Israel authorizes plan to vaccinate over 120,000 Palestinian workers

Shots will be administered in next few days by Israeli healthcare workers at border crossings and industrial zones in West Bank, COGAT says; contagion in West Bank hits new highs

Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Mitar checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Mitar checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Israeli government on Sunday approved a plan to vaccinate over 120,000 Palestinians who are legally employed in Israeli communities, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said in a statement.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which administers Palestinian civilian affairs, announced that it would roll out an immunization campaign at border crossings and industrial zones across the West Bank in the next few days. According to COGAT, Israeli healthcare workers will administer the shots.

“As part of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus and in accordance with the recommendation of COGAT and the Ministry of Health, the government approved a vaccination campaign for Palestinian workers with work permits in Israel and Israeli settlements,” COGAT said in a statement.

Around 87,000 Palestinians hold work permits in Israel, and an additional 35,000 work in Israeli settlements, according to Defense Ministry figures.

Palestinian health workers at a hospital in the West Bank town of Nablus, where health workers were vaccinated against the coronavirus after the delivery of vaccine doses from Israel. February 03, 2021 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

While Israel has surged ahead in vaccinating its population — over half of all Israelis have received at least one dose of a coronavirus shot — only scattered shipments of vaccines have reached the Palestinians so far. The Palestinian Authority expects to begin its public vaccination campaign in early March with the arrival of a major shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines.

Israel has come under criticism for not vaccinating Palestinians, many of whom live under Israeli military rule. Human rights groups charge that international law requires Israel as an occupying power to provide vaccines for Palestinians.

Israel rejects the characterization that it occupies Palestinian territory, deeming the West Bank “disputed.” Israeli officials have also pointed to bilateral agreements between Israel and the Palestinians which designate responsibility for health care to the Palestinian Authority.

But current and former health officials have also repeatedly said that helping Palestinians get vaccines — especially Palestinians who work in Israel — is a public health priority for the Jewish state, as they regularly mix with Israelis.

“The message is very simple: We are one epidemiological unit. As much as we can, we have to help them address this matter,” recently departed Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told The Times of Israel.

A woman takes a selfie after receiving the coronavirus vaccine from an Israeli medical team at the Qalandia checkpoint, on Feb. 23, 2021 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Human rights groups welcomed Sunday’s announcement, but contended that Israel had yet to fulfill its alleged responsibility to vaccinate all Palestinians.

“Vaccinating Palestinian workers is a necessary step — and better late than never. But Israel is morally and legally obligated to provide for the whole Palestinian population, and should put its own epidemiological interest first and work to vaccinate everyone who works in areas it controls,” said Physicians for Human Rights Israel director Ran Goldstein.

Sunday’s announcement came a week after Israeli health officials met their Palestinian counterparts in Ramallah to discuss that and other matters relating to the pandemic.

Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health crews conduct random checks through blood in the town of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on January 14, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

After the meeting, the Palestinian Authority promptly released a statement alleging that Israel had agreed in principle to innoculate Palestinians who work in Israel. Israeli officials balked, telling Hebrew media that the PA’s announcement was premature and that the matter was still under review,

In the absence of a major vaccine rollout, the West Bank has plunged into a third wave of coronavirus in recent days. Since the beginning of February, the number of active cases in the West Bank has more than tripled to 12,897.

Around 22 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive across the West Bank on Sunday. In some governorates, the number has risen as high as 30% over the past few days.

In response to the stark rise in cases, the Palestinian Authority has enacted a partial lockdown in the West Bank for the next 12 days, closing schools and banning travel.

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