The two Palestinians live in Kafr Aqaba, a territory of the Fingers that is part of Greater Jerusalem under Israeli law, but is considered an illegally annexed territory under international law after it was seized by Jordan in 1967.
It is also separated from Jerusalem by Israel’s immense concrete security wall. Jewish Israelis rarely come here, except in uniform, to conduct military raids.
Mahmoud Udeh, like thousands of other residents of the city, has a Palestinian ID card. His friend Anan Abu Ayishe has an Israeli identity card that identifies him as a permanent resident of East Jerusalem. This will allow him to participate in Israel’s vaccination campaign, the largest in the world, which is on track to meet the government’s goal of vaccinating the entire country by the end of March.
However, at least 4.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been left behind. So far, no one has been vaccinated, and most of them are unlikely to be vaccinated soon – because there is no Covid-19 vaccination campaign in the Palestinian territories.
So when Anan gets vaccinated and continues to cut and sell meat with his friend from the carcasses of goats and cows hanging on hooks in the shop, he says he will feel guilty.
Half the people here can’t stand it, so why should I if they can’t? I won’t, he told CNN.
It’s racist, Mahmoud added.
According to UN experts, a vaccination policy that distinguishes between those who have an Israeli ID card and those who do not is unacceptable.
The UN experts’ report states that Israel has been the occupying power in and over Gaza and the West Bank since 1967 and is therefore ultimately responsible for the health care of people living under occupation.
According to an expert report published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Israel should extend its vaccination campaign to all Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
The experts explained that Israel, as an occupying power, is obliged under the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide medical care in the occupied territories to the extent of the resources at its disposal. According to Article 56, Israel must adopt and implement the necessary preventive and proactive measures to counter the spread of infectious diseases and epidemics, in cooperation with national and local authorities, the human rights organization said in a statement.
Experts also said 4.5 million Palestinians will remain unprotected and exposed to Covid-19, while Israeli citizens living in and around the immediate area, including Israeli settlers, will be vaccinated. Morally and legally, this differential access to basic health care is unacceptable amid the worst global health crisis of the century.
But since the Israeli vaccination campaign reaches more than 20% of the Israeli population (including East Jerusalem residents), this is not the characterization of Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.
Our calculation was based on Israeli citizens. If we get to a situation where everyone in the country who wants to be vaccinated gets vaccinated, we will be more than willing to share vaccines with our neighbors, Edelstein told CNN.
Right now they’re Israeli citizens…. I have never heard of Israel’s obligation to pay for vaccines for others.
The Israeli government refers to the Oslo Accords signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the mid-1990s, which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The first of these agreements contains a provision making the PA responsible for the health of all Palestinians under its civil administration.
The experts acknowledge that this is not an easy task as they try to navigate between the obligations of Oslo, which was not a final status agreement, and the obligations of the Geneva Conventions.
In an interview with CNN, Edelstein commented on the decision in terms of interests, not obligations.
We do not currently provide vaccines, but we understand that it is in Israel’s interest that we do not find ourselves in a situation where we are vaccinated and then we come out of this difficult situation and the number of people on the Palestinian side continues to increase, Edelstein added.
According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate for confirmed cases of covid-19 in the Palestinian Territories and East Jerusalem (1.1 percent) is higher than in Israel (0.7 percent), but significantly lower than in the United States (1.7 percent) and the United Kingdom (2.6 percent).
PA Health Minister Dr. Mai Al-Kayleh said they expect to receive the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of March, but no specific date has been set for its arrival. The ministry says it has contracts with four companies for the production of the vaccine. The vaccines will cover 70 percent of the Palestinian population and the World Health Organization will supply 20 percent to the ministry, the PA said in a statement on 9. January.
In Ramallah’s state-run central hospital, doctors treat coronavirus patients 24 hours a day in Covid’s only intensive care unit. As in many other hospitals around the world, lay personnel have been deployed to help fight the pandemic. But after prolonged incarceration, the admissions decline and on the day of CNN’s visit, the ICU is not overcrowded.
Dr. Wafa Shihadeh, a general surgeon with a private practice, has been working at Covid 19 for months. He says he has seen many of his colleagues succumb to the infection and pass it on to their families.
We are starting to get depressed because we are not getting vaccines here in the Palestinian territories, he said. And across the border in Israel… I think until three days ago about 1,600,000 people were vaccinated, and here in Palestine the number of vaccinated is zero.
Ayber Salman contributed to this report.