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Millions of Palestinians excluded from Israel's Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, campaigners say

Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council accuses Israeli government of creating a ‘health apartheid’

ISRAEL was accused of racism and health apartheid today over the exclusion of millions of Palestinians from its much-lauded coronavirus vaccine roll-out.

The Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council (PHROC) and the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO) issued a joint statement condemning the deliberate omission of Palestinians in the occupied territories from the programme, which started on December 19.

“[Israel’s] occupying authorities have implemented its vaccine policy in a discriminatory, unlawful and racist manner by completely disregarding its obligations to Palestinian healthcare,” the statement said.

“Throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, apart from East Jerusalem, Israeli occupying authorities have reserved access to the vaccine to the unlawfully transferred-in settler population of Jewish Israelis in illegal settlements and denied the vaccine to the Palestinian population,” it continued.

Israel has been praised for its efforts in the Western media, most of which has overlooked the exclusion of some five million Palestinians in the occupied territories, where 165,000 active cases of coronavirus were registered by January 9.

The Palestinian authorities have been desperately seeking to secure vials of the vaccine at affordable prices, with the Foreign Ministry insisting that Israel “has clear legal obligations to the welfare of the Palestinian population under its illegal occupation.”

The PHROC and PNGO joint statement stressed that international law — in particular the Geneva conventions — obliges Tel Aviv as an occupying power to respect the right to health of the protected population.

This obligation includes the provision of medical supplies to the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israel claims that it has relinquished its responsibilities for healthcare in the occupied territories, asserting that they were devolved to the Palestinian Authority under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

But the PHROC and PNOG statement denied this, citing article eight of the fourth Geneva convention, which states that “protected persons may in no circumstances renounce in part or in entirety the rights secured to them by the present convention.” 

Palestine’s healthcare system has suffered from decades of deliberate neglect, hampering its ability to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

A United Nations report published today shows that 2020 was the second-worst year on record for the demolition of Palestinian homes, with some 776 structures destroyed.

The PHRIC and PNOG report warned that this, along with the long-standing Israeli practices of imposing closures on Palestinian cities, villages and towns, and continuous restrictions on movement and access, had undermined Palestinian access to healthcare.

Israel’s vaccination programme is entrenching “health apartheid” and is a breach of international law, the statement said, calling on the ”international community to hold Israel to account for denial of healthcare amounting to the wilful causing of great suffering and injury to the health of the Palestinian population.”

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