Fighting Anti-Israeli Bias

Countering
Item 7

THE UNHRC'S STANDING AGENDA ITEM
TARGETING ISRAEL

Claims

Claim 25: Israel discriminates in its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

examples

Turkey, 48th Session

“During the COVID-19 crisis, Israel ignored Palestine in its vaccination campaign. However, Israel, as the occupying power, is legally responsible for the health of the people in the occupied territories.”

Senegal, 46th Session

“The world has been put to the test in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. My delegation therefore would urge responsibility to be shown by all actors to ensure that the right to health is fully granted to all Palestinians without any discrimination.”

Palestine, 46th Session

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel, the occupying power has repudiated its legal obligations, especially in regard to Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but instead it provides vaccines to reward some countries that violate the law by moving their embassies to Jerusalem.”

Namibia, 46th Session

“Namibia is deeply concerned about the discriminatory distribution of vaccines by the Occupying Power in the OPT. Israel has an obligation to protect the right to health of all Palestinians living under its illegal occupation. It is beyond our understanding why the Occupying Power is distributing vaccines to the illegal Israeli settlers while excluding millions of Palestinians living in the same territory, and thereby exposing them to death. Humanity also demands that the Occupying Power does the right thing and immediately cease with the vaccine discrimination.”

Maldives, 46th Session

“We…call on the occupying power and the international community to ensure equitable access and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to Palestinians.”

Our Response

UN Watch

This claim repeats the slander by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and two UN experts,[1] among others, alleging that Israel’s world-leading COVID-19 vaccine drive is “racist” towards the Palestinians who live under Hamas rule in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (“PA”) in the West Bank.

Blaming the Jews for the plague or for poisoning the wells was a medieval rallying cry to massacre Jews. There’s nothing terribly innovative about modernizing it. In recent years, anti-Israel activists have invented a number of stories that all involve mad Jewish doctors from Israel engaged in some kind of diabolical acts with hints of racial supremacy as a motivation. These include recurrent false stories about organ harvesting of Palestinians, false stories of medical experiments performed by the Israeli rescue team after the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and false stories of forced sterilization of Ethiopian women by Israeli doctors. This obsession, and its formulaic reappearance every few years to match the concerns and anxieties of the day, say more about those spreading it than they do about those falsely accused.

The accusations misrepresent both facts and the law. The truth is that everyone in the Israeli health system, including two million Israeli Arabs and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who live in eastern Jerusalem, qualifies for the vaccine. Those who are not part of the Israeli health system, whether they are Arabs living under PA rule or Jews in Israel who are tourists, do not qualify. Race has nothing to do with it.

Pursuant to the Oslo Accords—which are still considered binding by Israel, the PA and the international community[2]—the PA has sole responsibility for the health requirements of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. Article 17 of Annex 3 to the September 1995 Interim Agreement, known as Oslo II, provides that “powers and responsibilities in the sphere of health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian side.”[3] Thus, vaccines are the responsibility of the PA which is to “continue to apply the present standards of vaccination of Palestinians” and “continue the vaccination of the population…” Article 17(6) of Annex 3 adds that the parties should “exchange information regarding epidemics and contagious diseases” and “cooperate in combating them.” This means that Israel must cooperate with the Palestinians and facilitate their efforts to acquire vaccines, which Israel is doing.[4] However, it does not obligate Israel to cover the costs of Palestinian health care.

