Six Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday, March 25, demanding that Israel act to ensure the vaccination of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including by handing over surplus supplies of its own vaccine stocks. The petition was submitted by Physicians for Human Rights, HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Rabbis for Human Rights.
According to the Palestinian news agency WAFA, the number of new daily COVID-19 cases in Palestine is still high, with the Ministry of Health recording last Thursday 2,093 new cases and 20 deaths in 24 hours. Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Health Mai Alkaila said in her daily report on the state of the coronavirus in Palestine that 1,408 new cases, 18 deaths, and 1,886 recoveries were recorded in the West Bank; 554 new cases, two deaths, and 63 recoveries were recorded in the Gaza Strip; and East Jerusalem had 131 new cases and 214 recoveries recorded over a two day period. During the last 12 months, a total of 2,771 fatalities were recorded in these areas due to the virus.
The petition submitted to the High Court last Thursday argued that the PA “has an insufficient number of vaccines, whereas in what is practically the same area, the population of Israeli citizens and residents is almost fully vaccinated, apart from those who decline [to receive] it.” The government’s “current policy and failure to ensure that the entire population is vaccinated violates Palestinian inhabitants’ basic rights to life and bodily integrity, and represents an ongoing injustice,” the petitioners wrote, according to a statement released by Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. “Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank are filled to capacity, and some of them have stopped admitting cancer patients from the Gaza Strip who require urgent and lifesaving treatments,” the statement said.
The petition came the same day as Israel’s Health Ministry published figures showing that half of Israel’s population has now received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and that the positive test rate for infections has dropped to 1.3%, its lowest rate since June of last year.
The Palestinian Authority has independently contracted with several providers — including AstraZeneca, Russia and China — to acquire doses, but very few have arrived. The PA has begun receiving vaccines through COVAX, a global vaccine program for poor and middle-income countries backed by the World Health Organization. The program aims to provide enough free doses to immunize up to 20 percent of a participating country’s population and around 90 countries have signed up for the program. Around 61,440 vaccine doses earmarked for the PA reached Ramallah last week after arriving in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport the same day, including 37,440 doses from Pfizer and 24,000 from AstraZeneca.
COVAX intends to eventually provide around 400,000 AstraZeneca shots to the Palestinians, according to UNICEF. The vaccine has become controversial in recent days following reports of side effects: in a few rare cases, some of those vaccinated developed blood clots. Some European countries halted its use last week, but resumed administering the shots on Friday after health experts deemed it safe. Health officials in Gaza have also received around 60,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines funded by the United Arab Emirates and around 2,000 Sputnik V doses from the Palestinian Authority.
Israel has vaccinated over 100,000 Palestinians who work in Israel or its settlements, sending medical teams to administer the shots at checkpoints and settlers’ industrial zones in the occupied West Bank and border areas.
Related: OCHA Data Sheet and Reports on the COVID-19 crisis in Palestinian territories: