As nations scramble to vaccinate populations against COVID-19, one country has been ahead of the rest: Israel.
By late January, Israel had vaccinated more than 30% of its population – more than double or triple the rate of other high-income states like the U.S., the U.K., France and Germany. The vaccination program has been so successful, Israel is now opening it to 16- to 18-year-olds.
In contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have seen very few among their population vaccinated. On Jan. 31, Israel announced a plan to transfer 5,000 doses to Palestinians to immunize front-line medical workers after weeks of global pressure, but no timeline on the delivery was given. That also still leaves the general Palestinian population without means to a vaccine.
This disparity has led to criticism from U.S. lawmakers that Israel is shirking its responsibility and a statement from the United Nations urging Israel to “help address the priority needs of Palestinians.” Doing so would be “in line with Israel’s obligations under the international law,” according to Tor Wennesland, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. Human rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and civil society organizations throughout Israel and Palestine have echoed those sentiments.
As a scholar of health management and policy who has worked in the occupied West Bank, I would argue that not only is Israel under legal and moral obligations to include Palestinians in the vaccine program, but it is also in its own self-interest.
Politics of the pandemic
Like many countries, Israel has faced rocketing infection rates – including the newer, more transmissible strains of the virus.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to get Israelis above the age of 16 vaccinated by the end of March – which would come in time for Israel’s fourth election in just two years, and one in which Netanyahu is facing considerable pressure.