Notably, Israel’s cooperation with the Palestinians in combating the spread of COVID-19 has been hailed by the UN, including in remarks to the Security Council by UN Middle East peace envoy Tors Wennesland.[5]

Consistent with its obligations under the Oslo Accords, the PA worked to obtain the vaccine on its own and did not ask Israel for assistance.[6] In December 2020, a PA health ministry official said: “We are working on our own to obtain the vaccine from a number of sources,” adding “We are not a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry. We have our own government and Ministry of Health , and they are making huge efforts to get the vaccine.”[7] In January 2021, PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila reported that the PA had contacted four vaccine companies, including AstraZeneca and the Russian Sputnik V, for delivery of doses for 70% of the Palestinian population, with the WHO to provide doses for an additional 20%.[8] Subsequently, after false claims that Israel is legally obliged to provide vaccines to the Palestinians were published in leading news outlets like The Guardian, the PA joined in attacking Israel.[9]

Critics cite Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning an occupying power’s health-related obligations. However, this is not applicable for several reasons. First, as noted, Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is governed by the Oslo Accords. Second, the relevance of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories is questionable, and at the very least, Israel cannot be considered an “occupying power” of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since it completely withdrew from that territory in 2005. Third, Article 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention determines that the Convention ceases to apply at the close of military operations or, in the case of “occupied territory,” one year after the close of military operations with the exception of a few delineated Articles that continue to apply. Article 56 is not one of these. Accordingly, even under a generous interpretation of the Geneva Convention, Article 56 does not apply here.

Furthermore, even if the Geneva Convention were to apply, Israel still would not be obligated to finance and supply COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinians, but to ensure that the local government has a functioning health system. Article 56 obligates the “occupying power” to “ensure and maintain,” cooperation with “national and local authorities… 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.”[10]

According to international law expert Eugene Kontorovich, the duty to cooperate under international law means the parties must “make a genuine effort to coordinate [and] provide information,” but does not obligate Israel to provide free vaccinations to the Palestinians.[11] Indeed, the Article 56 commentary makes clear that the duty of the “occupying power” ends when there is a local health authority capable of procuring its own medicines, as the PA has done.[12]

The official commentary explains:

There can be no question of making the Occupying Power alone responsible for the whole burden of organizing hospitals and health services and taking measures to control epidemics. The task is above all one for the competent services of the occupied country itself. It is possible that in certain cases the national authorities will be perfectly well able to look after the health of the population; in such cases the Occupying Power will not have to intervene; it will merely avoid hampering the work of the organizations responsible for the task.[13]

The commentary adds that an Occupying Power is required to “import the necessary medical supplies, such as…vaccines” only “when the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.” That is not the case with the PA, which as noted above has already demonstrated its ability to procure vaccines through COVAX and via negotiations with vaccine companies on similar terms to other countries with equivalent GDP.[14] In any event, in such a case, the Occupying Power would also “be able to exercise its right to requisition, and demand the cooperation not only of the national and local authorities but also of the population in the fight against epidemics.” Yet, the NGOs, UN officials and others claiming Israel has a legal responsibility to supply vaccines to the Palestinians would be the first to attack Israel for violating the Oslo Accords were it to take charge of the PA’s COVID-19 response and/or its vaccine roll-out drive.

UN Palestine expert Michael Lynk also quotes to Article 60 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[15] The language here simply states that provision of “relief consignments” does not relieve an “occupying power” of its obligations under Article 56. However, as noted Article 56 does not obligate an “occupying power” to supply vaccines in this situation.

The accusation by HRW and others that Israel discriminates based on race, by vaccinating its citizens living in settlements in Area C of the West Bank while not vaccinating Area C Palestinians, is a lie.[16]  The accusers cite to a 1991 Israeli Supreme Court decision concerning the Gulf War which mandated the Israeli government to supply gas masks to all residents of the West Bank—Jewish and Arab—without discrimination. However, that case predates the Oslo Accords and the transfer of civilian authority over West Bank Palestinians to the PA. Therefore, its holding regarding discrimination is no longer applicable. The PA is now responsible for the health care of Palestinians in the West Bank, including in Area C. Thus, as noted above, the differential treatment is not based on race, but on the respective jurisdiction of Israel and the PA.

