01/18/2021, 17.15
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Rush for COVID-19 vaccination widens gap between Israelis and Palestinians

Israel’s immunisation plan is moving quickly, and is expected to be completed by March. In Palestine, the choice of vaccine has yet to be made. For Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, this might be good for his re-election prospects. For Adel Misk, a Palestinian doctor, the campaign “should have been worked out together, without dividing” Israelis from Palestinians. Israeli activist sees health and moral issues related; “Israelis are responsible for what happens,” she says.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israel is carrying out a mass immunisation programme with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. So far, two million people have been treated; however, Palestinians have been excluded.

That hasn’t gone down well with Adel Misk, a Palestinian neurologist and activist. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that the vaccine “should be for everyone” because “after all we live in the same place;” this first phase of immunisation “should have been worked out together, without dividing” Israelis from Palestinians.

Misk bemoans the fact that Palestinians have been excluded. “At present, they don’t even know which product to aim for: the Chinese one, the Russian one, the American one, even if negotiations have started with Moscow, whose vaccine is less expensive and easier to manage than the US product.”

The Palestinian doctor is also a spokesperson for The Parents Circle, an association that brings together about 250 Israelis and 250 Palestinians, all family members of victims of the conflict.

He works at a Jerusalem hospital and has already received “the second dose of Pfizer vaccine” eight days ago. “We live within a few kilometers, and I find it unfair that in a territory so small in size there are these substantial differences,” he said.

“A few days ago I was in Bethlehem, and everyone asked me about the vaccine, which I gladly took without any particular side effects. I am the first to recommend it to all my patients.”

“However, there is a clear feeling of discrimination; it seems that we come from another planet than our medical colleagues who work in Palestinian territory. It would have been better to worry about everyone. The Palestinians are left with no choice but to try to protect themselves with closures and lockdowns .”

The substantial gap between Israel and Palestine is visible in everyday life, as noted by two Palestinians from metro Jerusalem, one of whom has an Israeli ID.

The two friends, Mahmoud Oudeh and Anan abu Aishe, spoke to CNN. Together, they run a butcher's shop, but since Anan has Israeli ID papers, he could soon get the anti-COVID vaccine, whilst his business partner cannot.

As a token of solidarity, Anan has decided not to get vaccinated to denounce the unfair treatment of the 4.5 million people living in the West Bank and Gaza.

By the end of next March, Israel’s immunisation campaign should be over, whilst in Palestine no decision has yet been taken as to the type of vaccine to use.

Even the United Nations finds the situation “unacceptable”. The Israeli government has rejected the criticism, stressing that, according to the Oslo Accords, the responsibility for the health of all Palestinians under Palestinian civil administration falls on the Palestinian Authority.

However, critics note that Israel, as the occupying power has duties laid out under the Geneva Conventions, which the Accords do not cover.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Hana Bendcowsky, an Israeli expert in interfaith dialogue and programme director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations and is a member of the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue, underlines two aspects.

First, “There is the medical question” according to which it would be preferable to “contribute to the vaccination” of a people who live “next to us, with whom there are numerous daily exchanges; people who also work in the settlements. hence, the Palestinians should also benefit from the vaccination plan.”

Then there is the “moral question” that “we, as Israelis, are responsible for what happens and we cannot think that it is not our problem”.

The vaccination plan’s success is also due to “an efficient private health coverage service” developed “in recent years in an effective manner and which has contributed” to the supply, storage and administration of the vaccine to people “who pay taxes and benefit from assistance that has now proven crucial.”

“I thought there would have been greater resistance to the vaccine,” she said, “but apart from a few cases among ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs, who harbour a certain amount of mistrust towards this government, everyone is happy to be vaccinated.”

At the same time, she noted that this mass campaign could play in Netanyahu's favour ahead of the March elections, the fourth round of voting in less than two years.

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