Around 400 Palestinians, residents of East Jerusalem as well as Palestinians who work in Israel, were vaccinated against coronavirus on Wednesday afternoon at a Magen David Adom station near the Qalandiya checkpoint, a Magen David Adom spokesperson said.
“East Jerusalem Palestinians can come and be vaccinated, as well as those who have Palestinian Authority identity cards and work permits,” the spokesperson said.
Wednesday’s immunizations were a first step to provide vaccinations to the 122,000 West Bank Palestinians who work in Israel. Some Palestinians who work in the health care sector have already been vaccinated, but those are a small minority; the overwhelming majority of workers are employed in construction or agriculture.
Health experts have singled them out as a potential source of infection, given that many cross the Green Line on a daily basis.
The Health Ministry has yet to announce a major plan to vaccinate Palestinian workers, however. Wednesday’s effort appeared to be a one-off, at least for now. Magen David Adom said it initiated the move of its own accord, but the station by Qalandiya checkpoint will only be open through Wednesday night.
East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1980, but Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are not citizens; rather, they hold residency cards that grant them some of the benefits of citizenship — including health insurance.
MDA apparently chose to place by the station by Qalandiya so as to increase accessibility to the vaccine among East Jerusalem Palestinians who live beyond the security fence. Tens of thousands live beyond the barrier which snakes through the capital, which some health experts have suggested could make it more challenging for them to access the vaccine.
Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are covered by the four major health management organizations: Clalit, Meuhedet, Leumit and Maccabi.
In East Jerusalem, the willingness of Palestinians to be vaccinated has been low. Only 13 percent of East Jerusalem Palestinians had been vaccinated against coronavirus as of Monday night, compared to approximately 23% of all Jerusalem residents.
Almost no West Bank Palestinians have been vaccinated, although a few small shipments of vaccine doses have reached Ramallah. Palestinian officials have said they anticipate beginning their vaccination campaign in mid-February.
A fierce debate has raged for several weeks over whether Israel is ultimately responsible for providing vaccines to the Palestinians.
Israeli officials have said that the Oslo Accords, a series of bilateral agreements between Israel and Ramallah from the 1990s, delegated that responsibility to the Palestinian Authority. Human rights groups claim that Israel occupies Palestinian areas, making Israel ultimately responsible for their welfare.
Most Palestinian workers are not members of any healthcare provider. Although a 2020 Israeli High Court case charged employers with registering their employees, it is unclear how many have actually been insured.
Unlike foreign workers from other countries, who arrive in Israel for extended periods of time, many Palestinian workers cross back and forth between Israel and the West Bank on a daily basis.
The constant movement of Palestinian workers back and forth across the Green Line has sparked concerns from both Israeli and Palestinian health officials that they could transfer fresh coronavirus cases between the regions.
A union of construction companies appealed to the Health Ministry on Tuesday to provide vaccines for its employees.
The letter — which was also sent to the Civil Administration — noted that the 65,000 Palestinian workers come into close contact with some 205,000 Israelis employed at construction sites, creating a COVID-19 infection risk.
“In light of the close and years-long partnership between the Israeli employers and workers and the Palestinian workers at construction sites, we believe it would be just and moral to advance this,” the association wrote.