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Is Israel legally responsible for vaccinating Palestinians?

The UN, CNN seem to think so

Palestinians dressed in protective clothing as Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh opens a hospital for COVID-19 in the West Bank city of Nablus, Jan. 16, 2021. (Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Earlier this week, CNN insinuated that Israel is discriminating against Palestinians in its world-leading COVID-19 vaccination drive.

Referring to the left-wing Israeli NGO B’Tselem, which recently branded Israel an "apartheid regime," journalist Sam Kiley blasted Israel for not offering Palestinians the same access to its anti-coronavirus vaccine program as Israeli citizens have. But what CNN failed to mention was that under the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority and Israel are separately responsible for their own people.

In his report, “Vaccination rates highlight stark differences between Israelis and Palestinians amid row over responsibility,” Kiley visited the Palestinian town, Kafr Aqab. Kafr Aqab, officially part of greater Jerusalem’s municipality, but located outside the city’s security barrier, falls in a gray zone between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The vast majority of the town’s roughly 10,000 residents are not Israeli citizens. However, those who have acquired Israeli ID cards have access to Israeli healthcare, including COVID-19 vaccination.   

However, the CNN reporter criticized Israel for excluding Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from its vaccination program, using a recent statement by the Office of the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner as a source.

“But at least 4.5 million Palestinians living on the West Bank and in Gaza are being left behind. So far none have had the injections, and most are unlikely to get them any time soon - because there is no COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the Palestinian territories,” stated Kiley. 

The CNN report maintained that Israel is responsible for millions of non-Israeli citizens due to its UN designation as an “occupying power.” However, since Israel withdrew in 2005 completely from the Gaza Strip, Hamas, not Israel, is the authority responsible for the well-being of the approximately 2 million Gazans. Furthermore, the PA is responsible for Palestinians population in the West Bank.

In early January, the PA signed an agreement with the Russian company for the Sputnik V vaccine and also reportedly with AstraZeneca. However, it is uncertain when the vaccines will reach the PA. 

Israeli officials have asserted that the country is responsible for the well-being of its own citizens and its vaccine program is indeed offered to all Israeli citizens – Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze alike. 

Nevertheless this has not stopped some doctors and health officials from saying that achieving herd immunity in Israel may actually hinge on vaccinating Palestinians, primarily the 100,000 Palestinians who regularly move back and forth to work inside Israel or in Jewish communities in the West Bank. 

“They have to be part of the picture. We ignore them at our peril. We are really endangering our population if we do so,” said Dr. Manfred Green, a vaccines expert and founding director of the Health Ministry’s Israel Center for Disease Control.

Professor Tomer Hertz of Ben-Gurion University believes that Israel can reach herd immunity, but nevertheless stressed that Israel needs to prepare itself for a serious inflow of infections from the Palestinian territories. 

“If Palestinians are working in Israel and inter-mixing with us, it can lead to serious issues regarding the introduction of the virus,” Hertz said.

In December, Israeli Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said that Israel might offer surplus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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