While Palestinians in Gaza struggle to fight the continued spread of COVID-19 in Gaza amidst desperate healthcare conditions, the Israeli authorities controlling the Strip blocked the entry of the first batch of vaccines. Palestinian Health Minister, Mai al-Kaila, said on Monday that the Israeli authorities had blocked a shipment of 2,000 doses of Sputnik V—the Russian-made COVID-19 vaccine—to the Gaza Strip. Al-Kaila condemned Israel’s move, remarking that the doses were intended for frontline health workers and medical staff working in the intensive care units for COVID-19 patients.
While Israel is successfully implementing a mass vaccination program of its population, the state is refusing to vaccinate the millions of Palestinians living under its control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—an example of the Occupying Power’s discriminatory practices that have long defined its apartheid regime.
In its capacity as Occupying Power, according to international humanitarian law, Israel is under obligation to ensure “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics,” as outlined in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This duty includes providing support for the procurement, delivery and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinian population under its control. In this regard, Article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifies that “[e]ach High Contracting Party shall allow the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores.”
Simultaneously, Israel is also bound by international human rights law, which requires Israel to promote and protect the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to health for both its population and those who live under its control alike.
Al Mezan strongly condemns Israel’s decision to block the delivery of the first batch of vaccines to the Gaza Strip, amidst its pervasive culture of impunity and the inaction of the international community.
Accordingly, Al Mezan reiterates its calls on the international community—in particular, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention—to take prompt action to ensure that Israel upholds its legal obligations by ending all discriminatory policies against Palestinians and by ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to the whole population living under its control.