Israel's politicisation of COVID-19 vaccine took another "criminal and shameful" turn yesterday while debating whether Palestinians living in the besieged Gaza enclave should be permitted to have the vaccine and help prevent the spread of the global pandemic.
During a debate at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee (FADC), Israeli officials insisted that no vaccine should be offered to the two million Palestinians unless two Israelis who are believed to be held by Hamas are released and the remains of two soldiers who lost their lives during the 2014 Israeli onslaught on Gaza are returned. Some 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians were killed by the Zionist state during the seven-week Israeli bombardment.
According to the Jerusalem Post, FADC chairman and member of the Knesset, Tzvi Hauser who belongs to the centre-right political party Derech Eretz, insisted that at the very least there should be a demand for information regarding the fate of the two captive Israelis, Hisham Al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu. Israel has not received any information regarding their fate, and the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit them, Hauser is reported saying.
Hauser insisted that before offering any vaccine to Palestinians in Gaza, maximally Israel should demand the release of both captives, and the return of the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, the two soldiers that are believed to have died during the 2014 bombardment.
The connection of the release of vaccine to politics was met with condemnation. Member of the Joint List (a political alliance of three of the Arab-majority political parties of the Israeli Knesset) Ofer Cassif argued that as the "occupying power" that controlled crossing into Gaza, Israel had an "ethical and moral" responsibility to provide vaccinates for Gaza either from its own stock or from other sources. A debate on the matter is both "criminal and shameful," Cassif said, explaining that the Red Cross clearly states that the obligation to observe humanitarian law does "not depend on reciprocity."
A second Joint List representative MK Ahmad Tibi echoed Cassif's condemnation and warned that those who prevented anyone – medical staff and/or Palestinians – from receiving COVID-19 vaccines were directly responsible for their illness and death. "Everyone must be vaccinated," Tibi insisted.
Twenty years from now "your children will be ashamed," Tibi said. "It would have been better for you not to hold this hearing, and people should not be prevented from getting vaccinated."
Israel has been heavily criticised internationally for not providing vaccines to Palestinians. The occupation state has already vaccinated more than 20 percent of its citizens, including illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank but it has not committed to vaccinating Palestinians living in the same territory under its military rule.
"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," said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. "Everyone in the same territory should have equitable access to the vaccine, regardless of their ethnicity."