J Street is deeply concerned by the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts in the West Bank and Gaza.
Over the past few months, we’ve watched with excitement and pride as Israeli authorities have moved with great speed and efficiency to vaccinate the vast majority of Israeli citizens and residents, regardless of socio-economic status, ethnicity or religion. We feel great relief that the spread of COVID inside Israel has been almost completely curtailed, while deaths from the virus have dropped nearly to zero. At the same time, we’re alarmed at how efforts to vaccinate millions of Palestinians living in occupied territory have been extremely slow and under-resourced — while the number of COVID infections continues to increase.
While active cases in the West Bank have steadily risen, cases and deaths in Gaza have spiked dramatically, putting a terrible strain on a population already faced with an ongoing humanitarian crisis and crippling lack of infrastructure. According to the World Health Organization, as of late April, just 3.4 percent of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territory has been vaccinated — including under 1 percent of the population in Gaza. Strict Israeli controls over access to Gaza have also made it more difficult to bring critical supplies into the territory, and nearly impossible for many workers and traders to leave, further impacting Gaza’s already very weak economy.
The extremely slow pace of vaccination in the Occupied Territory, while the number of dead and sick grows, is dangerous and unacceptable. While the Palestinian Authority and local officials should of course be doing whatever they can to drive the vaccine procurement and distribution process forward, it’s also clear that they need and should receive much more support from the Israeli government, as well as the US government and the international community.
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.
We once again urge both the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership to coordinate closely to ensure the acquisition and provision of vaccines to the entire Palestinian population. With the overwhelming majority of Israelis now vaccinated, Israeli authorities should offer to make their large surplus supply available for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; if such an offer is made, Palestinian leaders should swiftly accept it and ensure the equitable distribution of the vaccines among their population. The Biden administration should also take any steps needed to immediately facilitate and encourage this kind of Israeli-Palestinian vaccine coordination. Lives are at stake and time is of the essence.