Amnesty calls on Israel to give Palestinians coronavirus vaccine
Israel began innoculating its citizens, including settlers illegally residing in the West Bank, on December 19, starting with medical workers and the over 60s, and has so far injected more than a million people.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday he hoped that within a month 2.25 million Israelis - a quarter of the population of nine million - would have received the two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab needed for optimum effect.
However, nearly five million Palestinians living under occupation are excluded from Israel's speedy programme to provide jabs, leaving them even more vulnerable to the deadly virus.
Under Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law specifically includes a duty to maintain “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.”
The cash-strapped PA has said Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will be vaccinated through the United Nations-backed COVAX programme which has not yet begun, despite cases in the occupied territories continuing to rise.
The Palestinian health ministry said Monday that Palestinians may need to endure a lack of a vaccine rollout, with them expecting to receive the first round of vaccine doses next month through COVAX.
UK-based rights group Amnesty said Israel needed to "stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and immediately act to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."
“Israel’s Covid-19 vaccine programme highlights the institutionalised discrimination that defines the Israeli government’s policy towards Palestinians," said Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.
“While Israel celebrates a record-setting vaccination drive, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer - there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones," he added.
As of Tuesday, Israel's health ministry had confirmed 451,000 cases of the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic, with over 3,400 deaths.
The Palestinian health ministry has confirmed more than 100,000 cases in the West Bank, including 1,100 deaths. In the besieged Gaza Strip, there were 43,134 cases, with 404 fatalities.
Israel has occupied the West Bank illegally since 1967, and commits various abuses against Palestinian civilians, human rights groups say.
More than 600,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in constructions considered illegal under international law.
The Oslo agreement of 1995 divided the occupied West Bank into three zones: Area A, Area B and Area C.
Area A is under the administrative and security control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Area B's administration is controlled by the PA, with Israel controlling security. Area C is under full administrative and security control of Israel.
Since 2007, Israel has launched three devastating wars on the coastal Palestinian territory, where about two million Palestinians live.
It has also maintained a crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip which has plunged hundreds of thousands of people into poverty.