AnalysisCOVID-19Middle EastPalestine

Exposing Israel’s vaccine apartheid in West Bank and Gaza

The Israeli apartheid regime has been praised for its quick COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Israel has the world’s highest number of doses per head of population, according to BBC News. However, 5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are excluded from the vaccine rollouts while Israeli citizens, even those living in illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, are prioritized.

This is medical apartheid.

More than 45 percent of Israel’s 9 million citizens have received vaccinations as of Feb. 19, including around 450,000 settlers living in the West Bank. The reason for the quick vaccine uptake and supply in Israel is due to their agreement with Pfizer to exchange citizens’ data for 10 million doses of the vaccine, according to Politico. This includes a shipment of 400,000 to 700,000 doses per week.

In return, Israel will provide anonymous details to Pfizer (and the World Health Organization) about the age, gender and medical history of those vaccinated including side effects and efficacy. This information could help Pfizer enormously boost its sales internationally.

Occupied Territories hit hard by pandemic

Israel’s defenders say that all Israeli citizens of all faiths, including Arabs, are eligible to be vaccinated. In East Jerusalem, only those with Israeli citizenship are entitled to the vaccine. Most living there are not citizens, but “permanent residents.” Only after facing pressure from rights groups, has Israel agreed to begin vaccinating Palestinian prisoners.

Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank are disproportionately affected by the pandemic with a total infection rate of about 40 percent compared to Israel’s 6.2 percent. As of Feb. 11, the World Health Organization recorded a total of 186,861 confirmed cases and 2,102 deaths from the virus in the West Bank. In Gaza, more than 530 people have died from the virus. According to the Palestine Authority frontline medical workers in Gaza were also supposed to receive 2,000 doses at the beginning of this month, but the transfer was prevented by Israel. 

The opportunism behind Israel’s ‘vaccine diplomacy

Israeli health officials have said they would be willing to consider immunizing Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza once all Israeli citizens have been vaccinated. But this was exposed as a lie when, instead of vaccinating the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government pledged to send thousands of “spare” vaccines to foreign allies.

This week, the Czech Republic and Honduras, both of whom accepted Israel’s claims of sovereignty over Jerusalem, received 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine. In return, they will move their diplomats to Jerusalem. Hungary and Guatemala will also be receiving doses, also in return for their support of Israel’s Jerusalem move. 

These examples of vaccine diplomacy have drawn criticism from UN officials and at home. Israel has deflected these criticisms, insisting that it is not their responsibility to provide Palestinians with the vaccine.

The critique on Saturday Night Live

Criticism of this policy has also extended to the mainstream media through a Saturday Night Live joke which called attention to Israel’s policy of denying equal access to health care to millions of Palestinians. “Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half,” comedian Michael Che said in the SNL skit on Feb. 20.

Producer’s of the show are now being accused of anti-Semitism by Zionist organizations and pro-Israel lobbying groups, continuing the dangerous and blatantly false equating of anti-Zionism and support for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism. NBC SNL has actually apologized.

In response to this, Ali Abunimah, cofounder of the Electronic Intifadah, stated in an interview on the Katie Halper Show: “The reason that Israel defenders and the Israel lobby are going nuts over it and denouncing it as anti-Semitic is because it points to a truth that is pretty unpalatable which is that you have COVID apartheid in Israel and vaccine apartheid.”

Abby Martin, in an episode of Empire Files, points out that “U.S. and Israeli politicians like to pretend that the only Palestinians that matter are the ones living within Israel’s 1948 borders and that the 5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are not their problem. … It’s a deliberate concealing of the situation that all of Palestine is under a brutal Israeli military occupation or blockade.”

Martin pointed out that Israel has a population of 9 million, including 1.5 million Palestinian citizens. And 5 million Palestinians live the West Bank and Gaza. “If you properly include that population, SNL’s reference [that half are vaccinated] is actually quite accurate. Under international law, Israel is responsible for the occupied Palestinian population.”

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, occupying powers are responsible for the medical supplies of the occupied population, including adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics to the fullest extent of the means available to it. 

Jim Crow medicine

“The Palestinian Authority was able to get some doses of the … Russian vaccine and Israel blocked them from getting [it], but what you also have in the West Bank, and this really brings home the Jim Crow apartheid nature of it, is that if you are an Israeli settler living in the West Bank, on land stolen from Palestinians, you will get a vaccine. But if you’re a Palestinian living next door to that settlement, you will not get a vaccine,” said Abunimah. 

Israel claims that it does not technically occupy the West Bank and Gaza and under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority has oversight of public health. This is a misleading statement, as the Israeli government controls the borders of the West Bank and Gaza, and the air space above it, and has steadily encroached on the land itself. As Dr. Mustafa Barghouti states in an interview with Democracy Now: “The Palestinian Authority is in charge only of 38 percent of the West Bank, only. Sixty-two percent of the West Bank is Area C, under full Israeli military control, and Israel is doing nothing for Palestinians there.”

In addition, while administering vaccines may be under the PA’s jurisdiction, there are a number of obstacles to actually putting this in practice. These include getting a permit from Israel to actually be able to import the vaccine, a lack of funding and access to the vaccine, and the infrastructure to distribute it.

Gaza often goes 12 or more hours a day without electricity, which makes it impossible to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Israel has been using at the required minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit. 

On Jan. 11, the Palestinian health ministry announced its approval of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, with plans of vaccinating 50,000 Palestinians by March. Palestine is also expected to receive doses from the British AstraZeneca. 

The World Health Organization is leading a partnership called Covax which is aimed at helping poorer countries, and has pledged to vaccinate 20 percent of Palestinians. But this plan faces many obstacles. The vaccines that the Covax scheme is depending on, which are cheaper and easier to transport, are still in the testing stage and have yet to be approved for emergency use. 

Israel’s medical apartheid is but a feature of its apartheid state and the Zionist colonial project. This project is funded by U.S. tax dollars. In 2019, the U.S. government provided $3.8 billion in foreign military aid to Israel, almost all of it military assistance. Israel also benefits from about $8 billion of loan guarantees.

All U.S. aid to Israel must end. All Palestinians must be granted the right of return, to have self determination over every aspect of their lives and full control over the destiny of their homeland.

Feature image: Saturday Night Live has been attacked for a joke exposing Israel’s refusal to provide vaccine to the Occupied Territories. Photo: Liberation News screenshot from You Tube.

Related Articles

Back to top button