Inequality: Vaccination In Israel x Palestine

Israel and Palestine deal with major discrepancies when it comes to vaccination. The jewish state has been stipulated the most efficient in the world and is the first one able to vaccinate more than a half of its population, currently leading the world on doses per head according the University of Oxford digital platform Our World in Data. In comparison, Palestine struggles for the same biological immunity against the Covid-19 and faces an alarming number of hospitalized citizens. The Palestinian Authority, in spite of this is currently trying to contain the increase of infections and its spread with a vaccination campaign based on international donations. 

For that matter, the inequality of both situations is visible and also has deeper roots. The historical disparence between Israel and Palestine made it impossible to have equal access to the vaccines available, since the Palestinian territories have been disputed for more than 1.000 years. But in much more modern and contemporary times, in 1948, jews claimed the region as their own and the name “Israel” was first put in perspective when related to the creation of the first jewish organized state. Gaza and the West Bank were then attacked by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, leaving a whole predominantly islamic nation without what had been their land for decades. 

Nowadays, even puting the sanitary issue of the coronavirus behind, the Palestinian population have to deal with diverse economic and social instability, as well with the sensitive aspect of a sanitary emergency. On the other hand, the jewish nation has been extremely recognized from its contingency plan on the coronavirus epidemic, preventing the increase of deaths and hospitalizations since the vaccination campaign was launched. But doubts still remain regarding if the statistics wouldn't be false for not contemplating Palestinians. 

  1. 1. The internal risky aspects of vaccination in Israel

    About 5 million Israelis took the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, since December 20, 2020, which corresponds to over half of the 9.3 million of the state's citizens. On top of that, the second dose has already been applied to almost four, representing extraordinary numbers and a remarkable speed. 

    Ronie Golubkin, a 24 years old Israeli who lives in Haifa, a city located one hour north from Tel Aviv, took her second dose three weeks ago and now is relieved. “Last week we went to a bar and drank. It was so fun to get back and see the gathering and the city full of young people. It was amazing”, says. Golubkin's parents, sister and boyfriend were also already vaccinated. 

    Despite the normality, sanitary precautions are still being taken seriously. “We still go out with masks on. I work at the pharmacy so I have to work with one, we all have to wear it. At the shopping, everyone also still has to put it on, it’s still not allowed more than a hundred people in closed places and weddings are only now starting to come back with people who got the vaccine”, says Golubkin. Besides that, a green pass is required to enter locations. 

    The globally oughted herd immunity seems then each day closer to be reached by the Holy Land; its small size and the technological healthcare system are factors that help the country in its vaccination campaign. As a matter of fact, Israel’s sanitary structure was created 23 years ago and contains enormous records on every single citizen, fitting perfectly for being a center of medical research of any kind such as the one  needed in the Covid-19 pandemic. 

    However, the immunization achievement was combined to a risky investment: the Pfizer and BioNTech data deal. The agreement not only apparently cost twice as much as the one offered to the EU, but also contained several collateral effects - Israel seemingly became an open-air laboratory to the pharmaceutical giants, offering its meticulously and highly organized digital network’s access to these corporations. As good as the mass vaccination is, the strategy seems to worry biotech experts and raise ethical debates on the leak of the domestic medical records, since the concern isn’t just about foreign companies detaining all that information, but also the scary possibility of it being illegally hacked and leaked.

    Though part of the agreement is available to the public, most of it is still unsure, since a lot of blurred and censored parts make it hard to understand how much of the information is meant to be shared. Also, the quick obtainment of the 90% efficient Pfizer vaccine is seen by many as a political move from Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister for more than 15 years. "Bebe", as he’s known, is running for re-election to the parliament and also facing massive corruption trials. His rapid and efficient mass vaccination might be a suitable tool for his re-election, however, his government’s also being charged by the International court upon war crimes in Palestine. 

  2. 2. Palestine faces huge “Medical Apartheid”

    Among the scarce news regarding the Palestinian vaccination, one thing remains certain: infections are rising enormously in the territories of West Bank and Gaza Strip, besides the fact that there aren’t enough vaccines available. Hospitals and medical staff are overwhelmed since cases in the West Bank are exploding and both territories have been excluded from the Israeli successful vaccine rollout campaign. The Palestine is also home to 5,15 million people who are in the need of massive international aid, and until March 26, about 261.901 coronavírus cases were registered, 233.852 recovered and 2.787 deaths were accounted as reported by Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. 

