As is the case in much of the world, the need for COVID-19 vaccines in Israel and Palestine is significant. However, amid the Israel-Palestine conflict, Palestine has been struggling to obtain and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. This is especially true in the West Bank and Gaza. Many obstacles have impeded an equitable distribution of vaccines in Israel and Palestine. Israel’s military restrictions, laws and refusal to offer COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians have made it difficult for Palestinians to get vaccinated.
A Human Rights Issue
According to the United Nations’ human rights body, it is Israel’s responsibility to provide vaccines for the five million Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Providing differential access is legally and morally unacceptable under international law.
However, despite vaccinating Israeli citizens since December of 2020, Israel did not offer the vaccine to Palestinians until March of 2021. So far, Israel has vaccinated more than 50% of Israelis and about 5% of Palestinians. Increasing violence in the region has left thousands of Palestinians even more vulnerable to COVID-19. Despite many efforts for a ceasefire, conflict continues to engulf the citizens of Gaza and the West Bank. This has made it even more difficult for Palestinians to gain access to the vaccine.
Other obstacles have made it difficult to equitably distribute vaccines in Israel and Palestine. Gaza has been under blockade by both Egypt and Israel since 2007. This military restriction has made it difficult for resources and aid to reach the Palestinians living there. Today, an Israeli citizen is 60 times more likely to have a vaccination than a Palestinian citizen.
Thankfully, with the help of the international community, there have been several shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to Palestine. On March 17, 2021, Palestine received 37,440 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 24,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine through the COVAX initiative. COVAX is an international organization working to distribute the vaccine to the entire world, particularly to low-to-middle countries, and is backed by the World Health Organization.
Many communities and celebrities around the world, including Gigi and Bella Hadid, have been raising awareness of Palestinians struggles. Awareness is imperative as it highlights the unequal access Palestinians have to COVID-19 vaccines. The international support for Palestine can hopefully encourage leaders and nations to continue to fight vaccine inequity in Israel and Palestine and around the world.
China and Russia have sent thousands of vaccines to Gaza and the West Bank over the past few months. Many within the international community, including the U.N., continue to urge Israel to provide Palestinians with equitable access to the vaccine. Providing the COVID-19 vaccine to Palestinians helps the whole international community in its fight against the COVID-19 virus.
– Ariana Chin