Israel must immediately remedy its failure to ensure full and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a briefing paper released today.
The briefing paper, entitled Under Occupation: Unprotected and Unvaccinated, documents the disparity in access to vaccines between Israel’s population and Palestinians in the OPT: Israel has fully vaccinated 5,64 million people (64 percent of its population) against COVID-19 and is providing “booster shots” to fully vaccinated persons against the advice of the World Health Organization, while only 752,412 Palestinians in the OPT (14 per cent of the population) has been fully vaccinated.
As the Occupying Power, Israel has an immediate obligation to provide access to vaccines to all persons within the OPT as part of its obligation to guarantee the right to health. In open defiance of this and other international law obligations, Israel has only provided some vaccine access to residents of the Israeli settlements located in the West Bank and to those Palestinians allowed to work in such settlements or in Israel.
“This gross disparity in access to vaccines is a direct result of Israel’s exclusion of the Palestinian population from its vaccination drive,” said Vito Todeschini, Legal Adviser at the ICJ’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“All persons within the OPT have a right to access COVID-19 vaccines and Israel cannot circumvent its obligations under international human rights law to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of all persons in the OPT.”
“Israel’s failure to provide full and equitable COVID-19 vaccine access in the OPT is a manifestation of the Israeli authorities’ systematic and unlawful discrimination against the Palestinians”, said Todeschini.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the OPT health-care system’s already dire situation caused by the local authorities’ inadequate public expenditure and neglect for the right to health, coupled with 54 years of Israel’s belligerent occupation. The ICJ’s briefing paper released on 5 October 2021 documents Israel’s failure to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
“Palestinians in the OPT face the ordinary daily injustices of occupation and a failing health-care system, which are now compounded by a lack of protection against COVID-19, due to an unavailability of sufficient vaccines.”
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, they continue to be forced to face life under occupation, unprotected and unvaccinated, while Israelis return to their normal lives”, Todeschini said.
Six Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court, demanding that Israel take immediate steps to provide equitable vaccine access to Palestinians within the OPT. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this matter.
“We hope that the Israeli Supreme Court will intervene this time to protect the lives of people in the OPT and enforce Israel’s international obligations”, said Todeschini.
However, there is concern that, following a pattern documented by the Palestinian human rights organization Adalah, the Supreme Court will continue to show almost absolute deference to the Israeli government in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Under Occupation: Unprotected and Unvaccinated, the ICJ makes recommendations to Israeli authorities in order to ensure their compliance with international law obligations, including:
- Refrain from interfering in any manner with the Palestinian Authority’s and the de facto Hamas authorities’ attempts to secure COVID-19 vaccines from third parties, and from impeding or delaying vaccine consignments to the West Bank and Gaza.
- Provide adequate numbers of COVID-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate the whole population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, to the extent the Palestinian Authority and the de facto Hamas authorities are unable to provide vaccine doses in adequate numbers.
- Refrain from providing preferential treatment to Israeli and Jewish settlers residing in the West Bank with respect to their access to vaccines and, correspondingly, from discriminating against Palestinians on grounds prohibited under international law.
- Ensure that residents of East Jerusalem have access to adequate medical and health-care, including COVID-19 vaccines, without discrimination.
- Fully lift the blockade and closure of Gaza in order to:
- Allow the import without restrictions of all medical and other supplies, equipment and materials, including COVID-19 vaccines; and
- Allow Gaza residents to seek medical treatment in Israel, other areas of the OPT or abroad, and avoid any discriminatory restriction on their freedom of movement.
Vito Todeschini, Legal Adviser, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, e: vito.todeschini(a)icj.org
Asser Khattab, Research and Communications Officer, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, e: asser.khattab(a)icj.org