    The same platform stated economic consequences. The exports in Palestine decreased 26.5 million dollars in 2020. It means not only a sanitary collapse but an economic one, contrasting the Palestinian attempt to integrate its market to the international community and providing its own social and economic development. The State predominantly exports iron, food, steel, cement, furniture, base metals, plastics, beverages and dairy products, but all of them go through a very rigid process of fiscalization in Israeli ports. As so, in 2018 Israel blocked containers of agricultural exportations from Palestine, corresponding to two thirds out of the whole Palestinian exportantions or a 88 million investiment in the Allenby border. The boundary is known for conecting the Palestinian economy to the rest of the world. 

    However, in February 2021, the retain wasn’t just comercial: the P.A. accused Israel from blocking 1000 doses of Russian Sputnik V vaccine into Gaza, where 2 million people currently live. This culminated in a so-called "medical apartheid", which can be translated as a way for Israel to exclude Palestinians from its vaccination plan.

    Given that, only recently the Palestinian territories have received vaccine supplies through COVAX - a project orchestretad by governments, scientists and global health organizations with the means to provide equitable acess to vaccines around the world. At the moment more than 60,000 doses were sent to Palestinian, dilating their small and still fragile vaccination campaign. 

    Sanitary events are also harming the political ones; in January, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced the first democratic elections in more than 15 years, both legislative and presidential. What could have been an innovative step towards democracy was dismembered eight months later when the decision to hold it for 6 more months was taken due to the rise of Covid-19 infections, even with the public safety protocols used as a measure to contain the pandemic. The doubt upon if Israel retains or not a sanitary control raises an important question: whose responsibility is it to provide vaccines to Palestinians?

  3. 3. Is international law being trespassed?

    The PhD in International Relations and expert on the matter, Arturo Hartmann, thinks Israel does have a main responsibility upon sanitary issues on the territories of Gaza and West Bank. His position is based on the Fourth Geneva Convention, a diplomatic conference ratified by the State of Israel in 1951, as so intending to protect war victims. Therefore it expects full compliance from Israel as an occupying power to provide healthcare to Palestinians including also "adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics to the full means available to it", on the authority of article 56.

    Although this statement is also supported by the United Nations Human Rights body, it isn’t fully recognized by the Israel government. In a recent interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein declared the 1995 Oslo Accords implies “loud and clear” the Palestinians have to take care of their own health, and once Israel has taken care of its citizens it’ll consider helping.

    Meanwhile, according to Dr. Hartmann, Israel is trespassing international law and taking advantage from the malleability of the Oslo agreement, therefore making the minister’s response unacceptable. “There are several Oslo aspects not followed by Israel. And this is one of the flaws of its own document, it ends being malleable inside the unbalanced powers existent there", says.

  4. 4. Under pressure, Israel vaccinates part of the Palestian population

    After vigorous pressure from the international community, Israel started to provide vaccinations to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem plus the ones who possess the permission to work on jewish communes in  occupied territories. That contabilize more than 120.000 Palestinian workers whom will receive the Moderna vaccine. “The vaccine is an excellent way to observe how the territory’s socially and collectively are configured. The materiality of that place is under Israel’s control; the most defining power. And the vaccines go the same way. You have a vaccination campaign that ignores half the population who live in that territory and isn’t a Israeli citizen” , says Dr. Hartmann.

    The researcher also stated that the power retention by Israel justifies the antagonic situation between both regions. “The Palestinian Authority doesn't have resources to buy the vaccines, it doesn’t have enough capital. Its exportation is controlled by Israel and it also receives international donation, and these are the two major sources from where the Palestinian money come from. They practically live in economic austerity and do not control their own borders. Israel does, alongside Egypt''. The researcher also mentioned a way found by the citizens to run its own business using underground tunnels.

  5. 5. An humanitarian issue

    As a result, the inequality between both states is alarming. Attested by analysis from the independent and global movement Doctors Without Borders’, less than two percent of Palestinians were vaccinated against the Coronavirus until March 23, while another highly contagious wave spread over the West Bank; Also, if not immunized, new variants may surge from these territories, disseminating the disease all over Israel again and leaving a large trace of contagiousness behind. So, how to resolve a health issue whose historical issue is further intensified with the pandemic? Should Israel then obbey an international law they themselves agreed to? 

    For an Israeli such as Ronie, her homeland could also provide the same immunization to Palestinians. "Most Israelis already got their vaccine doses. If we have enough, why don't we give it to them?". To her, the inequality between Israel and Palestine vaccinations do not summarize only as a policy-makingside choice but as something even deeper:  “It is not a political issue for me. It's just humanitarian ”. After all the harsh criticism under the jew state moves’ and the protection of majority of the Israeli population until now, new doses to Palestinians could be expected.

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The article above was edited by Camila Nascimento.

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