The US media has widely lauded Israel’s vaccine success - as a country in a “post-pandemic future” of concerts and indoor dining; as a country that could teach the United States a few lessons in pandemic management; as a country that, despite being in the midst of a contentious election, leaned on its robust universal public health system to vaccinate as many people as possible. However, many of these vaccine success stories mention the issue of Palestinian vaccines in passing, as an unresolved “controversy,” “debate,” or just another instance of Palestinians and Israelis being unable to agree on anything.
The difference couldn’t be more stark – two populations living under one regime, heading in opposite directions in the struggle with Covid-19. On the Israeli side, we see a country returning to normalcy: a re-opened economy; a vaccination certificate program that allows for entry into gyms, restaurants, and cultural venues; plummeting infection and hospitalization rates; a surplus of vaccines nearly seven times the small country’s population. On the Palestinian side, minimal vaccines, overwhelmed hospitals, and an economy in crisis. Including the 100,000 Palestinian workers with Israeli work permits that Israel finally agreed to vaccinate in March, Palestinians have received enough vaccines for just over 4% of the 5 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
While Covid-19 did not create health disparities between Israelis and Palestinians, it certainly highlighted them – and offered a window into how decades of occupation and discrimination have expanded the gaps between the populations. Just as it has all over the world, a virus that does not discriminate nonetheless reminded us of deeply ingrained practices and calculated policies that do.
Reports about the humanitarian crises coming out of the occupied Palestinian territories are longstanding. In 2012, the United Nations released a report that claimed the Gaza Strip would be “unlivable” by 2020 as a result of multiple ground wars and the crippling blockade. The West Bank has suffered from occasional bouts of violence, but its health system has been most depleted by the Israeli movement restrictions on goods and people both within and entering or exiting the territory.