Furthermore, the Palestinians are in the same situation as most of the world. While Israel led the world in its vaccine roll-out with more than 20% of the population vaccinated by mid-January, all other countries in the world, including Israel’s neighbors – Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – remained far behind.[17] Like the PA, these countries arranged to acquire vaccines from multiple sources, including China’s Sinopharm, Russia’s Sputnik V, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and the WHO’s COVAX program.[18]

Although Israel is not legally obligated to provide vaccines to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, it is in its interest to ensure the vaccination of those populations as soon as possible. In the words of Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, former head of Israel’s health ministry: “we are one epidemiological unit.”[19] In this vein, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch indicated that Israel would consider assisting the Palestinians, after all Israelis who want to receive the vaccine are vaccinated.[20] Indeed, in early January, when the PA requested a limited number of vaccines from Israel, Israel provided doses for 100 people as a “humanitarian gesture.”[21] A few weeks later, Israel announced that it would transfer 5,000 doses for frontline health workers in the Palestinian Authority.[22] In March 2021, Israel began inoculating over 120,000 Palestinians who work in Israel.[23] In June, Israel reached an agreement to provide the PA with up to 1.4 million soon to expire Pfizer vaccine doses. Ultimately, it was the PA that rejected the deal, due to the early-July expiration date, even though according to PA Health Minister Mai Alkaila, the PA would have had the ability to administer the doses before they expired.[24]

Ironically, those who wrongly attack Israel based on the false charge of discrimination, ignore the PA’s own corruption. When the PA began receiving vaccines meant for frontline health workers in early March, it diverted some 1200 vaccine doses to VIPs, including members of the national football team, government ministers and PLO Executive Committee members, and 200 doses which were sent to the Jordanian Royal Court.[25] This enraged Palestinians and local civil society groups. One civil society group—the Aman coalition—complained that the vaccine distribution was taking place “outside the framework of a clear and published plan…and within the framework of patronage and connections that seek the private interest at the expense of the public interest.”[26]

[1] Israel: Provide Vaccines to Occupied Palestinians, HRW (January 17, 2021), https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/01/17/israel-provide-vaccines-occupied-palestinians; Denying COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians exposes Israel’s institutionalized discrimination, Amnesty International (January 6, 2021), https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/01/denying-covid19-vaccines-to-palestinians-exposes-israels-institutionalized-discrimination/; Israel/OPT: UN experts call on Israel to ensure equal access to COVID-10 vaccines for Palestinians, OHCHR (January 14, 2021), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26655.

[2] Dennis Ross, Why the ICC Prosecutor is Wrong on Oslo, Washington Institute (June 16, 2020), https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/why-icc-prosecutor-wrong-oslo.

[3] The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Annex III (last visited January 26, 2021), https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Peace/Guide/Pages/THE%20ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN%20INTERIM%20AGREEMENT%20-%20Annex%20III.aspx#app-17.

[4] Lahav Harkov, Israel clears way for COVID vaccines to Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem Post (January 21, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/israel-clears-way-for-covid-vaccines-to-palestinians-in-west-bank-gaza-656261.

[5] Security Council Briefing by Tor Wennesland, UNSCO (January 26, 2021), https://unsco.unmissions.org/security-council-briefing-situation-middle-east-including-palestinian-question-delivered-un-3; Raphael Ahren, UN praises ‘excellent’ Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in fight against pandemic, Times of Israel (March 30, 2020), https://www.timesofisrael.com/un-praises-excellent-israeli-palestinian-cooperation-in-fight-against-pandemic/.

[6] Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinians: We didn’t ask Israel for COVID-19 vaccine, Jerusalem Post (December 21, 2020), https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/palestinians-we-didnt-ask-israel-for-covid-19-vaccine-652703.

[7] Id.

[8] PA slow to secure Covid-19 vaccines, so it decides to blame Israel, PMW (January 13, 2021), https://palwatch.org/page/18502.

[9] Khaled Abu Toameh, PA: Israel responsible for providing vaccine to Palestinians, Jerusalem Post (January 10, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/palestinians-accuse-israel-of-shirking-duty-to-supply-covid-19-vaccines-654946.

