US lawmakers urge Israel to vaccinate Palestinians, lament disparity

US lawmakers urge Israel to vaccinate Palestinians, lament disparity
4 min read
16 March, 2021
Democratic lawmakers call on the Blinken to take action to ensure that Israel provides Covid-19 vaccines and facilitate vaccination programs for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Democratic lawmakers call on the Blinken to ensure Israel allows Palestinians access to vaccines [Getty]
WASHINGTON D.C. (The New Arab) - Democratic lawmakers have sent a series of letters to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, urging him to raise the issue of vaccine equity in Israel, which boasts one of the world's highest vaccination rates. 

Twelve representatives were signatories to a letter on Monday that called on the Blinken to "take additional action to ensure that the Israeli government provide COVID-19 vaccines and facilitate vaccination programs for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza".

The lawmakers stressed that in some cases Israel has blocked vaccinations for Palestinians, adding that there is an urgency to get them vaccinated following a recent spike in Covid-19 cases, due to high rate of poverty and lack of sufficient healthcare in Palestinian territories.

The group also warned that infection rates among Palestinians will continue to rise if they are not soon given vaccinations, and a mutated virus could then come back to the Israeli population.

They also pointed out that Israel is legally obligated under the Geneva Conventions to ensure the population under its occupation has adequate healthcare. 

Israel has recently been touted as a success story for having one of the fastest coronavirus vaccination rollouts in the world. But critics point to its lack of inoculations for the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians have no control over when or if they get vaccinated, while Israel gets to boast about its vaccination numbers," Mohamed Mohamed, Executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center, told The New Arab.

Some Palestinians who are already suffering from chronic illnesses are in desperate need of inoculation, he added.

"I spoke with someone in the West Bank with a bad case of diabetes. He’s almost blind," he said. "He’s still waiting."

Read also: Palestinian student refused Covid-19 vaccine at Tel Aviv University inoculation drive

Monday's letter is the latest in a series of letters from both chambers of Congress regarding vaccine equity for Palestinians by Israel.

Though it only has 17 signatures, it still goes beyond the members of the "squad" – the consistently progressive and outspoken group of lawmakers. 

A similar letter issued on Friday, signed by 12 members, reminded Blinken of the importance of addressing the humanitarian crises facing the Palestinians, which they said Joe Biden’s predecessor had ignored. 

They included links to previous missives in which they raise other issues related to the Palestinians, such as home demolitions (signed by more than 40 members), the annexation of the West Bank (signed by 191 members), and funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) (signed by 54 members).

They also included links to three other letters issued in March and April related to covid-19 humanitarian aid (signed by 57 members). A small number of senators have issued similar letters. 

Mohamed said he is optimistic by what appears to be an increase of awareness of Palestinian issues by Congress, though he expects any substantial change in policy to be slow.

"It's great, but it won’t do anything if it doesn't have actual teeth. Israel will continue to do the same things until it feels pressured. I think eventually it will happen. From a realistic perspective, it will take time."

Sana Siddiq, manager of policy and advocacy campaigns at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told The New Arab that these letters "show us the growing understanding from Congress that Israel must be held accountable".

However, she notes that the Biden administration "insisted just this month that it would not support the ICC investigation into Israeli war crimes".

She credits grassroots organising for this relatively recent shift in Congress.

"We know that this shift in Congress has come from pressure from below: from countless Palestinians and their allies organizing and raising the alarm around not just vaccine access, but also the broader issue of Israeli medical apartheid," she said.

Brooke Anderson is The New Arab's correspondent in Washington D.C., covering US and international politics, business and culture.

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