A request from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to make COVID-19 vaccines available to Palestinian medical workers has been refused by the Israeli government, which claimed there is shortage of jabs supply for its own citizens.
While Israel is being praised worldwide for the speediness of its inoculation programme with 18% of its total population vaccinated in just three weeks, nearly 8,000 Palestinian medics have reportedly been infected by the virus, impacting their coronavirus response.
The refusal comes amid growing criticism from rights groups of the massive discrepancy between the vaccine rollout in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza, given Israel’s legal obligations as an occupying power.
While Israel has provided vaccines for Palestinians living in east Jerusalem, by contrast no citizen or medic has received jabs among the nearly 5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Citing the Fourth Geneva Convention, rights groups including Amnesty have accused Israel of “institutionalised discrimination” and of ignoring its international obligations to immediately ensure COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly distributed to Palestinians living under occupation.
Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the WHO’s mission to the Palestinians, told The Independent the UN body had requested that Israel help provide COVID-19 vaccines to cover Palestinian health workers.
Mr. Rockenschaub said that Israel had declined the request for now, citing issues with shortages for their own population.
Health officials within the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA) told The Independent they had lodged a similar request, asking Israel to sell them 10,000 doses for their medics in order to avert a health disaster during the month-long wait for vaccines from the WHO’s Covax programme.
“We have tried to explore whether an unusual batch of vaccines could be made available from the Israeli side in light of the substantial discrepancy [in inoculations],” Mr. Rockenschaub told The Independent.
“We have a substantial number of health workers that are infected. It would make a big difference to have the 10,000 jabs to ensure that the healthcare system doesn’t collapse and can operate,” he added.
“The feedback is that [Israel] have shortages of their own and they can’t provide any until a later stage,” he said.
He added that it “should be in the interest of Israel” to put every effort into ensuring the Palestinian population is adequately vaccinated and that the discrepancy does not continue. In particular, he cited the daily movement of at least 140,000 Palestinian workers between the territories and Israel as one reason why the inoculation of the Palestinian population was an Israeli public health concern.
“Over 1.5 million Israelis have received their vaccines, while on the other side zero have, except for those Palestinians living in east Jerusalem,” he said.
More than 146,000 Palestinians have been infected with the coronavirus and more than 1,550 have died. On 31 December, 15 COVID-related deaths were reported in Gaza, the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic, according to the WHO.
Meanwhile, there have been more than 470,000 cases recorded in Israel, with over 3,500 deaths.
Amnesty International called the denial of vaccines to Palestinians “institutionalised discrimination”, saying the unfair distribution of vaccines could “hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones”. (Source: Independent UK)