Palestinians began getting their first anti-coronavirus vaccinations this week after Israel gave thousands of doses to the Palestinian Authority.
But the Palestinian Health Ministry announcement, which said front-line medical workers were able to get vaccinated, did not mention that the first vaccines were from Israel.
Nevertheless, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office announced Sunday that Israel would transfer 5,000 doses.
This follows weeks of controversy as rights groups said Israel is obligated as the “occupying power” to vaccinate Palestinians. Israel has maintained that its responsibility is first to its own citizens including Arab Israelis and Palestinians living in east Jerusalem and that the Palestinian Health Ministry was responsible for Palestinians.
“Nothing can justify today’s reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. “Everyone in the same territory should have equitable access to the vaccine, regardless of their ethnicity.”
While Israel is leading the world in vaccination rates having inoculated more than one third of its population in just over a month, the Palestinians — many of whom work in Israel —are just getting started.
A shipment of 10,000 of the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines were delivered to the Palestinian Authority on Thursday, thanks to a donation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The first priority is for medical staff and the elderly… in accordance with World Health Organization requirements,” Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al-Kaila told Voice of Palestine Radio.
The Sputnik vaccines along with the 5,000 Moderna vaccines from Israel will enable some 7,500 Palestinians to get the vaccine. The World Health Organization said this week that it would provide the PA with 37,440 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this month “subject to approvals of supply agreements with manufacturers” and then another 240,000 to 405,600 doses of the AstraZeneca shot later this month.
COVAX, a WHO program designed to help poor countries acquire vaccines, is responsible for providing the donated doses. The PA said it will buy 1 million vaccine doses as well.
Some 4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza.