Israeli officials reportedly sent a request last week to the Palestinian Authority and the Jerusalem Muslim Waqf asking that the Israeli government be allowed to open a coronavirus vaccination station in the Temple Mount area, but the request was rejected.
The station was meant to vaccinate mainly Palestinian worshipers visiting the area. The Waqf is a Jordan-affiliated religious authority that administers Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in the Old City.
According to a report by the Kan public broadcaster (Hebrew) on Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas opposed the idea since, he claimed, the act would give Israeli officialdom a presence in the Al-Aqsa Mosque area. The mosque area on Temple Mount, which is known in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif, is considered one of the most sensitive sites in the Middle East, holding central significance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism; al-Aqsa mosque is the third most holy shrine in Islam.
The Israeli request came following the repeated publication of photos in which over 10,000 people can be seen praying in the mosque area each Friday, in disregard of COVID-19 protocols.
After Israel’s initial proposal was refused, a second was reportedly made: that the vaccines be administered by Arab Israeli paramedics and not by Jewish ones, and that they be dressed in clothes that bear no markings of Israeli medical establishments. That offer was also turned down, the report said.
The Temple Mount area is holy to both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, and is perhaps the most delicate security-related location in Israel and the Palestinian territories. After cpaturing the area and the rest of the Old City from Jordan in the 1967 war, Israel continued to grant the Waqf, which is funded and controlled by the Jordanian government, near-complete control of the area. Israeli security forces are present on the Mount and work in coordination with the Waqf. Jews are allowed to visit, but unlike Muslims, are strictly prohibited from praying on Temple Mount grounds.
The holy site has sparked several waves of violence and terrorism in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Most notably, the Second Intifada, on onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorism, started after a visit by then-MK Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in 2000.
A wave of terrorism in 2015-2016, mostly characterized by stabbing attacks, was widely thought to be connected to a common belief among Palestinians, denied by Israel, that Israel was intent on changing the status quo at the Temple Mount.
Israel has received millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, mostly purchased from drugmaker Pfizer. The Palestinian Authority, which controls parts of the West Bank, and the Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, have received small amounts. The discrepancy comes amid controversy over Israel’s supposed responsibility for the inoculation of the Palestinian population.
The PA claims Israel is an occupying power to the Palestinians, and thus is responsible for their vaccine needs. The Israeli government says the Palestinians are responsible for their own medical needs, including vaccines, based on the 1993 Oslo Accords. It has expressed a willingness to assist the PA more widely on this front once the Israeli population is fully vaccinated. So far, roughly half of the Israeli population, about 4.5 million people, has received at least one vaccine shot.
Of the 300,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem — most of whom, unlike West Bank Palestinians, are considered Israeli residents and are being vaccinated by Israel — 76,000 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to senior Clalit health fund official Ali Jabrini. Out of that group, 23,000 have received a second shot as well.
In the West Bank and Gaza, the numbers are far lower. Israel has transferred 10,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine that were donated to the Palestinians by Russia. Eight thousand of those doses went to the West Bank and 2,000 went to the Gaza Strip last week, after Israel initially delayed the shipment.
Israel sent an additional 200 of its own doses that reportedly went to PA leadership, but Ramallah has not commented on those shipments.
Israel also pledged to send 5,000 vaccine doses to Palestinians in the West Bank, 2,000 of which have been delivered and are being distributed. The PA is still waiting on the other 3,000 and there has been no word on when they will arrive. This week, a further unspecified quantity of vaccine doses was transferred by Israel for Palestinian health care workers.