Israel to give 5,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Palestinians after global pressure

Israel has agreed to transfer 5,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to immunise Palestinian medical workers on the frontline.

A Palestinian woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Clalit Health Services in the Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, on 30 January 2021.

A Palestinian woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Clalit Health Services in the Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, on 30 January 2021. Source: Getty

Israel said on Sunday it would send 5,000 coronavirus vaccine shots to the Palestinian Authority to inoculate medical personnel, following global pressure to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated.

Israeli authorities have launched an aggressive campaign to vaccinate its own citizens, but the shots have not been made available to Palestinians in the West Bank.

In recent weeks, the United Nations and rights groups have piled pressure on Israel to help some 4.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli-blockaded Gaza to access vaccines, citing the Jewish state's obligations as an occupying power.

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More than three million of Israel's nine million people have received the first of two required jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, a pace widely regarded as the world's fastest per capita.

"I confirm we are going to send 5,000 vaccines to medical teams in the Palestinian Authority," a spokesperson for Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday.

She said they were from Israeli supplies but declined to say whether they were Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna.

A Palestinian official, who requested anonymity, dismissed the shipment as "a symbolic move".

It "will not help us," the official said.

International law

The PA, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has announced procurement agreements with four vaccine providers, including the makers of Russia's Sputnik V shot. 

The PA has not publicly asked for Israel's help with a mass public vaccination campaign. 

But earlier this month, the Palestine Liberation Organization called on the international community to "hold Israel to account" and ensure that it provides vaccines to all Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

The UN's new Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, said last week that Israel should support the Palestinian vaccination effort to help stem the pandemic and meet "Israel's obligations under international law”.

That echoed similar calls from Human Rights Watch. 

HRW highlighted unequal access to vaccines in the West Bank, where Jewish settlers are being inoculated by Israel, but their Palestinians neighbours are not.  

"Nothing can justify today's reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they're Jewish or Palestinian," said the group's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir.

Former senior Israeli foreign ministry official Alan Baker, who helped negotiate the Oslo Accords, said claims that Israel is obliged to vaccinate Palestinians were "false and misleading".

He insisted the PA was responsible "for health and medical issues" for Palestinians, citing the Oslo Accords.

The PA said it expects to have enough doses to vaccinate 70 per cent of the Palestinian population, in both the West Bank and Gaza, starting from mid-March. 

Hamas is seen as unlikely to publicly collaborate with Israel on any vaccination effort. 

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews participate in the funeral for prominent rabbi Meshulam Soloveitchik, in Jerusalem, Sunday, 31 January, 2021.
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews participate in the funeral for prominent rabbi Meshulam Soloveitchik, in Jerusalem, Sunday, 31 January, 2021. Source: AAP


It comes as thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews defied Israel's coronavirus restrictions to attend a rabbi's funeral on Sunday, prompting Mr Gantz to demand the community's repeated breaking of lockdown rules must end.

A huge crowd, many not wearing masks, packed the streets in Jerusalem for the funeral of 99-year-old Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, head of the influential Brisk yeshiva, or religious educational institute.

While police were on hand for the rabbi's funeral, they did not act to disperse crowds, an AFP photographer said.

Israel's government is set to debate the extension of the country's third national lockdown, due to expire at midnight.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who supports a lockdown extension, has faced mounting criticism over what his opponents describe as a failure to ensure haredim comply with safety rules.

 


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4 min read
Published 1 February 2021 at 7:58am
Source: AFP, SBS