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Israel acknowledges it gave 100 COVID vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority

State initially told High Court the PA had no vaccines; Palestinians said to have requested as many as 10,000 doses to immunize healthcare workers

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)

Israel gave 100 doses of coronavirus vaccines to the Palestinian Authority as a “humanitarian gesture” a week and a half ago, the government informed the High Court of Justice on Wednesday.

The government’s acknowledgement followed a High Court petition filed by the family of Hadar Goldin, a soldier whose body is being held in Gaza by the Hamas terror group. Goldin’s family seeks to condition the entry of aid into Gaza — including coronavirus vaccines — on the return of their son’s body.

The state attorney had previously told the High Court in a response signed by the National Security Council that the Palestinian Authority “did not have any [coronavirus] vaccines.” After reports that Israel had indeed sent doses of vaccine to the Palestinian Authority surfaced in Israeli media, however, the state attorney began looking into the matter.

Even as Israel has given more than 20 percent of its population first doses of the coronavirus vaccine over the past month, the Palestinian Authority has yet to see the arrival of any major shipment of vaccines. Officials in Ramallah have set several deadlines for the vaccines’ arrival, only to see them fall through.

Catholic nuns and other worshippers, mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, attend Christmas morning mass at the Church of the Nativity, the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born, in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the West Bank on December 25, 2020. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

In response to the reports, Palestinian officials denied having received any doses from Israel, both in generic statements by government institutions and by individual officials reached by The Times of Israel.

But according to the state attorney, Palestinian Authority officials requested coronavirus vaccines from the Israeli Health Ministry and from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, in early January.

“On January 4, COGAT turned to the Health Ministry director-general to authorize this request. The Health Ministry director-general, with the approval of the health minister, granted the request as a humanitarian gesture,” the state informed the High Court.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Yuli Edelstein declined to comment, as did a spokesperson for COGAT.

The vaccines were transferred that same day, the state said. A follow-up shipment of 100 vaccines is expected by January 25 to provide those immunized with a second dose.

The Palestinian Authority had reportedly requested far more inoculations — as many as 10,000 doses — to immunize frontline health care workers. According to the World Health Organization’s envoy to the Palestinians, Gerald Rockenschaub, Israel did not grant that request.

“The Israeli Ministry of Health indicated they would explore this option, but were currently not in a position to supply vaccines because of a shortage of vaccines in Israel,” Rockenschaub said on Sunday.

In a statement included in the state attorney’s filings, the National Security Council asserted it had no knowledge that the vaccines had been transferred to the Palestinian Authority when it made its initial declaration to the court.

The Goldin family’s lawyer, Aviad Cohen, dubbed the back-and-forth by the government “an attempt to throw sand in their eyes and in the eyes of the public.”

“The government’s announcement says it all. It strengthens what has been claimed in the petition: The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, and the information about the passing of goods, medicine and equipment… is concealed from the public eye and even from those in the National Security Council,” Cohen said in a statement.

A street coffee vendor walks by closed shops amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in the West Bank town of Hebron on December 11, 2020 (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Israel’s quick vaccination drive has sparked a debate over whether it ought to provide immunizations for the Palestinians as well. The Palestinians, who run their own health care system in areas they administer, have yet to publicly ask Israel for coronavirus vaccinations.

Officials in the PA have split the difference, both saying that Ramallah is in charge of providing immunizations to its citizens and claiming that Israel has obligations to the Palestinians under international law.

The issue of Israel’s legal responsibility to the Palestinians in a pandemic is highly contentious and hotly debated by international law experts. The 1995 Oslo II Accord delegates responsibility for health care to the Palestinian Authority. But the same treaty also obligates the two sides to cooperate in fighting epidemics.

Israeli health officials have previously said they would be willing to consider immunizing Palestinians once all Israelis have received the coronavirus vaccine.

“Israeli citizens come first. Only after we have finished vaccinating all residents of the country can we consider any other request, including ones from the PA,” Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told Channel 12 on Sunday.

The Palestinians have so far announced three sources of immunizations that they intend to deploy in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the weekend, health officials announced a deal for 2 million doses with the British AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company.

And on Monday, PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila approved the controversial Russian Sputnik V vaccine for use in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the Russian vaccines will arrive in the West Bank next month.

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