What Israel’s Vaccination Plan Means For Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on December 26th that he planned to vaccinate approximately 150,000 individuals each day for the coming week, with a goal of vaccinating 2 million Israelis by the end of January 2021. If this goal were to be reached, it would equate to approximately a quarter of Israel’s population of 9.25 million. Already, Israel is ranked second globally in vaccinations per capita, according to Our World in Data. Netanyahu’s announcement follows the news of Germany’s deal to include Israel in the European Union (E.U.) vaccine program, where Israel will be able to purchase vaccines from companies within the E.U., such as AstraZeneca. An unnamed Israeli diplomat in Berlin stated, “Germany sees Israel as part of Europe in terms of procuring the vaccine and therefore it will be permitted to convey the vaccine for use in Israel when it is approved.” However, this vaccine deal does not include the Israeli military-occupied territories of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, leaving Palestinians in the dark when it comes to protection against coronavirus.

International organizations and leaders have emphasized the detrimental effects that a delayed procurement of vaccinations could be for Palestinians. Gerald Rockenshaub, the World Health Organization (WHO) chief for the Palestinian Territories stressed, “It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that countries that can’t purchase vaccines on the global marketplace have their needs met adequately.” Leaked documents from the World Health Organization warn that vaccines may not be acquired in some countries until 2024, which could negatively impact other countries’ efforts to contain the virus, in addition to harming the wellbeing of the individuals living in countries who could not provide the vaccine for its people. Although Palestinian authorities could purchase the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines on the market, the Washington Post reports that Palestine lacks the money to afford the vaccines. Furthermore, both activists within and outside of Palestine hold Israel responsible for providing vaccinations for Palestinians. Physicians for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working within Palestine, states, “Israel bears moral and humanitarian responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population under its control.” Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein dismissed responsibility for vaccinating Palestinians, as he claimed, “There is no responsibility, but it is in our interest to help as far as the coronavirus is concerned… We’ve been doing it for the last year, with equipment and with medicine.” He later described how the Israeli government would be willing to help vaccinate Palestinians only after they had vaccinated the entirety of the Israeli population, including the Palestinians living within Israel, as he stated, “We can’t deny an Israeli citizen a vaccination because we want to help someone else… But if there will be extra or a feeling that everyone is feeling safe, then we will.”

Beyond acquiring the number of vaccines needed for Palestine, Palestine also needs logistical assistance in storing the vaccination. Areas such as the Gaza Strip currently receive about eight hours of electricity per day, leaving Palestine without the proper technical capacities to store the vaccines in a temperature-controlled environment. Instead of relying on Israel for vaccines, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have signed up for the Gavi Alliance, a program that aims to vaccinate the most vulnerable 20% of each applicant. Palestine has also turned to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) to share some of its acquired vaccines. However, any vaccine provider must still be granted permission by Israel, as these vaccines would need to be approved by Israeli regulators to be allowed into the Palestinian Territories. If Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are granted admission into the Gavi Alliance or if the U.A.E. assists Palestine in vaccinating its people, international pressure must be put on Israel to approve these vaccines and even provide the proper resources to administer the vaccines, especially considering that Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem remain militarily-occupied by Israel.