January 6, 2021. Israel is obligated to protect the health and safety of all people living under its control, including by ensuring that the vaccine is available in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This will necessarily require close cooperation with Palestinian authorities and the international community, but their involvement does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians living under occupation. Where needed, Israel must contribute to covering the cost of the vaccine and its distribution, unconditionally.
Why not the Palestinian Authority?
Fifty-three years of occupation, including direct, continuous Israeli control over the Palestinian population registry, taxation system, and the movement of goods and people between Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, have severely undermined the ability of Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank to assume full responsibility for health as defined in the Oslo Agreements.
The Palestinian Authority is working closely with the WHO and its other international partners in order to secure needed equipment and tests for the pandemic response, as well as vaccines. This neither reduces nor replaces Israel’s obligations.
Fifteen years after the implementation of the Disengagement plan, and despite the removal of settlements and military bases from within the Gaza Strip, the occupation persists. Israel continues to wield control over all key aspects of life in Gaza. This control places on Israel certain obligations toward Palestinians in Gaza pursuant to international humanitarian law, as well as international human rights law, and Israeli law.
Humanitarian relief provided by the international community and third state actors may prevent humanitarian collapse, but cannot meet Gaza’s gaping needs, nor does it absolve Israel of its legal and moral obligations toward the Palestinian population.
Under what conditions?
Recent media reports have indicated that Israeli officials may be conditioning the distribution of vaccines and other necessary equipment for Gaza’s COVID-19 response on the outcome of negotiations with Hamas for two Israeli citizens it is allegedly holding, as well as the return of two bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in 2014.
The health and human rights of the Palestinian population, including access to medicine, medical treatment, and vaccines, must not, under any circumstances, be made conditional on the outcome of negotiations or political maneuvering of any kind.
Hamas’s violations of international humanitarian law do not absolve Israel of its positive duties to the civilian population in Gaza, who is in effect being punished for political developments out of its control, nor do they justify Israel’s own violations of international law.
What needs to happen?
Over the course of 2021, people and communities across the world hope that restrictions on travel and commerce are removed, so that life can return to normal. The ability to emerge from the health and financial crises in the region depends on access by all its residents to the resources available for fighting the pandemic. Gisha calls on Israel to fulfill its duty to protect the health and safety of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory.
While only an end to the occupation can ensure full protection of rights, Israel’s responsibilities at the present time include the following:
- Ensuring that the coronavirus vaccine is available and distributed swiftly, and, where necessary, contributing to covering the costs of the vaccine and its distribution.
- Lifting the closure on the Gaza Strip to enable the proper functioning of its economy and healthcare system in face of the coronavirus pandemic as well as meeting its obligation to the civilian population of the Strip as a whole.
- Working in close cooperation with all relevant actors, Palestinian and international, for the safety and well-being of all residents of the region.
For more context and recommendations, see Gisha’s full position paper on Israel’s obligations in a pandemic and post-pandemic reality, here.