Human Rights Watch says international law requires Israel to vaccinate Palestinians against Covid-19

Human Rights Watch says international law requires Israel to vaccinate Palestinians against Covid-19
Human Rights Watch says that under the Geneva Convention, Israel must provide vaccinations to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in the same way it vaccinates its own citizens.
3 min read
17 January, 2021
Palestinians are excluded from Israel's coronavirus vaccination programme [Getty]
Human Rights Watch added its voice on Sunday to a growing chorus of criticism of Israel for its withholding of the coronavirus vaccine from Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip.

In a statement, the global human rights monitor said that as an occupying power, Israel has duties under the Fourth Geneva Convention to assure the provision of medical supplies, including vaccines “in a nondiscriminatory manner”.

HRW noted that Israel had already vaccinated over 20 per cent of its citizens, including residents of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and that it must provide vaccinations to Palestinians in a similar manner.

It said that Israel’s obligation to vaccinate Palestinians was “heightened after more than 50 years of occupation with no end in sight” and rejected the argument made by Israel’s health minister that vaccinating Palestinians was the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.

“The Palestinian authorities’ own obligations to protect the right to health of Palestinians in areas where they manage affairs do not absolve Israel of its responsibilities,” the statement said.

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein had previously told Sky News that Palestinians “have to learn how to take care of themselves” and that his government could not take away vaccines from Israeli citizens in order to provide them to Palestinians.

However, HRW's Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, said, “nothing can justify today’s reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian”.

“Everyone in the same territory should have equitable access to the vaccine, regardless of their ethnicity,” he added.

Israel has so far vaccinated approximately two million of its citizens and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised that all Israeli citizens over the age of 16 will receive the vaccination by the end of March.

Those eligible for the vaccination include Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, but not the four and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza.

HRW said the Fourth Geneva Convention obligates Israel to “ensure the medical supplies of the population” of occupied territory, including “adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventative measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics” to “the fullest extent of the means available to it.”

Read more: Why is Israel denying Covid vaccine to Palestinians? Two words - Medical apartheid

It added that under international humanitarian law, Israel is still the occupying power in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, because it controls borders, the movement of people and goods, taxation, security, and population registration in these areas, among other aspects of life.

The existence of Palestinian authorities with limited powers does not diminish Israel’s obligations, Human Rights Watch said.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has reported over 100,000 cases and 1,000 deaths from coronavirus in the West Bank since the pandemic began, while Hamas-led authorities in the Gaza Strip have reported 45,000 cases and over 400 deaths.

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