Settler head urges vaccinating Palestinians, paid for by tax revenues sent to PA

David Elhayani and Palestinian anti-PA activist agree on urgency of inoculating West Bank residents after vaccine drive stalls

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

(L-R) Yesha Council director Yigal Dilmoni, Palestinian Workers Association chair Muhammad Arif Masad and Yesha Council chair David Elhayani in the Jordan Valley on March 15, 2021. (Yesha Council)
(L-R) Yesha Council director Yigal Dilmoni, Palestinian Workers Association chair Muhammad Arif Masad and Yesha Council chair David Elhayani in the Jordan Valley on March 15, 2021. (Yesha Council)

A prominent settler leader on Monday called on Israel to vaccinate Palestinians in the West Bank and pay for it by deducting the cost from the tax revenues Jerusalem transfers to Ramallah.

The statement from David Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors, followed a meeting he held in his office at the Jordan Valley Regional Council with Muhammad Arif Masad, an anti-Palestinian Authority activist who heads a union representing Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements.

“On behalf of both of us, I call on the Israeli government to vaccinate the Palestinians. We live together, both in Judea and Samaria and in the State of Israel, and it is time to vaccinate everyone,” Elhayani said.

“I came here to make it clear to everyone that the future of our children is in our hands,” Masad told Elhayani, according to a Yesha press release.

Palestinian workers unload a truck from 20,000 doses of Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine upon its arrival to Gaza Strip, at the Rafah crossing border with Egypt, February 21, 2021. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

“Either we will establish a future for them that is without bloodshed or we will leave them with the same fate we have endured — like predatory animals,” Masad continued.

“We are here to maintain your health and the health of our people. The vaccine, just as it is important to us and will maintain our health, so too it will also maintain your health,” he added.

Masad has become a marginalized figure among Palestinians in the West Bank due to his willingness to cooperate not just with Israelis within the Green Line but with settler leaders as well.

Monday’s meeting came as West Bank Palestinian areas were beginning a week of total lockdown amid what officials described as an unprecedented spike in coronavirus cases.

A nightly curfew with a weekend lockdown has already been in place across the West Bank for two weeks, but it has failed to stem the tide of infections.

Active coronavirus infections in the West Bank have nearly doubled over the past two weeks, from 9,632 to 18,599 active cases. The death toll has also been rising rapidly, with the West Bank seeing 27 deaths in the past 24 hours.

But with poor testing — only around 5,500 tests were administered by the Palestinian Authority on Saturday to its more than 2.8 million residents — infections may be far higher than known. Around 30 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive across the West Bank on Saturday, indicating that the virus was likely spreading widely undetected.

Palestinian health workers at a hospital in the West Bank town of Nablus, where health workers were vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) earlier today, after the delivery of vaccine doses from Israel. February 3, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Israel has surged ahead in immunizing its population, but Palestinians have yet to see a public vaccination campaign. The Palestinian Authority has contracted with several providers — including AstraZeneca and nations Russia and China — to acquire doses, but very few have arrived.

Palestinian Authority officials have repeatedly set public deadlines for the vaccines’ arrival — only to see them fall through. Late January, early February, mid-February and early March were all named as potential arrival dates, but none came to pass.

Palestinians sit as PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh opens a hospital for COVID-19 patients in the West Bank city of Nablus, on January 16, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/ Flash90)

Ramallah has said it anticipates receiving 2 million doses of the AstraZenaca vaccine sometime in April. According to PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila, around 100,000 Chinese Sinopharm vaccines are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

The PA also expects to receive around 37,000 Pfizer vaccines and between 240,000 – 405,600 AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX framework, a global vaccine program for poor and middle-income countries backed by the World Health Organization.

After numerous bureaucratic hurdles, the Pfizer vaccines, intended for use by medical staff, are set to reach Ramallah on March 17, a WHO spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

Around 12,000 doses have reached the Palestinian Authority so far — 2,000 Moderna vaccines from Israel (which pledged 5,000 last month but has yet to deliver the remaining 3,000) and 10,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Around 2,000 of those were sent to Gaza, with another 200 sent to Jordan, according to the PA Health Ministry.

The remaining 9,800 vaccines were allocated to the West Bank, the Health Ministry said. But accusations of nepotism and corruption have dogged their distribution, with a substantial number of shots reportedly going to those close to government officials rather than to healthcare workers.

In a statement, Ramallah acknowledged that some doses went to government officials, some young students and the Palestinian national soccer team. But they maintained that 90 percent of the vaccines were given to front-line healthcare workers.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report. 

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