The situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories provides a stark example of a highly unequal vaccination push all around the world.

Vaccination centre in Jerusalem, January 3, 2021.
Vaccination centre in Jerusalem, January 3, 2021. (Reuters)

Israel's has authorised the use of a third vaccine made with US drugmaker Moderna Inc. as part of its massive vaccination drive that has already seen nearly a tenth of the population vaccinated. But millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control will have to watch and wait much longer.

Israel's vaccination campaign includes Jewish settlers living deep inside the West Bank, who are Israeli citizens, but not the roughly 2.7 million Palestinians living around them who may have to wait for weeks or months.

They will have to wait for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank in accordance with interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s. Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories the Palestinian seek for their future state, in the 1967 Mideast war.

The PA hopes to get vaccines through a WHO-led partnership with humanitarian organizations known as COVAX, which aims to provide free vaccines for up to 20 percent of the population of poor countries, many of which have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.

“I don’t know how, but there must be a way to make us a priority, too?” said Mahmoud Kilani to The Guardian, a 31-year-old sports coach from the Palestinian city of Nablus. “Who cares about us? I don’t think anybody is stuck on that question.”

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Israel's legal obligations

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a group that advocates for more equitable health care, says Israel has a legal obligation as an occupying power to purchase and distribute vaccines to the Palestinians. 

"The Palestinian health system, whether in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, is in dire condition, mainly (because of) restrictions imposed by Israel.”

In Gaza, an impoverished enclave under blockade, the timeframe could be even longer than in the West Bank.

Salama Ma’rouf, head of the Hamas-run Gaza press office, estimated vaccines would arrive “within two months”, adding that there was coordination with the WHO and the Palestinian Authority.

Heba Abu Asr, a 35-year-old Gaza resident, was surprised by The Guardian's query about how she felt about others getting the vaccine first. “Are you seriously trying to compare us with Israel or any other country?” she inquired. “We can’t find work, food, or drink. We are under threat all the time. We do not even have any necessities for life.”

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Mass vaccination campaign

Israel has begun to vaccinate its population at one of the quickest rates in the world, and it aims to reach all vulnerable citizens by late January. Authorities started vaccinations on December 19 using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

"Ministry of Health of Israel has secured 6 million doses and first deliveries (are) expected to begin in January," Moderna has separately said in a statement on Monday.

The director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry, Hezi Levy, confirmed the import agreement with Moderna. Interviewed by radio station 103FM, he declined to give details of the size of the shipment and said the date of its arrival was under discussion.

Israeli media outlet The Jewish Chronicle denied claims over discrimination against Palestinians and said Israel is not ‘excluding’ Palestinians from the vaccination programme, or discriminating between its own Jewish and Arab citizens.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies