Israel announced on Thursday, February 19, it would allow Palestinian workers in the country to return to their West Bank homes starting today, Sunday, February 21. This constitutes a relaxing of restrictions that have forced tens of thousands of them to spend the night in Israel since the start of its third nationwide lockdown on December 27, in an attempt to prevent infection being spread by people moving between the occupied West Bank and Israel. Due to these restrictions, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers have had to sleep in Israel on a daily basis for over a month and a half. However, some Israeli officials assess that “many workers have been returning illegally to the West Bank each day.”
Israel’s Health Ministry decided this month that Palestinians from the West Bank who live or work in Israel — whether legally or illegally — would not receive vaccinations in Israel’s makeshift health clinics. According to a statement published by the Health Ministry on February 10, health clinics are allowed to provide COVID-19 vaccines to status-less individuals with documentation proving they have been in Israel for the past six months, as well as any undocumented person over the age of 50, regardless of how long they have been in the country. However, this same policy bars Palestinian workers or those illegally residing in Israel from receiving vaccinations.
On Thursday, February 18, following pressure from human rights groups, the HeaIth Ministry announced that Israel will vaccinate the 120,000 Palestinians with work permits, using vaccines produced by Moderna, the Walla news site reported. Israel, which is mostly using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, has been debating how to utilize the Moderna vaccines it has acquired, which are more easily transportable. According to the Health Ministry, it has not been allowing health providers to administer Moderna shots to avoid confusion on the handling of the different vaccines. However, despite the announcement, it still remains unclear who will be in charge of administering the Moderna vaccine to the Palestinian workers or when the vaccinating will begin.
Human rights groups have demanded that the Israeli government vaccinate all Palestinians under occupation, including in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This demand is especially pertinent for Palestinians living in Areas B and C of the West Bank, who are under the direct control of Israel.
So far, Israel has transferred only a few thousand vaccines to the West Bank intended for medical workers. Furthermore, only after occupation officials had initially blocked the entrance into the Gaza Strip earlier last week of 2,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines sent by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, did they finally authorize the transfer of the medication on Wednesday, February 17. A shipment of 20,000 more Sputnik V doses are set to be transferred to Gaza by the UAE via Rafah crossing with Egypt.