupying power until the occupation has fully and finally ended”. This also means that the only way Israel could not vaccinate the occupied regions is if it ends its occupation of the regions of Gaza, the West Bank, and the other regions under its control.         

In conclusion 

Israel is currently supposed to be vaccinating the citizens in the occupied regions, however, that is not the case and therefore the international community has been urging Israel to fulfill its responsibility as an occupying power. As more people are becoming aware of this disparity, more outrage has been expressed online on various platforms like Instagram. As of now a recent report by BBC claims that Israel might be reaching herd immunity as vaccination roll-out in the country has been effectively executed.

By Lithia Anil – YLT Staff

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