Since the release of effective vaccines against COVID-19, countries around the world are scrambling to vaccinate their citizens and enact orderly immunization programs. Israel has been lauded and commended for the swift vaccination of its citizens, with an estimated 53% being inoculated with both doses (as of April 2021). Yet many fail to account for the Palestinians residing in Israel, who make up 60% of the population. Israel’s vaccination “success” only accounts for those who are referred to as citizens of Israel, leaving the Palestinian and Arab population in the dark.
The conflict and debate on the subject of Israel and Palestine is ongoing and has extended to politics, religion, and human rights. Now that Israel has gained dominance over the land, the entity has declared itself a state with Judaism as its main religion. Palestinians have either fled to seek refuge in other countries or have chosen to stay under Israeli occupation.
Although an estimated 53% of Israelis have been fully vaccinated, Palestinians who have chosen to stay and work in Israeli occupied land were not considered for the vaccination plan until March. After fierce international criticism, Israel announced that it would soon begin vaccinating Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel or the occupied West Bank – but the plans set in motion fail to acknowledge the tens of thousands of Palestinians who for a number of reasons do not have official work permits.
There has been a heated debate for weeks on whether Israel bears responsibility for the healthcare of Palestinians. Many have pointed to a clause in the Geneva Convention that says occupying powers must use “preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics [to] the fullest extent of the means available to it”, which would mean it is Israel’s responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians.
Despite international law declaring Israel bears responsibility for the healthcare of Palestinians, supporters of Israel’s policies argue that Palestinians assumed responsibility for health services when they signed the Oslo Accords – an agreement between Israel and Palestine – in the 1990s.
Although Israel has agreed to make efforts towards vaccinating a select few Palestinians, their efforts are slow; thousands of Palestinians are kept waiting because Israel has chosen to donate vaccine doses to far-off allies. According to The New York Times, the Czech Republic and Honduras will be receiving “excess” vaccine donations from Israel, principally because both countries have expressed plans to move their respective embassies to Jerusalem.
Why is it politically significant when a country moves their Israel Embassy to Jerusalem? Declaring Jerusalem’s status as a capital is a very controversial and sensitive topic in the Palestine and Israel conflict. Currently, 86 countries have chosen to remain neutral and keep their respective Israeli embassies in Tel Aviv. By choosing to place its embassy in Jerusalem, a country demonstrates that they recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – a longtime claim of the Israeli state.
Despite being an occupying power, Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital and hopes that all countries will soon recognize Jerusalem as the capital of what it calls its “future independent state.” Palestinian leaders have argued that declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a violation of international law and sets back any hope of peace.
Israel has edged out over other countries and statisticians state that the country has shown itself as a world leader in vaccine rollouts. Yet, despite all its power and resources, Israel chooses to delay addressing its responsibilities towards the citizens of the country it has occupied and oppressed. Israel’s actions and indifference towards Palestinians who live in places other than East Jerusalem has created a dire situation, leaving many Palestinians without the protection they need.
By distributing vaccines primarily to Israeli citizens and sharing “excess vaccines” with countries that are aligned with its political goals, Israel clearly demonstrates its priority of politics over people, the state of Israel over Palestinian lives.