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Israel’s vaccine apartheid is a violation of international law

February 27, 2021 at 12:55 pm

Vaccines for the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in Tel Aviv on 13 January 2021 [Nir Keidar/Anadolu Agency]

The propagandists are having an increasingly hard time explaining Israel’s vaccine apartheid.

Broadly speaking, there are about six million Israeli Jews and 6.5 million Palestinian Arabs (mostly Muslims and Christians) living in historic Palestine.

This is the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip and so-called “Israel proper”.

Israel controls the entirety of historic Palestine. There is a complicated system of passes, IDs and different rights. But generally speaking, Israeli law states that only “the Jewish people” have a right to self-determination in the so-called “Land of Israel”, while Palestinians are, at best, guests.

Five million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza have absolutely no rights under the Jewish supremacist regime that Israel imposes on the entirety of historic Palestine.

READ: Israel gives countries that recognise Jerusalem as its capital covid vaccine

As the leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem finally recognised in a new position paper in January: “There is one regime governing the entire area and the people living in it, based on a single organising principle,” and it is an apartheid regime. “The Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.”

Because of the nature of its racist regime, Israel is refusing to protect the five million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza by vaccinating them against the coronavirus.

This is pure, unbridled racism. And it is a racism that is self-defeating too. Palestinians in the West Bank are considered a source of cheap, disposable labour by Israel. Every day, thousands line up at Israeli army checkpoints at the crack of dawn to access low-paid jobs in Israel, enduring hellish conditions. Almost none have been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Israel’s racist prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to blame the Palestinians for the pandemic.

Due to this harsh reality, the Israel lobby is finding it increasingly difficult to come up with justifications, excuses and obfuscations.

Predictably as clockwork, they’ve been smearing those who report the truth about Israel’s vaccine apartheid as “anti-Semitic” – once again deliberately conflating criticism of Israel’s crimes with anti-Jewish hatred.

In the US, this smear has now been directed at Saturday Night Live, the venerable current affairs comedy show.

READ: PA and Hamas condemn Israel’s blocking of Gaza vaccine 

On it, comedian Michael Che said: “Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”

It was a funny line, but it was genuinely satirical too because the joke contained a lot of truth. Israel does indeed refuse to vaccinate most of the non-Jewish half of the population under its control – those five million Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Israel lobby went mad tossing the false allegation of anti-Semitism at the show. Israeli propagandist Avi Mayer, for example, claimed it was an “anti-Semitic myth”. He said that “every Israeli citizen” is eligible to be vaccinated.

But as my colleague at The Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah pointed out, during his appearance on the Katie Halper Show, Mayer was lying by omission.

While it’s technically true that the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are eligible, the other five million Palestinians living under Israel’s apartheid regime (in the West Bank and Gaza) are not.

Israel has even gone out of its way to block Palestinians from receiving vaccines from other countries. The Palestinian Authority (PA) wanted to send doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine to the Gaza Strip for frontline medical workers. However, Israel blocked it from doing so as part of the crushing military siege it has enforced on the Gaza Strip since 2007.

READ: COVID-19 cases on rise in Israel despite vaccine effort

Another proof of the apartheid nature of Israel’s vaccine policies is its behaviour in the West Bank. Israeli settlers living in the West Bank on stolen Palestinian land (in violation of international law, as settlements are a war crime under the Geneva Conventions) are being given the vaccine. Meanwhile, the Palestinians living in the villages, towns and cities only a few short miles away are not – purely and exclusively because they are not Jewish.

Another ruse the propagandists are attempting, is claiming that the Oslo Accords absolve them of responsibility. Even putting aside the fact that Oslo is a sham and Israel in practice rules the entire West Bank, this justification is a lie even on its own terms.

Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to ensure “public health and hygiene in the occupied territory”, makes: “Particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”

The Oslo documents themselves make clear that Israel is still responsible for combating epidemics and contagious diseases.

Any way that you cut it, Israel’s vaccine apartheid is a violation of international law.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.