Amnesty pans Israeli ‘discrimination’ in not vaccinating Palestinians

Annual report from international rights group accuses Jewish state of ‘systematic violations,’ including torture, carried out ‘with impunity’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian medical workers receive a vaccine against the coronavirus at a medical center in the West Bank city of Dura on March 21, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)
Palestinian medical workers receive a vaccine against the coronavirus at a medical center in the West Bank city of Dura on March 21, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Israel of “institutionalized discrimination” for vaccinating its own citizens but not inoculating the five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“This move flagrantly violated Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under international law,” the rights group said in a statement.

It called the failure to vaccinate the Palestinian population “a clear illustration of the extent of institutionalized discrimination” by Israeli authorities.

The statement was a follow-up to Amnesty’s annual human rights report, released Tuesday, which reviewed the activities of 149 countries during 2020.

In its “State of the World’s Human Rights” report, Amnesty made no mention of Israel’s drive, begun in March, to vaccinate 120,000 Palestinian laborers who have permits to work in Israel or its West Bank settlements.

Israeli officials have said the Palestinians are responsible for vaccinating their own people according to the 1993 Oslo Accords between the two sides, although some officials have said that Israel will consider providing doses once all Israelis are vaccinated. So far Israel has vaccinated well over half of its own population.

The Palestinian Authority has independently contracted with several providers — including AstraZeneca, Russia and China — to acquire doses, but very few have arrived.

The PA has also begun receiving vaccines through COVAX, a global vaccine program for poor and middle-income countries backed by the World Health Organization. Around 90 countries have signed up for the program, which aims to provide enough free doses to immunize up to 20 percent of a participating country’s population.

Beyond the vaccine issue, the Amnesty rights report accused Israel of carrying out “systematic violations, including crimes under international law, against Palestinians with impunity.”

The 539 roadblocks and checkpoints that Israel maintains in the West Bank “heavily restrict the movement of Palestinians and access to rights, including health, education and work,” it said.

Israel used “excessive force during law enforcement activities,” the report added, and claimed that of the 31 Palestinians, including nine children, who were killed by Israel in Palestinian territory last year, “many were unlawfully killed while posing no imminent threat to life.”

Authorities also “arbitrarily detained in Israel” thousands of West Bank Palestinians, with hundreds held in administrative detention, the report said, and “torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, including children, were committed with impunity.”

“Raids, judicial harassment and travel bans against critics of the military occupation” were employed including against Amnesty employee Laith Abu Zeyad, who was issued a travel ban preventing him from leaving the West Bank, the report said.

Lumping Israel together with Egypt, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, the report accused the countries of extensively using “exceptional courts, such as military, revolutionary and security courts” where “trials grossly violated fair trial standards.”

At least 996 Palestinians were displaced through the destruction of 848 homes and livelihood structures, according to the report, which cited figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Amnesty also accused Israel of discriminating against Arab citizens of the country in “planning, budget allocation, policing and political participation.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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