Jerusalem24- As the world rushes to get vaccine supplies to face the global corona virus pandemic, eyes turn to Israel as it successfully has become the country with the most successful vaccination campaign. But this success is not without its own set of criticisms.
International watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a statement on their website calling on Israel to vaccinate the Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation. In its statement, HRW cited the Fourth Geneva Convention which states Israel’s duties to ensure medical supplies including vaccines to combat the spread of pandemics. This includes obligations under international human rights law to provide vaccines to Palestinians living under Israeli control.
As of January 26th, Israel has distributed 4.16 million doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. These vaccines are also provided to the Palestinian citizens living in Israel, as well as Jerusalem that Israel has annexed in 1982. However, Israel’s vaccination campaign excludes the 5.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that Israel occupies.
In an interview on the Andrew Marr Show broadcast through the BBC, Israeli health minister Yuli Edelstein, denied that Israel has any obligation towards the Palestinian people’s struggle with Covid-19 pandemic, only an interest. Edelstein responded to Marr by saying they should look into the “so-called Oslo Agreements where it says loud and clear that Palestinians have to take care of their own health.” After Marr pushed forward that International Law supersedes the Oslo Accords, Edelstein defended Israel’s position by saying “If it is the responsibility of the Israeli Health Minister to take care of the Palestinians what exactly is the responsibility of the Palestinian Health Minister?” He then answers his own question with another “to take care of the dolphins in the Mediterranean?”
Several local and international organizations signed a joint statement urging Israel to provide vaccines to the Palestinians. In a phone call with Jerusalem24, Samer Daoudi of the Palestinian NGO Network, one of the signatories of the joint statement said “in Areas C, Israel is providing vaccinations to the settlers while ignoring the 300 thousand Palestinians living in those areas.” Daoudi was referring to Areas that fall under full Israeli control, according to the Oslo Accords, where more than 500 thousand Israeli settlers and 300 thousand Palestinians live. Daoudi continues “In the Gaza Strip, it is not clear how they will even receive the vaccines or how many doses as well.”
The joint statement does not only urge Israel to distribute vaccines to the Palestinians. It also calls on Pfizer as a leading international pharmaceutical company, to comply with its responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and to “ensure that its supply of vaccines is not used in the service of illegal settlement activity or to entrench apartheid policies and practices, and to seek assurances that its vaccine is not intended for use in a discriminatory, racist and xenophobic manner.”
Israel also prevents the Palestinians from trying to obtain vaccine doses on their own because of the Paris Protocol for Economic Relations. The agreement that was signed in 1994 prevents the Palestinians from importing medications without Israeli approval. Israel cannot transfer a vaccine that is not approved for its own citizens to the Palestinians. There is also a policy of the Israeli Ministry of Health to only allow the distribution of medications in the Occupied Palestinian territories that have undergone the necessary scientific and regulatory procedures. While the Palestinian Authority does not have the financial resources to supply vaccines to the Palestinians, it is trying to get the Russian Sputnik vaccine, which has not been approved by Israel. The PNA is also trying to obtain vaccines via Covax, that may supply 20% of the PNA’s needs for the vaccine, however, It is not clear when the Palestinians will be able to receive any vaccine to face the Corona Virus pandemic.