Israel to Vaccinate Palestine Laborers with Work Permits in West Bank and Gaza with Moderna Jab

Israel had come under severe criticism for not taking adequate steps to vaccinate the more than 5.2 million Palestine population in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority said on Sunday that it has reached an agreement with Israel wherein the Jewish state will vaccinate over 100,000 Palestinian laborers with Israeli work permits. The decision comes after a rights group said that Israel hadn't done enough to safeguard Palestinians in occupied territory.

The decision comes as a major relief given that Palestinians so far have received relatively few doses to date and lag far behind Israel, which on the other hand has been on a massive immunization drive over the past few weeks. Israel, reportedly, has vaccinated over one third of its population in one of the world's fastest roll-outs.

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The Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in Palestinian territories on Sunday said that the "political echelon" has decided to vaccinate over 100,000 Palestinian laborers and settlement workers with work permits. Israel had come under severe criticism for not taking adequate steps in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, Israel.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been taking aggressive steps and securing deals with Moderna and Pfizer to vaccinate its 9.3 million people. Israel aims to vaccinate majority of its adult population by the end of March. However, Netanyahu has been quite negligent about laborers in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

It agreed to give 5,000 doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine to Palestinian health workers earlier last month and so far, Israel has handed over only 2,000 doses for which it has faced severe criticism from international communities for being selfish in this time of crisis.

However, Sunday's announcement comes as a big relief for Palestine after COGAT, a branch of Israel's defense ministry, as part of a larger commitment said that it would offer Moderna vaccines to around 130,000 Palestinians who work in Israel or its West Bank settlements.

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A general view picture shows home in the Israeli outpost of Palgey Maim, in the occupied West Bank February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Sunday's statement from COGAT also mentioned that the vaccination drive for Palestine laborers will start in the next few days. Thousands of Palestinians who work in the Israeli service and industrial sectors have been receiving vaccine doses but they are mostly being given privately by their employers inside Israel, said Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian Workers' Union.

However, following Sunday's announcement, the vaccination drive will now be initiated by Palestinian medical teams would administer shots at West Bank military checkpoints.

Needless to say, Israel holds the responsibility to vaccinate a large portion of the Palestine population given that has been under Israel's governance for years now. Israel captured the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek the territories for a future state but the dispute remains unsolved.

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Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, said that Israel was bound by international law to vaccinate Palestinians living under its effective control. "Vaccinating only those Palestinians who come in contact with Israelis reinforces that, to Israeli authorities, Palestinian life only matters to the extent it affects Jewish life," Shakir said.

Israel recognizes East Jerusalem Palestinians as part of its population. Hence the population that has been receiving the vaccines much like other Israeli citizens. However, it has refrained from vaccinating the laborers and settlement workers in the West Bank and Gaza as it argues that under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA) owns the responsibility to vaccinate the 5.2 million Palestinians in Gaza and parts of the West Bank where it has limited self-rule.

So far, 32,000 of these people have received vaccines doses with minimal donations from Israel, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

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