After a deal with Pfizer, Israel is leading the world in Covid-19 vaccinations, with a goal of vaccinating everyone over 16 by the end of March. It has already vaccinated about 20% of its population.
It is not providing vaccines to the millions of Palestinians living under its rule in the Occupied Territories, let alone to Gaza. Israel may have completed its vaccination programme by the time Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank start getting vaccinated.
Israel has done badly in the pandemic, with lockdowns lifted too fast and inadequate social policies. It is now in the middle of its third and biggest wave of infections. Out of nine million people, the country has had over 3,700 deaths — a worse rate than anywhere else in the Middle East bar Iran (though not as bad as the UK).
Last year saw mass protests against the Netanyahu regime’s Covid-19 policies, which it then banned, supposedly on public health grounds. Netanyahu’s approval ratings fell dramatically, and he is trying to regain political ground with the vaccine drive.
Israel’s health service is underfunded and overstretched, but, as a senior Tel Aviv nurse noted, a vaccine “operation at such scale could not have happened in a private healthcare system”.
The Palestine Authority areas have had a lower death rate than Israel, presumably because their population is younger (average age 21). Israel’s policy of refusing to provide vaccines to the Palestinians is, however, an outrage. As Saleh Higazi of Amnesty International put it: “There could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones”.
And despite the tight checkpoint regime, 60,000 (unvaccinated) Palestinians enter Israel to work every day.
Israel’s health minister Yuli Edelstein summed up his attitude: “They have to learn how to take care of themselves… I don’t think that there’s anyone in this country… that can imagine I would be taking a vaccine from the Israeli citizen, and, with all the goodwill, give it to our neighbours”.
The “leave them to it” approach does not extend to letting the Palestinians rule themselves free of Israeli military control...
Sixty Israeli secondary school students have signed an open letter insisting “We will not be soldiers of the Israeli occupation” and refusing to serve in the Israeli army, at the risk of imprisonment. This is a significant resurgence of “refuser” activism.
On 1 January, 75 Palestinian workers at the Israeli Yamit Sinoun factory producing water filtration systems in a West Bank settlement began an open-ended strike to demand their employer fulfils an agreement on working conditions, wages, sick leave, holidays and pensions concluded after a strike in November.
The boss has justified himself not only on the the basis of the capitalist desire for cheap production, but with a racist assertion Palestinian workers should not enjoy equal rights.