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Sanders lauds Israeli health officials for pushing to vaccinate Palestinians

Progressive senator, who has criticized Jewish state over issue, urges Jerusalem to heed experts’ recommendation, saying it’s correct on both moral and public health grounds

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 25, 2021, examining wages at large profitable corporations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 25, 2021, examining wages at large profitable corporations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

US Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday commended senior Israeli health officials who have urged the government to vaccinate the Palestinians, in a rare statement of praise for Jerusalem authorities from the progressive lawmaker.

Linking to an NPR article headlined “Israeli Health Officials To Government: Vaccinate All Palestinians,” Sanders tweeted, “I applaud the Israeli health officials for their efforts.”

“Making sure all Palestinians receive vaccines is the right thing to do from both a public health and moral perspective. I hope the Israeli government follows their advice as quickly as possible,”

In the linked story, outgoing Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto told NPR, “This is really important, to vaccinate the entire Palestinian Authority population, and I believe it will go this way.”

“This is the recommendation of all the experts, and I believe that the politicians will follow our recommendations,” he continued. “It is an important objective, from a public health point of view, and of course also from a humanitarian point of view.”

Itamar Grotto seen during a press conference at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on December 20, 2009 (Flash90)

Critics point to the fourth Geneva Convention, which requires occupying powers to provide for the health needs of the occupied, but Israel rejects the application of the statute over the West Bank and Gaza and says the Oslo Accords absolve it of responsibility over such matters, instead transferring them to the Palestinian Authority.

Last month, Israel delivered roughly 2,000 of its own doses to the PA and has pledged an additional 3,000 doses that have yet to be delivered.

Jerusalem has also allowed the transfer of 10,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine donated by Russia to the PA. Two thousand of those doses were transferred to the Gaza Strip last week after the cabinet initially held up the exchange.

The PA announced last month that Israel had agreed to vaccinate Palestinians who work in Israel. Jerusalem mulled over the matter for over a week before announcing Sunday that it would indeed begin doing so in the coming days — an endeavor that will require doses for roughly 110,000 Palestinians.

Criticism of Israel’s policy on the matter grew louder last week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that it would be sending thousands of surplus coronavirus vaccines to a group of allied countries, while Palestinians remained almost entirely unvaccinated.

“As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the health of all the people under its control,” Sanders tweeted then. “It is outrageous that Netanyahu would use spare vaccines to reward his foreign allies while so many Palestinians in the occupied territories are still waiting.”

Some of those doses made it to Honduras and the Czech Republic before the government froze the plan, which Netanyahu had advanced without consulting with the relevant ministries.

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