Israel has become the first country in the world to vaccinate more than 10% of its population against Covid-19. Unfortunately, this milestone has a dark side: the Israeli government has chosen to vaccinate Israeli citizens but not Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
A racial system of health discrimination has emerged in which, 750,000 Jewish residents of settlements in the West Bank – illegal under international law – are vaccinated by the Israeli government but not their 3.5 million Palestinian neighbours. Guards and Israeli prisoners in Israeli jails are being vaccinated but not Palestinian inmates who are mostly political prisoners.
The West Bank has been occupied by Israel for more than 50 years, while the Gaza Strip remains under a crippling embargo, administered by Israel and Egypt since 2007. The embargo as well as the successive wars between Israel and Hamas, have severely harmed the health and energy infrastructure of the Gaza strip, making the administration of a vaccination program (including acquisition and storage of vaccines) impossible without Israeli permission, lifting of embargo and restoration of electrical power.
The contrast between the COVID-19 infection rates (new daily confirmed cases per daily number of tests) in Israel and the Occupied Territories is stark: 24% in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, compared to 5% in Israel (as on 1 January 2021; source: ourworldindata.org). Vaccinating the segment of the population with the lowest infection rates but not those with the highest is grossly unfair, contrary to common sense and unsafe for both Palestinians and Israelis. Action is needed immediately.
We call on the Israeli government to assume its responsibility as an occupying power under international law and stop this blatant act of racial discrimination. We specifically call on the Israeli government to:
1. Immediately deploy a COVID-19 vaccination program for Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank.
2. Allow vaccines, as well as instruments needed for their storage and administration, to reach the Gaza strip without delay.
3. Provide the means to restore full electricity in the Gaza Strip (e.g., by reversing a ban on the importation of diesel fuel to Gaza by Israel, in force since last year), so as to allow the administration of a vaccination program.
Bearing in mind that Israel is the largest recipient of US aid, we also call on the US and other Western governments, as well as the United Nations, to exercise pressure on the Israeli government to act and fulfil its duties under international law.