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On the Israeli Medical Apartheid

By Kamsi Iloeje

In the unimaginable chaos that’s taken hold of our society this past year due to COVID-19, the multiple vaccinations that have been approved and distributed in recent months throughout various nations have served to provide reassurance that this pandemic and those suffering its effects can and will receive medical assistance. One country in particular has received glowing praise for its efficiency in vaccine distribution: Israel. Over 14% (compared to the U.S.'s 1.3%) of the Israeli population has already been administered the vaccine, a result of not only the country’s wealth, but also the socialized, digital nature of the Israeli healthcare system. Both of these factors have served to streamline vaccine distribution in a highly efficient manner. However, the glowing praise that Israel and its government has received hides the medical system's sinister reality. This article aims to elucidate the deep-seeded discrimination and inequality that exists within the Israeli healthcare system.

Israel is by far the most successful nation when it comes to efficient distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations. On January 9, 2021, the Israeli Ministry of Health reported that approximately 18% of the Israeli population has been vaccinated.

However, an important distinction has been made in both current & future plans for vaccine rollout. The roughly 1.8 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are among those included in vaccination plans. Five million Palestinians living in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) under Israeli rule, however, are not. For these individuals, this pandemic has been a remarkably bleak experience, unlike the bright and hopeful one that the Israeli government is portraying.

The Palestinian healthcare infrastructure was woefully unprepared for a public health crisis of this caliber. With minimal funding and accessibility to supplies, healthcare resources were barely providing for Palestinians before COVID-19 hit. As a result, this pandemic has been particularly detrimental to the population. As of January 5, 2021, there are 143,169 active cases of COVID-19 and 1,505 reported deaths in OPTs. And these numbers are showing no signs of decreasing any time soon. In Gaza and the West Bank, the current rate of infection is 36%. Meanwhile, Israel’s lies at 4.5%.

Other factors have contributed towards Palestine’s current state. There are little to no available funds for the purchase of vaccine doses, a lack of access to the vaccine itself, and severe shortages of medicine and medical equipment as a result of Israel’s various military sieges on Palestine. In Gaza, people go as many as 12 hours a day without electricity. Furthermore, proper quarantining and sanitation are extremely difficult to do within OPTs, and in certain areas, social distancing is next to impossible.

Internal issues are not the only hurdles Palestine has to jump over. Israel has provided little to no support to the Palestinian populace despite the urges of various global organizations to do exactly that. The only time vaccines have been distributed within OPTs is when they’re being administered to the 600,000 Israelis that have settled there.

The blatant medical discrimination against Palestinians does not stop there. In a statement issued by the United Nations, Israeli prisoners in security facilities with pre-existing conditions that put them at high-risk were released from jail in April of 2020. Palestinian prisoners within the same facilities were not. On top of that, in December of 2020, orders were given from Israeli authorities to vaccinate prison guards, but not the prisoners themselves.

In an attempt to justify said actions, Israel has repeatedly cited the 1993 Oslo Accords which state that the medical responsibility of Palestine lies in the hands of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is the official government of the West Bank and Gaza. Repeated calls have been made by Israeli officials for the PA to take responsibility for its people, but the PA does not have nearly as much power as Israel suggests they do. They currently have limited agency in less than 38% of the West Bank. The majority of power within the occupied territories belongs to the Israeli military. Israeli forces control the borders, currency, central bank, tax collection, curfew, etc. inside OPTs.

The Israeli government is horribly remiss in placing the responsibility of acquiring and distributing COVID-19 vaccinations on the PA. As stated by Amnesty International, Israel has an obligation as an occupying power "under international humanitarian law [to] include the duty of ensuring and maintaining ‘the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene 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.’” Annex II of the 1995 Interim Agreement expresses similar sentiments, stating that Israel and Palestine should coordinate efforts in regard to matters of public health, including epidemics.

Moreover, Israel has not even allowed foreign organizations to assist Palestine. The Israeli government refused an offer from the World Health Organization to vaccinate Palestinian health workers, despite the prioritization of physicians and frontline workers made by various other leading nations. This, combined with Israel’s intentional repudiation of international law, can be more categorically defined as medical apartheid, which is the subjugation of a group in regard to medical aid or resources. This is but the latest means of a longstanding, historical, violent discrimination and suppression of Palestine and Palestinian lives by the Israeli government. According to Amnesty International,“While Israel celebrates a record-setting vaccination drive, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer – there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones.”

Israel’s refusal to offer even a modicum of benevolence towards a suffering population in the midst of a global pandemic is not only morally questionable, but medically. It states in the Hippocratic Oath that one will "apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment.” Considering that Israel has both the financial and physical means to assist Palestinians, as well as a legal obligation as an occupying power, their reluctance to do so is purely discriminatory. In a time where people are dropping dead left and right from a preventable virus, such negligence is dangerous. As said by Palestinian Parliament Member and physician Dr. Mustafa Barghouti,“Israelis are getting the vaccines, and Palestinians are getting nothing.”

In light of all this, one must question Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge that by the end of March 2021, Israel will be the first nation to beat the pandemic. How can he say that when there are 5 million unvaccinated individuals living within Israeli territory? Israel must reconcile with the fact that true success cannot occur until everyone is vaccinated, including Palestinians.

Currently, Palestine’s only hope is COVAX, a UN-led vaccination initiative for populations in need. Mai Al-Kaila, the Palestinian Authority’s Health Minister, has reported that Palestine should be receiving enough vaccines to vaccinate 20% of the population from COVAX. However, they are not set to arrive in Palestine until mid-February at the earliest. World leaders should now be asking themselves: How long will this be allowed? How many people must lose their futures before action is taken? It looks like we’ll just have to wait and see.

References s_mustafa_barghouti the%20knesset.aspx o-palestinians-exposes-israels-institutionalized-discrimination/ cines-to-beat-covid-by-end-of-march/ avirus-vaccine-b1784474.html

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