NEW YORK, Jan 15 (APP): As Israel presses ahead with its coronavirus vaccination programme, a number of human rights groups and United Nations rights experts have called on the Jewish state to also provide doses to Palestinians in the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza.
Amnesty International said denying Covid-19 vaccines to Palestinians exposed Israel’s “institutionalised discrimination”.
“The Israeli government must stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and immediately act to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, ” the London-based organization said in a statement issued on Thursday.
“There could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones”.
With more than one and a half a million Israelis now vaccinated – more than 15 per cent of the population– the country leads the world in its inoculation drive, but the only Palestinians to have received the shots are residents of East Jerusalem.
Currently there are no plans to extend the drive to Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, even though Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, as Israeli citizens, have been vaccinated.
The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah says it has applied to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations for help with obtaining vaccines.
As coronavirus infections and deaths continue to rise steadily, WHO noted that since March, more than 1,60,000 Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) had tested positive and over 1,700 had succumbed to COVID-19.
And as the coronavirus continues to ravage the West Bank and Gaza – fracturing an already badly under-resourced Palestinian health care system – United Nations Special Rapporteurs Michael Lynk and Tlaleng Mofoken drew specific attention to the deteriorating health situation in Gaza, which is already facing a 13-year-old blockade, serious water and electricity shortages, and endemic poverty and unemployment.
The Special Rapporteurs indicated that COVID-19 vaccines ordered separately by the Palestinian Authority may not be delivered to the West Bank and Gaza en masse for many weeks.
This means that more than 4.5 million Palestinians will remain unprotected and exposed to COVID-19, while Israeli citizens living near and among them – including the Israeli settler population will be vaccinated.
“Morally and legally, this differential access to necessary health care in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a century is unacceptable.”
Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention to maintain health services in the occupied territory, the rights experts said.
“The right to health is also a fundamental human rights issue,” they stated, quoting international human rights law that stipulates the entitlement of everyone to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.
“The denial of an equal access to health care, such as on the basis of ethnicity or race, is discriminatory and unlawful”, stressed the UN experts.
The Special Rapporteurs also called on the Palestinian Authority and de facto administration in Gaza to cooperate with Israel in implementing a comprehensive OPT vaccination programme.
The denial of an equal access to health care…is discriminatory and unlawful — UN experts said, “It will only be through the sustained effort by all the governing authorities with the common goal of a comprehensive vaccination programme…on the basis of equality and best-practices that the prospect for the defeat of the pandemic will be possible”, they added.
Also noting that the Israeli Public Security Ministry instructed the Israeli Prison Service to not vaccinate Palestinian security prisoners, the experts recalled that due to the high risk of inmate infections, Israeli health authorities had previously given instructions for all prisoners in Israeli custody to be prioritized for vaccinations.
Special Rapporteur Lynk covers the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and Ms. Mofokeng safeguards the right to health.