“Israel’s provision of 5,000 vaccine doses to Palestinian health workers pales in comparison to the nearly 5 million doses it has already provided to Israeli citizens,” Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, told CNBC.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office announced last Sunday that ‘Israel’ has agreed to transfer 5,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the Palestinians to immunize front-line medical workers only.
While ‘Israel’ has been praised for its swift vaccine rollout, it has been criticised for not giving Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip access to the vaccine.
Last Sunday was the first time that ‘Israel’ confirmed the transfer of vaccines to the Palestinians, who have not yet received any vaccines.
‘Israel’ is obligated to provide Palestinians with the vaccines, as an occupying power, under the fourth Geneva Convention, which says occupying forces are responsible for providing healthcare to the population of the occupied area.
“‘Israel’ retains overriding control over land, over the population registry, over the movement of people and goods, over airspace. So under international law, that sort of control comes with it, obligations towards an occupied population,” Shakir said.
“Israel’s duties under international law after more than 50 years of occupation with no end in sight far exceed just offering some vaccines when it has capacity,” he added, “but rather providing Palestinians in the occupied territory with equitable access to the vaccine on par with what it provides its own citizens.”
Hussein Ibish, a Palestinian expert on the Middle East and senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, described Israel’s move as “a grudging acknowledgment of their obvious responsibility for the Palestinians living under their rule.”
But he believes that it also “demonstrates the brutal ethnic discrimination ‘Israel’ practices in the West Bank, where Israeli setters are all being rapidly vaccinated while the Palestinians living next to them are largely on their own.”
“The fact that Palestinians also have responsibilities does not negate the Israeli role. Ultimately, as the occupying powers, they are responsible for the provision, for the welfare of the occupied population,” Shakir noted.
Nouar Qutob, an assistant professor and Covid-19 data researcher at the Arab American University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, told CNBC that she’s concerned about the situation.
“Things are worrying. We do have cases, cases we don’t know about, the hospitals are already packed with patients. And the U.K. variant is now in Palestine,” Qutob said, referring to a new strain of the coronavirus first identified in the U.K. and found to be 70% more transmissible.