March 05, 2021

ALLMEP Members Urge Equitable Vaccination Program for Palestinians

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way in which most of us live our lives and caused death and serious illness on a global scale that was scarcely imaginable only a year ago. The advent of effective vaccines which appear to provide broad protection against the virus is the first welcome signs of light at the end of that dark tunnel.

Israel has been at the forefront of this process, with the world’s highest vaccination rate, with over 4m vaccines administered, including 90% of over 50’s. However, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have only received 32,000 doses of vaccines (enough for less than .6% of its population), most of which have gone to senior members of the Palestinian Authority rather than vulnerable Palestinians. As of Monday, March 9th, Israel will begin vaccinating 120,000 Palestinian workers at border crossings and industrial zones. While there are disagreements on Israel’s legal obligation as an occupying power to vaccinate Palestinians, and over how receptive the Palestinian Authority has been to such cooperation: ALLMEP and its members are united in a belief in the fundamental equality of Israelis and Palestinians. Our growing number of members focused on public health also know all too well that the continued presence of COVID-19 anywhere threatens us all, with this especially true for Israelis and Palestinians who despite political divisions share the same physical space.   

ALLMEP is sharing videos from members spreading their message for equitable vaccination.

EcoPeace Middle East

Parents Circle Families Forum

Project Rozana

Standing Together

Physicians for Human Rights

Rabbis for Human Rights

Combatants for Peace

Gershon Baskin

Alliance for Middle East Peace

That is why several ALLMEP members have come out with campaigns to draw attention to the need to see Israel’s vaccination success to include the Palestinians, who are currently suffering a horrendous third wave of COVID-19, with already depleted hospitals under unprecedented strain. Rabbis for Human Rights have gathered a petition with 200 signatures from rabbis calling on Israel to help vaccinate its Palestinian neighbors territories, drawing upon religious and moral justification, as well as Israel’s self-interest. Standing Together has also passed around a petition demanding equitable vaccination. 

Combatants for Peace and Physicians for Human Rights wrote several letters to prominent leaders urging the Israeli government to provide urgent help. They co-wrote an international petition with several other human rights organizations in the region. Another letter was directed specifically to the Israeli Ministry of Health, with further letters to the World Health Organization and the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna.

Beyond campaigning, ALLMEP members have also been drawing attention to the story and helping to educate Israeli and international audiences about the worsening situation in the West Bank and Gaza. The Parents Circle Families Forum hosted an online webinar, featuring human rights attorney Michael Sfard, Physicians for Human Rights Executive Director Ran Goldstein, and bereaved parents Robi Damelin and Layla Alsheikh. They discussed Israel’s legal, moral, and human responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians, as well as the need for the same compassion they share as bereaved families to be applied more broadly during a pandemic that threatens all, regardless of their nationality or faith. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Al-Malki with Australian Ambassador to the State of Palestine Mark Bailey

Project Rozana has been pivotal in helping Palestinians during the pandemic. Over the past year, they raised over $430,000 towards COVID relief for Palestinians, providing 35 ventilators to ICUs in the West Bank where they helped to set up COVID-19 units, and have delivered ventilators and critical equipment for Gaza ICUs who are dangerously under-equipped. Project Rozana has been recognized by the European Union and by the Palestinian Authority for their work in helping Palestinians fight the virus, all rooted in the principle of cooperation. 

As COVID cases continue to rise in Palestine, hospitals are quickly becoming overwhelmed. Zimam is fundraising to buy new ventilators for ICUs to help alleviate Palestinian hospitals.

EcoPeace Middle East has been working on a Hebrew campaign focused on an Israeli audience, to persuade Israelis that vaccinating Palestinians is in their interest. In their video, the campaign notes,

“We breath the same air – Israel, Gaza, West Bank, and Jordan, we use the same water resources and live in the same environment.  Nature, like pandemics, do not recognize borders, cooperation is an Israeli interest.”

Arab citizens of Israel have been part of Israel’s vaccination campaign, but years of mistrust have led the Bedouin communities to struggle to convince its inhabitants to get vaccinated. ALLMEP member Yanabia’s CEO Dr. Mohammed Al-Nabari wrote about how he worked to build trust to ensure a successful vaccination effort in the Bedouin town of Huara. 

There is a growing international call for Israel to take a more active role in helping ensure all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are vaccinated, including among political figures who are strong supporters of ALLMEP’s community and the International Fund project. The UK’s Shadow Middle East Minister Wayne David recently asked that the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) ensured that Israel was making every effort to provide Palestinians with vital access to vaccines. 

Shadow Middle East Minister Wayne David’s question to FCDO regarding vaccination efforts in Palestine

In the United States, Senator Tim Kaine, one of the original Senate sponsors of the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, offered his own perspective on the issue:

Tim Kaine’s question at Anthony Blinken’s confirmation hearing regarding Israel’s vaccination effort

“There’s a vaccination campaign going on right now that in Israel is viewed as one of the leading and most innovative in the world in terms of vaccinating high percentages of people. But virtually no one in Palestine has been vaccinated, and the Israeli health minister says ‘When we are done with our citizens, then we will focus attention on our neighbors,’” Kaine said. The Palestinians are in this odd space where they’re sort of not in one of their own countries or in a country, but they’re not considered citizens, they’re considered neighbors. This is the kind of thing that suggests we really do need to find a path forward.”

ALLMEP’s members and the political leaders we work with around the world recognize the inherent equality, humanity and interconnectedness of Israelis and Palestinians. It is something this conflict too often obscures, but the work of our members consistently reveals. Whether the argument is based on legality, morality, self-interest or any other factor: ending this conflict will depend upon steps such as mutual vaccination seeming obvious rather than controversial.