As countries around the world step up their efforts to vaccinate against the COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli authorities deserve the praise and recognition they have been receiving for the speed and success, to date, of their efforts to vaccinate Israeli citizens — particularly in comparison with struggling efforts here in the US and in several other countries. Activists and experts within Israeli civil society have noted that the efforts have largely succeeded thus far in guaranteeing vaccine access in an orderly fashion to Israeli citizens, as well as Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, regardless of socio-economic status, ethnicity or religion. J Street commends these impressive efforts.
At the same time, we are also concerned that Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza do not, as of yet, have access to vaccines and have apparently not been included in the Israeli government’s current vaccination plans. It should go without saying that these millions of Palestinian residents of occupied territory deserve and should receive access to a life-saving vaccine in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
As an occupying power, Israel has a legal and moral obligation to work with Palestinian authorities to ensure that all residents of the territory it rules over — not only Israeli citizens — receive necessary medical services. Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that:
To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.
While part of this territory is administered by the Palestinian Authority under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Article 47 of the Geneva Convention makes clear that the obligations of the occupying power and the rights guaranteed to residents of occupied territory are not obviated “by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power.”
With these obligations and rights in mind, we urge both the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership to coordinate closely together in order to ensure the acquisition and provision of vaccines to the entire population of the occupied territory. Alongside the clear imperative to save lives and prevent further suffering, it should be clear that vaccinating all those who live in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as swiftly as possible is absolutely necessary in order to ultimately end the public health crisis that continues to threaten the lives of Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.