South African medical doctor, Tlaleng Mofokeng - who was recently appointed as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health - has called Israel’s refusal to provide the 4.5 million Palestinians under its control with COVID-19 vaccines “morally and legally unacceptable.”
Mofokeng made the comments last week together with Special Rapporteur, Michael Lynk, who covers the?situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.
Israel has been lauded worldwide for vaccinating a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country. However, it has achieved this by leaving out the more than 4.5 million Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) that Israel occupies and controls. The Palestinians remain unprotected and exposed to COVID-19, while Israeli citizens living near and among Palestinian villages and towns – including the Israeli settler population in the OPT - have been vaccinated.
The Israeli Public Security Ministry also instructed the Israeli Prison Service not to vaccinate Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli jails.
“Morally and legally, this differential access to necessary health care in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a century is unacceptable,” said Mofokeng and Lynk.
Citing the Oslo Accords, Israeli officials claim that it is not their responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians. Mofokeng and Lynk, however, reminded Israeli officials that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is Israel’s responsibility – as the occupying power - to maintain health services for the occupied population.
The Palestinians agree. “The international community must hold Israel to account and urge Israel as an occupying power to fulfil its obligations under international law and make vaccines available to the occupied population without discrimination. This includes Palestinians in the whole territory of the State of Palestine, which comprise the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, including Palestinians in occupation prisons and Palestinian refugees,” the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Negotiation Affairs Department said in a statement last week.
But Israeli Health Minister, Yuli Edelstein, has publicly stated that Israel will only help the Palestinians after all Israel’s citizens have had the jab. “I don't think that there's anyone in this country, whatever his or her views might be, that can imagine that I would be taking a vaccine from the Israeli citizen, and give it to our neighbors [the Palestinians]. If, God willing, we will get to the situation where they will be nearly no demand in this country, we will be able to share,” Edelstein told Sky News.
“There could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones,” said Saleh Higazi, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Mofokeng and Lynk’s statements come as calls have been growing within Israel for the Israeli government to make COVID-19 vaccines available to the occupied Palestinian population.
In early January, more than 200 rabbis from the Rabbis for Human Rights NGO signed a petition calling on the Israeli government to hasten the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines amongst the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
In December, ten Israeli, Palestinian and international health and human rights groups called on Israel to provide necessary vaccines to Palestinian health care systems.
As of 9 January 2021, there were over 165,000 active cases in the OPT, including in East Jerusalem. So far, 1,735 Palestinians have succumbed to COVID-19.