While governments around the world embark on a race to vaccinate their populations, adopting curated policies to ensure the least number of lives lost during the pandemic, a parallel universe exists in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. The fatality rate resulting from policies promoting ethnic cleansing, blockade, and more recently airstrikes by the Israeli defense military seem to far exceed that of COVID-19. Despite being a global health concern, the pandemic is clearly not the biggest threat to the lives of Palestinians.
Only 3.9% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in comparison to over 60% in Israel (as of May 23), which had one of the fasted vaccination drives in the world. This vaccine coverage should be questioned rather than praised, as the denominator excludes 5 million Palestinians living under its occupation. Despite having millions of unwanted vaccine doses, the occupying state had refused to provide vaccines to Palestinians, with the exception of workers who come into contact with Israeli citizens and a number of donations. In the past weeks alone, Israeli violence has targeted healthcare services violating the principles and provisions of International Humanitarian Law.
These crimes violate the Geneva Convention which holds Israel, the occupying power, responsible for the health of the population. The Fourth Geneva convention obliges Israel to ensure medical supplies of the population including providing preventative measures necessary to control infectious diseases and epidemics. At the very least, they have the responsibility to facilitate the population’s access to health services, which is currently prevented by the blockade.
The case of Palestine is a classic definition of health inequity. The time has come to shift the global health conversation from topical health programs through aid to more sustainable solutions that address the root cause of problems that create fragile health systems. Not only does the occupation deny Palestinians their right to healthcare, but it also completely hampers and undermines the current global efforts of controlling the pandemic.
Discrimination based on religion, gender or race is a public health concern.
Social injustice is a public health concern.
The health disparities arising from the Israeli-Palestinian Apartheid is a global health crisis which would be impossible to resolve in isolation from the broader context of settler colonialism, segregation, and the ongoing violations of human rights. Any solutions failing to address these root causes are simply treating the symptoms rather than the disease.