Source: Getty Images / HERZLIYA, ISRAE
Israel’s domestic vaccination programme has been a resounding success. Having now vaccinated around 40% of the population, the Israeli government is establishing a timeline to re-open the hospitality industry and get the economy back on its feet. However, there is an intriguing side to their triumph: a policy that has put into question the Geneva convention, the Oslo Accords and international law. The Israeli government has been slow to help vaccinate the 2.7 million Palestinians living in neighbouring regions and their militarised territories. Palestine’s economy is on its knees and its legislative assembly is financially unstable. It may have to wait for vaccine donations from generous states and charities. Russia donated 10,000 shots of its Sputnik vaccine, that arrived on the 4th February. Palestine made a deal with Russia for 2 million further shots that will be paid in prolonged instalments.
One has to ask where Israel believes its responsibility lies. There is a fine line between infringing upon Palestine’s capability to vaccinate, and not offering enough aid. The state maintains a strong military presence in occupied territories. It restricts movement through a ‘security fence’ that has arguably been used as a racial boundary rather than a tangible security asset since 2002. It has dislodged and resettled large proportions of Palestinian civilian populations from the Jordan Valley and move them to infertile, dry and arduous land. At one point, Israel had restricted Palestinian employment within Israel by revoking working passes and banned Israelis employing Palestinians without a valid reason. However, Israel has made plans to vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits. It is a complex line to draw, as to where Israel is accountable, or on standby to help, should their help be needed.
Article 56 of the Geneva convention specifies that within occupied territories under military control, the occupying authorities must grant them access to healthcare supplies and resources during pan/epidemics. The Israeli government is under a legal obligation to vaccinate its Palestinians residents. The Article also specifies that the vaccine deployed must be the one authorised for the native population, which in Israel’s case would be the Pfizer vaccine. Instead, Israel allows the use of the Russian Sputnik vaccine which has not yet been cleared for use for the Israeli civilian population.
The real question is why? With legal and moral obligations, why would Israel refuse? Their policy may enable Israel to impose tighter movement restrictions. Israel is considering the introduction of domestic and international vaccine passports and there are numerous reports of hospitality venues requiring evidence of vaccination appointments to enter. In February it agreed with Greece for a ‘green passport’ that would ensure a vaccine passport with the EU if one was created. A green passport would also enable only those who had received the vaccine to participate in certain activities like indoor exercise classes or enter buildings, such as
hotels. If the Palestinian people rely solely on donations from wealthy countries and charity aid, it will be years before they achieve population wide inoculation. Israel now holds an exclusive power to restrict the movement of Palestinians into Israel on a health basis.
Israel is wealthy, has an abundance of vaccines and an infrastructure that is more than capable enough to carry out a vaccination programme in Palestine. Should Palestine require its aid, Israel should be willing and ready to accommodate their needs.