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Israel Immunizes Against Coronavirus as Palestinians Wait

FILE - People queue to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 at a makeshift vaccination site in Petah Tikva, Israel, Jan. 28, 2021.

Israel has announced it is opening its coronavirus vaccination campaign to anyone over the age of 16, as one-third of the population has already received the first dose. But in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority has received just 2,000 doses from Israel that went to front-line health care workers. Palestinians hope to start receiving larger quantities of the vaccine later this month.

Israel continues to move forward with its vaccination drive, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hopes that 90% of Israelis over the age of 50 will be inoculated in the next two weeks. The campaign includes Arab citizens of Israel, and Palestinians in east Jerusalem who are covered by the Israeli health care system. But close to 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have yet to receive the vaccine.

The first 2,000 Palestinians, most of them front-line health care workers, received a vaccine after Israel delivered the doses, and promised 3,000 more in the next few days. Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said that medical teams will be first in line. She did not say the vaccines made by Moderna came from Israel, although both Israeli and Palestinian officials later confirmed it.

The Palestinian Authority has contracted to buy millions of doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine which was supposed to have been delivered last month. Now officials say they hope it will come later this month.

Palestinian officials say they are especially concerned about the densely populated Gaza Strip, where the virus has been spreading quickly and hospitals are on the verge of collapse. Officials said some of the first 2,000 doses were also sent to Gaza.

A Palestinian health worker is vaccinated against COVID-19 after the delivery of doses from Israel, in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Feb. 3, 2021.
A Palestinian health worker is vaccinated against COVID-19 after the delivery of doses from Israel, in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Feb. 3, 2021.


The disparity between the Israeli and Palestinian vaccination campaigns has led to renewed calls on Israel to vaccinate the Palestinians as well. Phyllis Bennis of the U.S.-based Institute for Policy Studies told Al-Jazeera that Israel, as an occupying power, is responsible for Palestinian health care.

“Israel is obligated under international law under the Geneva Conventions, Article 56 requires it, to provide all the materials needed for public health and specifically preventive measures to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics, exactly what we’re facing here,” Bennis said.

Israeli officials say that according to the 1990 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, the Palestinians are responsible for their own health care. Israel will offer help if the Palestinians ask for it, they say, and that hasn’t happened yet.

The Oslo Accords gave Palestinians limited self-governance in the West Bank and Gaza.

Speaking by teleconference to the World Economic Forum last week, King Abdullah of Jordan, where a significant part of the population is Palestinian, said Israel needs to vaccinate Palestinians for its own good.

“The Israelis have had a very successful rollout of the vaccine, however, the Palestinians have not. If you look at the connectivity of the Israeli-Palestinian people, you can’t vaccinate one part of your society and not the other and think you’re going to be safe,” Abdullah said.

Some Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, agree. They say that as long as tens of thousands of Palestinians continue to work in Israel, and hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, Israel should also vaccinate its Palestinian neighbors.