Amnesty calls on Israel to give Palestinians virus vaccine

Rights group charges Israel obligated under international law, though Oslo Accords put health care in hands of PA, which has not publicly asked Israel for aid in securing shots

Palestinian Health worker takes samples for coronavirus at a health center in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 5, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian Health worker takes samples for coronavirus at a health center in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 5, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Amnesty International on Wednesday called on Israel to provide coronavirus vaccine doses to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, saying the Jewish state was obligated to do so under international law.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, which is home to some 2.8 million Palestinians, is responsible for providing health services to the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords and has not publicly asked for Israeli assistance in vaccine procurement.

The Hamas terror group, which controls the Gaza Strip, where about two million Palestinians live, is highly unlikely to publicly coordinate with Israel in any vaccination effort.

But UK-based rights group Amnesty said Israel needed to “stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and immediately act to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

A paramedic from the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health disinfects Palestinian laborers to help contain the coronavirus, as they exit a checkpoint after returning from work in Israel, near the West Bank village of Nilin, west of Ramallah, on April 7, 2020. (Nasser Nasser/AP)

Additionally, hundreds of rabbis from multiple denominations, organized by Rabbis for Human Rights, have signed a letter arguing that Israel has a moral imperative to deliver vaccines to Palestinians, especially in Gaza.

There was no immediate reaction from Israel.

The PA has said Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will be vaccinated through the United Nations-backed COVAX program.

The Palestinian health ministry said Monday that it expected to receive its first vaccine doses next month through COVAX.

Officials in Ramallah have also declared their intention in the past to purchase millions of doses of the controversial Russian-produced Sputnik V vaccine, which is widely believed not to have undergone thorough safety testing.

The PA has said it has made contact with other potential vaccine suppliers, but its health ministry said it would struggle to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the requisite sub-zero conditions.

A Palestinian volunteer colors a child’s face at Manger Square, in the Church of the Nativity, ahead of scaled-back celebrations for Eastern Orthodox Christmas due to the coronavirus pandemic, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Jan. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Israel began inoculating its citizens on December 19, starting with medical workers and the over 60s, and has so far injected more than 1.5 million people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday he hoped that within a month 2.25 million Israelis — a quarter of the population of nine million — would have received the two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab needed for optimum effect.

As of Tuesday, Israel’s Health Ministry had confirmed 451,000 cases of the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic, with over 3,400 deaths.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry has confirmed more than 100,000 cases in the West Bank, including 1,100 deaths.

In Gaza, there were 43,134 reported cases, with 404 fatalities.

Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War. Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel from the West Bank for work on a daily basis, most of whom work in construction and agriculture.

Israel completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but maintains a tight blockade on the Strip, to stop Hamas, which has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008 and calls for Israel’s destruction, from importing weapons and materials to construct fortifications.

JTA contributed to this report.

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