COVID – some facts and explanations

Tuesday January 26th 2021

The number of covid-19 cases in the West Bank and Gaza so far is 175,416 and the number of deaths is about 1,967. [Updated figures can be found here: ochaopt.org/covid-19]

The Palestinian citizens of Israel and the 350,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem are entitled to vaccines from Israel. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are going to be vaccinated.

Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza have had almost no access to vaccines yet. The Palestine Authority has ordered Russian Sputnik vaccines but only 5,000 doses have arrived so far. The World Health Organisation COVAX scheme is expected to cover only 20% of the population and to take months to arrive.

In the towns and villages of the West Bank (Areas A and B under the Oslo Accords) the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health has been providing health care since 1994. Hamas is running the Ministry of Health in Gaza, although they receive funds from the PA.

The position in international law is that the occupying power is responsible for the welfare of Palestinians, including basic health care. Vaccinations should be part of that medical care and it makes sense for Israel and Palestine treated as a single epidemiological unit.

Counter-claim

Israel counter-argues that the Oslo Accords gave responsibility to the Palestinian Authority. However, the Accords were written with a view to them lasting for 5 years. The World Bank has calculated the cost to the Palestinian economy of Israel’s occupation as $3.4 billion, so leaves the Palestinian Authority in a poor position to meet the health and other needs of the population.

Professor Ardi Imseis, an expert on the law of belligerent occupation, was asked a question about this recently. “Does the fact that there is a Palestinian government absolve Israel of its responsibilities as an occupier?” He answered: “No, it doesn’t absolve Israel from its duties. Article 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention requires occupiers to facilitate relief schemes for the protected population. This includes supply of medicines. Article 60 makes it clear that the occupier has an obligation to ensure that the population as a whole receives vaccination in a timely way. But leaving aside the law it seems monumentally stupid not to do so given the close proximity.”

The Independent reported that the Israeli Ministry of Health had refused to supply vaccines to Palestinian health workers.

Foreign Office questions briefing

To complete the picture, here is some information sent from Palestine Briefing for Foreign Office questions on Tuesday January 19th on the inequitable distribution of covid-19 vaccines in the Global South in general.

Palestine is a particularly flagrant example. Israel has achieved the widest coronavirus vaccine coverage in proportion to its population but whilst we congratulate them on this achievement, we should urge them to extend the vaccine to the whole of the population under their control regardless of ethnic or religious heritage.

What the UK can do

Layla Moran MP has led the charge in calling for the UK Government to take action to help Palestinians receive the vaccine. She has written to the Minister, with many other MPs, setting out the necessary steps.

Here are six things the UK Government could do about it:

  1. Do all in its power to help the Palestine Authority to procure enough doses of the vaccine to protect healthcare workers and the most vulnerable. The UK has 350 million doses on order for a population of 67 million. The PA has so far been promised vaccines for only 20% of its population and that is “some months” away.
  2. Urge the Israeli government to accede to the World Health Organisation’s request to provide extra medical staff in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. So far it has refused.
  3. Urge Israel to stop demolishing buildings in the occupied territories, including health-related buildings. During the pandemic the Israeli army has demolished a quarantine centre for people suspected of contracting coronavirus in Hebron, a Palestinian security checkpoint set up at the entrance of the city of Jenin to test for coronavirus and a first aid centre being built for Bedouin children in the Jordan Valley village of Ibzeek.
  4. Urge Israel to tell the government’s ambulance service Magen David Adom to issue covid-19-related public health information not just in Hebrew but also in Arabic for the 20% of the Israeli population who are Palestinian citizens of Israel.
  5. Remind the Israeli government of its obligation under the international law on military occupations (Articles 59 and 60 of the 4th Geneva Convention) to facilitate relief schemes for the occupied population including supply of medicines and to ensure they receive vaccination in a timely way (see footnote).
  6. Remind the Israeli government that it is in its own interest to ensure that Palestinians living or working in Israel or in illegal Israeli settlements are protected from Covid-19. The coronavirus does not respect borders, nor does it discriminate on religious or ethnic lines.

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