When we circulated an open letter calling on Australian Professor Alison Bashford to reconsider accepting Israel’s Dan David Prize, we expected there would be overwhelming support for our call from academics around the world. We were right. More than 300 academics and researchers have signed so far and the list of signatories keeps growing.
Bashford is one of seven recipients of the prize, which this year was given out for scholarly contributions to the fields of public health and medicine. The award’s $3m windfall will be shared among the seven: $1m going to Anthony Fauci, the prominent infectious disease expert and US presidential adviser; $1m being shared by three scientists for contributions to molecular medicine; and $1m being shared between Bashford, who studies the history of medicine and health as they relate to global and environmental history, Keith Wailoo, who works on race, science and health equity in the US, and Katherine Park, who studies Medieval and Renaissance medicine.
The arguments against accepting the prize money apply to all seven recipients – but, as Australian researchers, we felt we had a particular obligation and opportunity to appeal to Bashford.
Announcing the prize, the Dan David Foundation chairperson, Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, said that the choice of scientific fields had been influenced by the impact of the pandemic on all aspects of life.
The prize comes at a time when Israel is celebrating its remarkable progress in inoculating its population. The country ranks first in the world in terms of the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated. The government has recently said that approximately half of Israel’s citizens have taken the first dose and 35 percent the second.
But, as with other scientific achievements Israel has celebrated, this one comes against the backdrop of Palestinian oppression. As the Israeli government is already boasting about a sharp drop in COVID-19 cases, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, they are skyrocketing. Palestinians there are going into yet another lockdown in an attempt to control the outbreak, as there has been no steady supply of vaccines for them.
For months, Israel has been refusing to vaccinate Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, even though this is its legal responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention. In March 2020, UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory, Michael Lynk, reminded Israel in a statement that “The legal duty, anchored in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, requires that Israel, the occupying power, must ensure that all the necessary preventive means available to it are utilized to ‘combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics’”.
Yet not only is Israel actively blocking the delivery of vaccines to the Palestinians but it is actually sending surplus doses to countries like Honduras, the Czech Republic and Hungary, as a reward for political favours, like their pledges to relocate their embassies to Jerusalem or open embassy branches there.