NGOs and the COVID-19 Vaccine Libel Against Israel
Israel has conducted a massive drive to vaccinate its population against the COVID-19 virus, a success that has garnered significant international media attention. To counter these positive images of Israel, numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have launched a specious and libelous campaign, claiming that Israel has failed to discharge its legal responsibility to provide vaccinations to Palestinians. Moreover, NGOs fault Israel for decisions made by the PA in exercising its responsibility over Palestinian healthcare.
On December 22, 2020, a number of Israeli, Palestinian, and international organizations – including Amnesty International, Adalah, B’Tselem, Al-Mezan, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), and Gisha – issued a declaration headlined “Israel must provide necessary vaccines to Palestinian health care systems.” They argued that Israel has “legal obligations” to “ensure that quality vaccines be provided to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and control.” They also asserted that Israel has a responsibility to prevent the passage of Russian-produced COVID-19 vaccines to the PA as long as these are not approved for use in Israel. This, despite the PA’s own policy based on obtaining this vaccine for its population. Essentially, these NGOs argue that the PA should be stripped of its agency concerning the public health of Palestinians.
In direct contradiction to this narrative, according to media reports, the PA has not sought Israeli assistance in procuring vaccines and has chosen not to cooperate with Israel on this issue. Moreover, the Oslo agreements stipulate that the PA – not Israel – is responsible for administering public health for Palestinians, including vaccinations, stating “Powers and responsibilities in the sphere of Health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian side, including the health insurance system.” Nevertheless, Israeli officials have publicly discussed providing the Palestinians with surplus COVID-19 vaccines, despite being under no obligation to do so.
Additional examples of NGO claims about Israel and Palestinian vaccinations
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
- On January 03, 2021, HRW Executive Director Ken Roth tweeted, “The Israeli government has already vaccinated 10% of its citizens for the coronavirus, but as the occupying power it has not vaccinated a single Palestinian. That means residents of illegal settlements get vaccinated but not yet the Palestinians next door.”
- Roth followed this with another tweet, “Someone doesn’t want you to know about Israel’s discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in distributing the Covid vaccine.”
- Roth added, “Blaming the corrupt, self-serving Palestinian Authority is no excuse. As the occupying power, the Israeli government is ultimately responsible for the lives of Palestinians under occupation. It should ensure that they receive the Covid vaccination, not just Israeli citizens.”
- On January 17, HRW published a press release calling for Israel to “provide Covid-19 vaccines to the more than 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.” According to HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, “Nothing can justify today’s reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian…The virus does not discriminate in who it infects, but the government of Israel discriminates in who it chooses to inoculate against it.”
- On January 5, 2021, Amnesty tweeted, “While Israel celebrates a record-setting vaccination drive, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in West Bank & Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or wait much longer – there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian.”
(Donors include the European Union, Norway, Ireland, Italy, France, and Spain.)
- On January 17, Al-Haq sent a letter to Pfizer “expressing concern at Israel’s racially discriminatory exclusion of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from its vaccination efforts.” In the letter, Al-Haq urged Pfizer to “ensure that its vaccine is not used to contribute to adverse human rights impacts, or to reinforce and further entrench the unlawful situation in Palestine as it stands,” as well as “stress that all peoples under Israel’s effective control must have their inalienable right to health respected and vindicated.”
Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI-I)
(Donors include European Union, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Diakonia (Sweden), Medico International (Germany), Bread for the World (Germany), HEKS-EPER (Switzerland), and UNHCR.)
- A December 17, Associated Press article noted, “Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a group that advocates for more equitable health care, says Israel has a legal obligation as an occupying power to purchase and distribute vaccines to the Palestinians. It says Israel must also ensure that vaccines that don’t meet its own safety guidelines — like the Russian shot — are not distributed in areas under its control.”
- Similarly, the Washington Post quoted PHR-I on December 19, saying, “Israel bears moral and humanitarian responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population under its control.”
(Donors include: Ireland (Irish Aid), Finland (Embassy of Finland in Tel Aviv), Switzerland, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Open Society Foundation, Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), Trocaire (Ireland), Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), and UNDP.)
- Reuters quoted Gisha on December 18, claiming that “Israel is obligated to protect the health and safety of all people living under its control, including by ensuring that the vaccine is available in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.”
- Similarly, on January 3, 2021, The Guardian reported, “Gisha, an Israeli rights group, said Palestinian efforts so far to look elsewhere for vaccines ‘does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians under occupation.’”
- On December 21, 2020, CAABU’s Chris Doyle wrote that “Few expect that Britain or other leading world powers will compel Israel to honor its legal duties” to provide vaccines for Palestinians.
(Donors include: Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland)
- On January 3, 2021, Terrestrial Jerusalem founder, Daniel Seidemann, tweeted,“More than example of apartheid, Israel’s failure to provide vaccinations to the W. Bank and Gaza is the embodiment of toxic occupation, where the Oslo Accords have become the foundations of occupation, rather than an engine to ending it.”
- He added, “53 years of occupation have instilled in many Israelis that we’ve nothing to do w/ Palestinians, & they’re imbued w/ a diminished humanity anyway.”