The Palestinian Authority (PA) has condemned Israel’s promise to send coronavirus vaccines to distant lands while ignoring the five million Palestinians living miles away under its military occupation as an “immoral measure.”
Honduras received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine from Israel on Thursday, after Israeli media earlier this week announced the government’s intention to send vaccines to the Central American country, in addition from Guatemala, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Israeli public radio Kan reported that 100,000 Moderna vaccines will be shipped to 15 allies, as well as to several countries in Africa that have close or growing ties with Israel.
Guatemala followed the controversial US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem last year, while Honduras has vowed to do the same.
Hungary has opened a trade mission office in Jerusalem, and the Czech Republic has pledged to open a diplomatic office in the city as well.
PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Israel’s decision to provide countries with vaccines in return for political concessions was a form of “political blackmail and an immoral measure.”
In an interview with Voice of Palestine radio on Thursday, al-Maliki said the decision “confirms the absence of morals and values” of Israel.
“We are going to lead an international campaign to face this exploitation of the humanitarian needs of these countries,” he said.
Coronavirus cases in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have reached more than 203,000. At least 2,261 people have died from the virus, and Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al- Kaila, said the number of coronavirus cases had risen sharply.
“The number of positive tests exceeded 20% in the occupied West Bank and 9% in the Gaza Strip,” she told a local radio station.
The occupancy rate of hospitals in the occupied West Bank is the highest since the start of the pandemic, al-Kaila added, at 80%.
Soft power vaccine
Yara Asi, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Central Florida who studies health and development in conflict-affected states, called Israel’s soft power in vaccines.
“Using the promise of life-saving medicine to put pressure on low-resource countries so that they can possibly move embassies or make other complex political decisions is political cynicism in the highest regard,” she said. told Al Jazeera.
“These deals also allow Israel to provide vaccines to Palestinians under the same auspices of ‘charity’, further muddling their legal duties as an occupying power and treating Palestine as if it was just another poor country in need of help. aid, not territory in which Israel has almost complete economic and political control. “
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel, as the occupying power, must ensure “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics”.
UN officials and human rights groups have said Israel is an occupying power responsible for the well-being of the Palestinians. Israel has said that under the interim peace accords of the 1990s, it has no such obligations.
It has already delivered doses of vaccine to more than half of its 9.3 million people in just under two months, making it the world leader in the vaccination campaign to immunize populations. However, despite the announcement last month of the delivery of 5,000 doses of the vaccine to the Palestinian Authority, only 2,000 have been received to date.
Moreover, after Israel initially blocked A shipment of Russian vaccine destined for the Gaza Strip, the stranded coastal enclave received 1,000 two-dose Sputnik vaccines last week.
It has separately received 22,000 shots against Sputnik from the United Arab Emirates, but health officials in Gaza said they need 2.6 million doses to immunize all people over 16 years of age.
“Israel’s manual choice of countries to help based on whether it sees a political advantage in such aid is quite another thing,” Asi said.
“To do this while elderly, high-risk Palestinians living literally miles away awaiting vaccines that most Palestinians will not come for months or even 2021 at all is blatant disregard for the five million people living under Israeli occupation for more than 50 years. years. “
US Senator Bernie Sanders condemned Israel’s decision to send vaccines to other politically aligned countries before distributing them to Palestinians.
“As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the health of all people under its control,” Sanders tweeted Wednesday. “It is scandalous that [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu would use spare vaccines to reward his foreign allies while so many Palestinians in the occupied territories still wait.
As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the health of all people under its control. It is scandalous that Netanyahu is using spare vaccines to reward his foreign allies while so many Palestinians in the occupied territories are still waiting. https://t.co/kx4qFPtRQl
– Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 24, 2021
‘Not politically beneficial’
Objections have also been raised within the Israeli government, but the issues center on technical aspects rather than on the responsibility to prioritize inoculation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately stop the process of sending coronavirus vaccines abroad – and to consult with the security cabinet before taking any action. such decisions.
“The vaccines are the property of the State of Israel and when you say that ‘unused doses of vaccine have accumulated,’ while most of the population of Israel has not yet been vaccinated with the second dose, that’s wrong, ”Gantz said in a letter. to Netanyahu, national security adviser and attorney general.
Netanyahu, who is due for re-election on March 23, has stake his political success on the success of Israel’s vaccination campaign.
Asi pointed out that the UN-backed COVAX program – designed to deliver vaccines to poorer countries at the same time rich countries receive them – is critical to ending this pandemic, but is working to some degree “d ‘equity and non-discrimination’.
“Essentially the message is that providing vaccines to Palestinians is just not politically advantageous enough to make it a priority,” she explained.
“And Netanyahu bet that, with only a month to go for a tough election, it’s worth resisting the global condemnation Israel receives for ignoring the Palestinians for its own political interests.”