Two hundred rabbis have signed a petition initiated by Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli NGO, calling on the government to hasten the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines among the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The rabbis, among them Reform, Conservative and some Orthodox figures, said that providing vaccines to the Palestinians was a moral imperative especially in Gaza over which, the rabbis asserted, Israel exercises extensive control. “We, rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, call upon the government of Israel to expedite the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine throughout Israel, and in parallel – with as much importance and urgency – in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” wrote the rabbis who signed the Rabbis for Human Rights petition.
“Without Israel’s intervention, the rate and scale of COVID-19 infection in Gaza will skyrocket. The State of Israel, which exercises extensive control over Gaza’s land, sea and air access, should acknowledge responsibility for the health and welfare of the two million Palestinians who live there.” The rabbis cited the words of the great medieval scholar Maimonides who wrote in his Mishna Torah codex of Jewish law that it is a religious obligation to save other human beings.
In addition, 18 Israeli, Palestinian and international health and human rights organizations have said that Israel must provide the necessary vaccines to Palestinian health care systems. In a joint statement the organizations wrote, “The Israeli Ministry of Health has not yet publicly formulated an allocation policy that includes reserving specific amounts for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory, nor has it established a timeline for the transfer of these vaccines. However, Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically provides that an occupier has the duty of ensuring ‘the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.’ This duty includes providing support for the purchase and distribution of vaccines to the Palestinian population under its control.”
Moreover, organizations’ statement says, this duty involves “ensuring that the vaccines provided for the Palestinian population meet the same standards of approval as those distributed to the Israeli population. Ensuring smooth entry of vaccines and other medical equipment to the Palestinian territories, including preserving a ‘cold chain’ to keep vaccines refrigerated during transit if necessary. Where the PA [Palestinian Authority] cannot fund vaccines and their distribution among the Palestinian population, Israel must provide full financial support that is not deducted from the PA’s tax monies.” The organizations also demand “Lifting the closure on the Gaza Strip to enable the proper functioning of its health system in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Among the organizations who signed the appeal: Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Medical Human Rights Network (IFHHRO), Physicians for Human Rights, The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Rabbis for Human Rights, Medecins du Monde France, Medici per i Diritti Umani – MEDU (Physicians for Human Rights Italy) and Combatants for Peace.
Amnesty International called on Israel on Wednesday January 6, to provide coronavirus vaccine doses to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty said Israel needed to “stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and immediately act to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
On Tuesday, January 5, coronavirus claimed the lives of 20 people in the Palestinian territories, with 1191 new cases reported and 1,804 patients recovered from the disease, according to Palestinian Minister of Health Mai Alkaila. In her daily report on coronavirus in Palestine, Alkaila said that nine people died in the West Bank, six in the Gaza Strip, and five in East Jerusalem in a 24-hour period recorded over two days, bringing the total death toll so far among Palestinians in the territories to 1,663.
New coronavirus cases for in the report issued for that day included 545 new cases in the West Bank (138 in the Ramallah district, 70 in Nablus, 69 in Hebron, 65 in Jenin, 32 in Tulkarm, and Bethlehem 39), with 683 patients having recovered in the West Bank during that 24-hour period. In the Gaza Strip 396 new cases were reported as were 866 recoveries. East Jerusalem had 250 new cases and 255 recoveries recorded over two days. Alkaila said 113 patients in the territories are in intensive care, among them 27 on ventilators.
Israel began inoculating its citizens, including Israeli settlers in the West Bank, on December 19, starting with medical workers and the persons 60 years old and over, and has until now injected more than a million people. Far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday, January 2, he hoped that within a month 2.25 million Israelis — a quarter of the population of nine million — would have received the two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab needed for optimum effect.