Bernie Sanders condemns Israel vaccine exports 'to friends', while Palestinians remain without protection

Bernie Sanders condemns Israel vaccine exports 'to friends', while Palestinians remain without protection
Vermont Senator Sanders said that Israel should not be sending vaccines to foreign countries before vaccinating Palestinians.
4 min read
25 February, 2021
Sanders accused Netanyahu of rewarding his foreign allies. [Getty]

US Senator Bernie Sanders has condemned Israel for supplying Covid-19 vaccines to foreign allies before vaccinating Palestinians in territories under its occupation or Israeli siege. 

Israel announced that it would send surplus vaccines to close allies - namely, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Guatemala and Honduras - despite millions of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza having no access to the drug.

Responding to the news of Israel's planned export of Covid-19 vaccines, Sanders said that Palestinians should be given priority to the drug.

"As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the health of all the people under its control. It is outrageous that Netanyahu would use spare vaccines to reward his foreign allies while so many Palestinians in the occupied territories are still waiting," he tweeted.

On Tuesday, the Czech Republic and Honduras both confirmed that Israel would be sending them 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, while local media reported that Hungary and Guatemala can expect a similar shipment.

These countries have, or plan to, move their embassies from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem, which Israel views as its undivided capital.

A statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office confirmed that "in light of the successful vaccination campaign in Israel - the leading country in the world in inoculating the population - Israel has received many requests from the countries of the world to assist with the supply of vaccines".

Approximately 100,00 doses of the Moderna vaccine are being exported to 15 of Israel's allies, in addition to a number of African countries with strong ties to Israel, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Guatemala and Honduras have all been vocally supportive of Israels claim that Jerusalem is its capital, and the vaccine donations are being viewed as a reward for this support.

Following the former Trump administration's contentious declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and subsequent embassy move, Guatemala followed suit in 2018.

Honduras announced its intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem and the Czech Republic intends to open a diplomatic office in the Holy City. Hungary has also opened a trade office in 2019 there.

Israel came under sharp criticism on Monday from Palestine’s Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki for failing to provide vaccines to the Palestinian population and blocking foreign shipments of vaccines between the West Bank and Gaza.

This forces the UN to remind Israel of its obligations under international law to vaccinate all Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and besieged Gaza. 

While Israel has provided several thousand vaccine doses to medical workers in the West Bank, the numbers are dwarfed by the millions of Israelis who have received both of the recommended shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. 

So far, Israel has earmarked more than double the number of vaccines to foreign nations that it has promised the almost five million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Sanders was not alone in his criticism of Israel’s vaccination policies.

Read more: The geopolitics of vaccine diplomacy in the Middle East

Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York wrote to Israel's acting consul general in New York, Israel Nitzan, to ask why Israelis living in illegal West Bank settlements had received their vaccinations but Palestinians had not. 

"I was heartened to read that the Israeli government has recently agreed to transfer 5,000 doses of the vaccine to Palestinians to immunise front-line medical workers, but the entire population in the West Bank and Gaza must also be covered," he wrote.

In response to claims that Israel is willfully ignoring the vaccination needs of the Palestinians, the Israeli government has claimed that the terms of the Oslo Accords state that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for its own healthcare system. 

Others have pointed out that under international law - which trumps the Oslo Accords - occupying powers are responsible for healthcare in territories under their control.

While Oslo does give the PA responsibility for healthcare it does stipulate that during epidemics, both sides need to "cooperate in combating them".

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