On December 19, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on live television. This kicked off a high-paced national vaccination campaign that has seen more than a million Israelis, some 12 percent of the country’s population, receive the jab in less than two weeks – the highest rate in the world.
Multiple factors paved the way for Israel to take the lead in the global vaccination race. Being a relatively small country – both by land area and population – certainly helped. Having a digitised national healthcare system which requires all citizens to be registered also contributed. Moreover, unlike other states, the Israeli government did not hesitate to recruit the army to help with the administration and distribution of the vaccine. There is also a political dimension to the fast roll out – Netanyahu is fighting for political survival and winning the vaccine race might tip the balance in his favour in the upcoming March elections.
But there is a dark side to Israel’s “vaccine success story”: While it is immunising its citizens against COVID-19 at an unrivalled rate, the Israeli government is not doing anything to vaccinate millions of Palestinians living under its military occupation. In a cruel irony, hundreds of doses on the cusp of expiration were reportedly thrown away in Israeli clinics last week, while millions of Palestinians are being denied the vaccine.
Indeed, while the vaccine roll-out in Israel includes the Palestinian citizens of Israel, it does not include some five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
Since 1967, these two Palestinian territories have been under Israel’s military occupation, with the latter also suffering from a blockade since 2007.
Among many things, this regime of absolute control has had a direct and detrimental effect not only on Palestinians’ access to healthcare but also the quality of the care on offer in the West Bank and Gaza..