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Not Providing Covid-19 Vaccinations to Palestinians Is Proof of Israel's Medical Apartheid

The coronavirus does not stop at checkpoints. As an occupier, Israel must provide medical supplies to Palestinians and adopt measures to combat the disease there.

A Palestinian paramedic takes a nasal swab to test for the coronavirus, at the Ministry of Health Sabha Al Harazeen clinic, in Al Shejaeiya neighborhood, in the east of Gaza City, 22 March 2021. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A Palestinian paramedic takes a nasal swab to test for the coronavirus, at the Ministry of Health Sabha Al Harazeen clinic, in Al Shejaeiya neighborhood, in the east of Gaza City, 22 March 2021. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In Israel, more than five million people, or more than half the population, have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and case numbers are dropping.

Just a few kilometres away in Palestine, COVID cases are rising, all of its estimated 200 ventilators are in use, and the Palestinian Authority announced it can no longer put additional COVID patients on ventilators.

Israel has refused to provide vaccines for the more than four million Palestinians living under its military rule.

Why the disparity? Because Israel has refused to provide vaccines for the more than four million Palestinians living under its military rule.

In short, this is medical apartheid where one group gets the privilege of being vaccinated while the other suffers under the weight of disease, forcing doctors to make decisions about who lives and who dies.

Living under Israeli military rule means virtually all decisions, particularly regarding movement, are controlled by Israel. These rules apply to people, and to goods, too. Israeli permission is needed to send anything into or out of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. With no airport or a seaport of their own, everything sent to Palestinians must also be brought in through Israel—including vaccines.

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To make matters worse, while refusing to provide vaccines to Palestinians, Israel has sent vaccines to Guatemala and Honduras—two countries that moved their embassies to Jerusalem in defiance of international law; countries whose actions further harm Palestinians.

COVID-19 is not the only example of Israel’s medical apartheid. Israel controls so many aspects of Palestinian life, including healthcare. It has even stopped medical supplies, like radiation equipment for cancer treatment, from reaching Palestinian hospitals—leaving patients without care options at home.

Many argue that Israel is under no obligation to provide the COVID vaccine to Palestinians. But they are wrong. International law firmly establishes that an occupier— which Israel is—must provide medical supplies and adopt measures to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.

And beyond law, what about the moral or ethical obligation to help?

This virus does not discriminate between those who are Christian, those who are Muslim and those who are Jewish. It does not stop at checkpoints. The time to end the medical apartheid is now.

Diana Buttu

Diana Buttu

Diana Buttu is a Palestinian lawyer and analyst who served as a legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2000 to 2005.

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