[10] Geneva Convention Relative to the protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Geneva IV), Article 56 (August 12, 1949), https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/385ec082b509e76c41256739003e636d/6756482d86146898c125641e004aa3c5.

[11] Aaron Boxerman and Nathan Jeffay, Israeli immunity hinges on Palestinians getting COVID shots too, doctors say, Times of Israel (January 21, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-immunity-hinges-on-palestinians-getting-covid-shots-too-doctors-say/; Palestinian Healthcare – Whose Responsibility, UKLFI Charitable Trust Webinar (February 4, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfjOcIx3xBY.

[12]Geneva IV, Commentary of 1958 to Article 56, https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Comment.xsp?action=openDocument&documentId=7DCE280F4725F96EC12563CD0042C877; see also @EVKontorovich, Twitter (January 17, 2021, 8:37 PM),  https://twitter.com/EVKontorovich/status/1350874790161223680.

[13] Geneva IV, Commentary of 1958 to Article 56, https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Comment.xsp?action=openDocument&documentId=7DCE280F4725F96EC12563CD0042C877.

[14] Palestinian Healthcare – Whose Responsibility, UKLFI Charitable Trust Webinar (February 4, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfjOcIx3xBY.

[15]Geneva IV, Article 60, https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/9861b8c2f0e83ed3c1256403003fb8c5/7f04c3709c81a8c2c12563cd0051bea9.

[16] @OmarSShakir, Twitter (January 19, 2021, 3:32 PM), https://twitter.com/OmarSShakir/status/1351522924147183618.

[17] Joseph Hincks, Israel Is Leading the World in COVID-19 Vaccination. But Palestinians Aren’t on the List, Time (January 15, 2021), https://time.com/5930060/israel-covid-vaccine-palestinians/.

[18] Corona vaccines across the Middle East, The National (December 6, 2020), https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/mena/corona-vaccines-across-the-middle-east-which-vaccine-is-egypt-saudi-arabia-and-qatar-buying-1.1123656.

[19] Israeli immunity hinges on Palestinians getting COVID shots too, supra note 11.

[20] Deputy health minister says Israel may offer surplus vaccines to Palestinians, Times of Israel (December 17, 2020),  https://www.timesofisrael.com/deputy-health-minister-says-israel-may-offer-surplus-vaccines-to-palestinians/.

[21] Aaron Boxerman, Israel acknowledges it gave 100 COVID vaccine doses to Palestinian Authority, Times of Israel (January 13, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-acknowledges-it-gave-100-covid-vaccine-doses-to-the-palestinian-authority/.

[22] Covid: Israel to transfer 5,000 vaccine doses to Palestinians, BBC (January 31, 2021), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-55879337.

[23] Aaron Boxerman, After delays, Israel kicks off vaccination drive for 120,000 Palestinian workers, Times of Israel (March 8, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/after-delays-israel-kicks-off-vaccination-drive-for-120000-palestinian-workers/; @COGATonline, Twitter (March 18, 2021, 10:05 PM), https://twitter.com/cogatonline/status/1372640202477481989.

[24] Jonathan Lis, Three Countries Ask Israel for COVID Vaccines if Palestinians Nix Deal, Source Says, Haaretz (June 20, 2021), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-source-israel-in-talks-with-three-countries-over-vaccines-intended-for-palestinians-1.9923533; @KhaledAbuToameh, Twitter (June 20, 2021, 9:50 PM), https://twitter.com/KhaledAbuToameh/status/1406685847601168384.

[25] Palestinian Authority under fire for VIP vaccines, Al Jazeera (March 3, 2021), https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/3/palestinian-authority-under-fire-for-vip-vaccines.

[26] Aaron Boxerman, PA admits some of its 1st vaccinees went to government officials, soccer stars, Jordan, Times of Israel (March 2, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/pa-admits-some-1st-vaccines-went-to-government-officials-soccer-players-jordan/.

UN Watch

Cookie Policy

We use cookies to give you a more personalized browsing experience and analyze site traffic. Read More