UN: Israel’s impressive Covid-19 vaccine launch sidelines Palestinians

Israeli settlers in the West Bank are being inoculated , Palestinians in nearby villages are not

An Israeli volunteer receives the second dose of an experimental Israeli-made COVID-19 vaccine at the Sheba Medical Center, the country's largest hospital, in Ramat Gan near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2021. The Israeli vaccine is in its experimental stage and available only for volunteers of all ages, said the spokesman of the hospital.
 / AFP / JACK GUEZ

Israel has inoculated an impressive number of people in its coronavirus vaccine drive, but Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza are at the back of the line, the UN said on Thursday.

UN human rights investigators Michael Lynk and Tlaleng Mofokeng said that Israel is leading the world in Covid-19 vaccinations, with more than 16 per cent of its nine million citizens having already receiving doses.

“However, Israel has not ensured that Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza will have any near-future access to the available vaccines,” the experts said.

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About 160,000 Palestinians living under occupation have tested positive for Covid-19 since March 2020 and more than 1,700 have died, the World Health Organisation said. Infection and death rates have risen steadily in recent weeks.

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem were offered vaccines by Israel, the experts said, but those in the West Bank and Gaza will wait "many weeks" for inoculations ordered separately by the Palestinian Authority via a low-cost UN-backed scheme.

They are particularly worried about residents of Gaza, which suffers “serious water and electricity shortages, and endemic poverty and unemployment” as a result of a 13-year blockade.

“This means that more than 4.5 million Palestinians will remain unprotected and exposed to Covid-19, while Israeli citizens living near and among them – including the Israeli settler population – will be vaccinated,” the experts said.

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“Morally and legally, this differential access to necessary health care in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a century is unacceptable.”

Israel's mission to the UN in New York did not immediately answer The National's request for comment.

Vaccinating its relatively small, dense population at a world-beating pace, Israel seeks to have administered one or both jabs to five million people and reopen its economy by mid-March.

Elderly, sick and high-risk Israelis have been prioritised so far. This may be expanded to include children aged over 12 in the coming weeks as vaccine shipments become more regular, Israeli officials said.

Israel is required by international law to provide decent health care to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – areas that Israel has occupied since the 1967 war – the experts said.

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