Palestinian students wearing face masks stand in line to enter their school after personal training, interrupted as part of the new type of coronavirus (Covid-19) measures, resumed for elementary and secondary school students in the Gaza Strip today on January 13, 2021.
Ali Jadallah | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Israel’s decision to give 5,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to frontline Palestinian health workers has been criticized by Palestinians and right-wing groups as inadequate and inconsistent with the country’s commitments.
“Israel’s delivery of 5,000 doses of vaccine to Palestinian health workers pales in comparison to the nearly 5 million doses it has already provided to Israeli citizens,” Omar Shakir, Israeli and Palestinian director of Human Rights Watch, told CNBC after the announcement. Just over 5 million people live in the Palestinian Territories.
The office of Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that the broadcast was approved on Sunday. This was the first such step since the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine began shipping through the 9 million country in mid-December. Israel has since run the world’s fastest vaccination campaign in terms of shots per person, and says more than a quarter of its population has received at least the first dose of vaccine since December 19.
In this aerial photo, taken in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday January 4, 2020, people are queuing outside a Covid-19 mass vaccination center in Rabin Sqaure. Israel plans to vaccinate 70% to 80% of its population by April or May. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has said.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Palestinian Authority did not comment on the news. Until the last announcement, however, no vaccines had reached the Palestinians, except for those who lived in East Jerusalem or worked in the Palestinian hospitals there.
“Israel retains overall control”
For rights organizations and Palestinian interest groups, this was a breach of duty by Israel, which the United Nations has classified as an occupying state over the Palestinian territories.
“Israel retains overall control over land, over the population register, over the movement of people and goods and over the airspace. Under international law, this type of control is linked to obligations towards an occupied population,” said Shakir.
“Israel’s obligations under international law after more than 50 years of occupation, the end of which is not in sight, go far beyond the supply of some vaccines if they have the capacity,” he added, “but rather offer the Palestinians in the occupied territory equal access to the vaccine on par with what it offers its own citizens. “
A health care worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at Clalit Health Services in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli city of Bnei Brak on January 6, 2021.
JACK GUEZ | AFP | Getty Images
The Israeli health and foreign ministries did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comments in response to these specific statements, but previously stressed that the Israeli coordinator of government activities in the territories had been working with the Palestinian Authority to provide ventilators, test kits and other medical devices to transfer “Donated by the international community.”
There was also joint training of some Israeli-Palestinian medical teams, COGAT told CNBC.
However, Israeli officials argue that ultimate responsibility for health care and vaccine acquisition rests with the Palestinian Authority, which the Palestinians have elected to be the government of the West Bank.
Human Rights Watch’s Shakir denies this. “The fact that Palestinians also bear responsibility does not negate the Israeli role. Ultimately, as occupying powers, they are responsible for the supply and well-being of the occupied population,” he said.
“The hospitals are full of patients”
Nouar Qutob, assistant professor and Covid-19 data researcher at Arab American University in the city of Ramallah on the West Bank, is concerned about the situation.
“Things are worrying. We have cases, cases we don’t know about, the hospitals are already full of patients. And the British variant is now in Palestine,” Qutob told CNBC, referring to a new strain of the first identified coronavirus in the UK and found to be 70% more communicable.
As a resident of East Jerusalem, Qutob has an Israeli residence and was able to receive the Pfizer vaccine. She commutes to work from home in Ramallah, which has a private Covid-19 testing center, but said the rate of people tested has decreased.
“People avoid testing because they don’t want to give up work,” she said.
A worker cleans the classes in preparation for school before teaching in person in specific classes at Taybe Schools in Khan Yunis, Gaza, October 4, 2020 on October 10, 2020.
Mustafa Hassona | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The new variant of the virus that now exists in the Palestinian Territories is “really worrying because it means more cases – and we still don’t have the vaccine in the West Bank,” she said. Qutob spoke to CNBC ahead of the Israeli announcement on Sunday, but since the delivery of the 5,000 doses of vaccine is only for frontline Palestinian health workers, it won’t do much to change the infection situation for the general population.
The latest data from the World Health Organization shows 178,900 confirmed coronavirus cases among Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, with more than 2,000 deaths.
The Palestinians expect the first major vaccine shipments in March
The Palestinian Authority expects to receive its first shipments of independently sourced vaccines in March.
Yasser Bouzia, an official with the Palestinian Ministry of Health, told CNBC that the PA is currently in a bilateral agreement with AstraZeneca for 2 million doses of its UK-developed vaccine. An additional 2 million vaccine doses are expected to be received through COVAX, a global program established to ensure equitable access to vaccines around the world.
“That will cover almost the majority of the population. And after that we will look to other sources to get nearly 1 million more people vaccinated because we want to vaccinate nearly 5.2 million people,” said Bouzia.
Until then, the infections will still spread despite government restrictions.
“People don’t seem to want to abide by the closings and regulations, they just suffer from bad economic situations,” said Qutob. “I don’t see people following the rules and the virus is spreading, and it’s worrying.”