Israel’s “impressive” vaccination programme against the COVID-19 pandemic must include Palestinians under occupation, UN independent human rights experts stressed on Wednesday. “In this early stage of the worldwide inoculation programme, Israel has delivered the vaccines to a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country”, said Special Rapporteurs Michael Lynk and Tlaleng Mofokeng.
While noting that Israel has offered Palestinians with resident status in occupied East Jerusalem the vaccines, they noted however, that it has not ensured that those under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza will have any near-future access to the vaccine.
Rising COVID-19 cases for Palestinians
As coronavirus infections and deaths continue to rise steadily, the IUN World Health Organization (WHO) noted that since March, more than 160,000 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) had tested positive and over 1,700 had succumbed to COVID-19.
And as the coronavirus continues to ravage the West Bank and Gaza – fracturing an already badly under-resourced Palestinian health care system – the UN experts drew specific attention to the deteriorating health situation in Gaza, which is already facing a 13-year-old blockade, serious water and electricity shortages, and endemic poverty and unemployment.
‘Morally and legally’ unacceptable
The Special Rapporteurs indicated that COVID-19 vaccines ordered separately by the Palestinian Authority may not be delivered to the West Bank and Gaza en masse for many weeks.
This means that more than 4.5 million Palestinians will remain unprotected and exposed to COVID-19, while Israeli citizens living near and among them – including the Israeli settler population will be vaccinated. “Morally and legally, this differential access to necessary health care in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a century is unacceptable.”
Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention to maintain health services in the occupied territory, the rights experts said. “The right to health is also a fundamental human rights issue,” they stated, quoting international human rights law that stipulates the entitlement of everyone to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.
“The denial of an equal access to health care, such as on the basis of ethnicity or race, is discriminatory and unlawful”, stressed the UN experts.
The Special Rapporteurs also called on the Palestinian Authority and de facto administration in Gaza to cooperate with Israel in implementing a comprehensive OPT vaccination programme. “It will only be through the sustained effort by all the governing authorities with the common goal of a comprehensive vaccination programme…on the basis of equality and best-practices that the prospect for the defeat of the pandemic will be possible”, they spelled out.
Also noting that the Israeli Public Security Ministry instructed the Israeli Prison Service to not vaccinate Palestinian security prisoners, the experts recalled that due to the high risk of inmate infections, Israeli health authorities had previously given instructions for all prisoners in Israeli custody to be prioritized for vaccinations.