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High Court petition demands Israel supply West Bank, Gaza with virus vaccines

Israeli, Palestinian groups say failure to hand over surplus inoculations violates Palestinians’ basic rights, note recent spike in infections in areas under PA control

Palestinians receive COVID-19 vaccine in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 25, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Palestinians receive COVID-19 vaccine in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 25, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Six Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday demanding that Israel act to ensure the vaccination of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including by handing over surplus supplies of its own vaccine stocks.

The government’s “current policy and failure to ensure that the entire population is vaccinated violates Palestinian inhabitants’ basic rights to life and bodily integrity, and represents an ongoing injustice,” the petitioners wrote, according to a statement from Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

The petition argued that the Palestinian Authority “has an insufficient number of vaccines, whereas in what is practically the same area, the population of Israeli citizens and residents is almost fully vaccinated, apart from those who decline it.”

The petition was submitted by Physicians for Human Rights Israel, HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Rabbis for Human Rights.

It came amid concerns of a spike in coronavirus infections in Palestinian territories, according to the statement.

The statement said research has shown that there are 27 deaths every day from COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza, where the positive test rate for infections stands at some 20 percent.

“Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank are filled to capacity, and some of them have stopped admitting cancer patients from the Gaza Strip who require urgent and lifesaving treatments,” the statement said.

The petition came the same day as Israel’s Health Ministry published figures showing that half of Israel’s population has now received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and that the positive test rate for infections has dropped to 1.3%, its lowest rate since June of last year.

A Palestinian Christian clergyman receives a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a campaign to vaccinate front-line workers, at the health ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 21, 2021. (Nasser Nasser/AP)

Israel has faced previous calls from rights groups and figures in the international community to help vaccinate Palestinians. Human rights groups and the Palestinian Authority have criticized the fact that Israeli West Bank settlers had been vaccinated, but Palestinians had not.

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.

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

Around 61,440 vaccine doses earmarked for the PA reached Ramallah last week after arriving in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport the same day. The PA received 37,440 doses from Pfizer and 24,000 from AstraZeneca.

COVAX intends to eventually provide about 400,000 AstraZeneca shots to the Palestinians, according to UNICEF. The vaccine has become controversial in recent days following reports of side effects; in a few rare cases, some of those vaccinated developed blood clots. Some European countries halted its use last week, but resumed administering the shots on Friday after health experts deemed it safe.

Health officials in Gaza have also received around 60,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines funded by the United Arab Emirates and around 2,000 Sputnik V doses from the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has vaccinated over 100,000 Palestinians who work in Israel or its settlements, sending medical teams to administer the shots at checkpoints and industrial zones in the West Bank and border areas.

Hamas police officer guards while workers unload a truck from 40,000 doses of Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine upon its arrival to Gaza Strip, at the Rafah crossing border with Egypt, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, March 11, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

There are around five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

In January, the Palestine Liberation Organization urged the international community “to hold Israel to account” and ensure that it provides vaccines to all Palestinians living in territories controlled by Israel. Jerusalem has said no such official request has been made.

Last month US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and reportedly urged that Israel provide more vaccines to the Palestinians.

Pointing to the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who are eligible for vaccinations through the Israeli healthcare system, Ashkenazi is said to have told Blinken that Israel has vaccinated more Palestinians than anyone else.

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