JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — February 12, 2021 — With well over 3.5 million Israelis having received the first COVID vaccination, more than one third of the entire population, and two million having received the second vaccine. Reports are that the rate of vaccinations has slowed and health clinics are trying to avoid wasting “left overs.” Accordingly, Israelis 16 and up are now eligible to be vaccinated. While Israel leads the world in per capita vaccination, the good news, its management of the pandemic is probably no better than others, and in some cases worse. Either way, despite the success in vaccination, the international airport remains closed for passenger traffic. Over the past year, Israel’s tourism industry, along with more than 5,000 Israelis, have basically died. That’s the bad news.
With this, the question of Israel providing vaccinations for, or actually vaccinating, the Arab population of the Palestinian Authority has resurfaced. Yet, like many issues here, it’s rarely simply about the merits, and relative plusses and minuses, but often about politics and propaganda. Much of it is led by a hostile media that depicts Israel as a racist, occupying boogeyman, replete with anti-Semitic imagery.
Among the most egregious and dishonest was a headline and accompanying image with anti-Semitic overtones in The Guardian recently, “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.”
The politics and propaganda cannot be separated from upcoming elections, both in Israel on March 23, and scheduled but not confirmed, in the Palestinian Authority. Israel will be holding its fourth national election in two years and the PA might (or might not) hold its first in nearly two decades. With the pandemic as one of the top issues in the Israeli election, Israeli politicians cannot appear bending too much one way or the other so as to turn off their natural supporters while attracting others.
Conversely, despite the more radical Hamas blaming Israel multiple times in the past year for not providing medical aid, Palestinian Arabs cannot appear to collaborate too closely with Israel, lest that be made a political liability, especially if there is an election coming. Because their goal is to destroy Israel and their currency is violence, it’s likely that Hamas will continue to use terror to push Israel to provide the vaccine.
In general, it’s a lovely idea for Israel, or any country for that matter, to lend a hand to its neighbors whenever possible. Perhaps, all the more so in a pandemic. Wouldn’t it be nice for every country to be able to offer humanitarian services on an unlimited basis to a neighbor in need. But between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it’s not as simple.
I could make the case for providing vaccines for the more than 100,000 Palestinian Arabs who work in Israeli communities, businesses, and industrial parks. That’s in Israel’s interest. Just as Israel has invested a lot to vaccinate its own citizens, why shouldn’t we vaccinate those who work in and among us, and come into contact with Israelis on a regular basis.
I don’t know if it’s up to Israel to provide the vaccine for free however to people who are not citizens and don’t pay into the national healthcare system. Israel is paying top dollar to have enough vaccines for its nine million citizens. I wouldn’t necessarily provide Palestinian Arabs vaccinations at a higher priority over Israelis citizens who are heavily taxed and deserve their government’s investment. But for Palestinian Arabs who work and interact among us on a regular basis, it’s not only not a bad thing, but a smart investment.
The issue of vaccinating Palestinian Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, especially security prisoners who have been sentenced as terrorists, is more complex. To me, they would be at the bottom of the list. I would be open to hear a legitimate argument why doing this is something that is in Israel’s tangible interest, or prioritize them over Israeli citizens at all. Maybe there’s a case to be made at some point, but it’s a stretch of ironic proportions to provide lifesaving treatment to those who are guilty of (trying to) take Israeli lives.
Having said all that, Israel has no obligation whatsoever to provide vaccinations for the PA and its residents. Somehow, people have piled on to the mistaken opinion that because of Israel’s domestic success, it has an obligation to provide for the neighbors. These are based on allegation that Israel is an “occupying power” and that Israel is obliged to various international laws to, among other things, provide vaccination and funding for these.
Some point specifically to Gaza as an example of Israel’s “occupation.” Israel maintains a maritime blockade to prevent the smuggling of weapons. Yet, scores of trucks cross the Israel Gaza border daily, carrying endless health and humanitarian supplies, food, and commercial items. This is done in full coordination, even with the terrorist leaders of Hamas who control Gaza and its residents. There are no shortage of instances when Hamas, trying to exercise its control or for some other malicious reason, will cease receiving of these deliveries. In the past, when Israel has received too much good PR from humanitarian gestures, Hamas has actually cut off the ability of Palestinian Arab Gazans to receive such aid.
If anyone has ever found the formula to have one’s cake and eat it too, Hamas has done so. They cynically blame Israel on one hand for lack of humanitarian aid, and then prevent the Palestinian Arabs under their control from receiving such aid when Israel gets too much positive recognition for doing so.
The reality is that Israel’s status is not that of an occupying power. This inaccurate depiction is typically done with malice to slander and blame Israel for all the problems of the Palestinian Arabs, rather than expect the latter to be responsible for themselves. Since Israel and the PLO signed the 1990s Oslo Accords, an independent legal entity was created in the Palestinian Authority which has the full responsibility to govern the territory and population of the areas that are under its control. This includes the civilian responsibility for health-related issues to which the pandemic and vaccination could not be more relevant. Despite Hamas ousting the PLO from Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007, their responsibility for such has not ended.
Practically, it’s quite simple: they want their own state and should be responsible for creating the framework for making that state possible, the same way pre-state leaders in Israel set up its own infrastructure to do so. Rather than being an actual occupier, the expectation that Israel needs to underwrite basic infrastructure creates not only a dependence, but a de facto “occupation” of the Palestinians’ invitation.
Most compelling is that if Israel provides the vaccine (at no cost) to the PA and its residents, we end up subsidizing the terror network that they maintain, something ingrained in their society and culture, and which is funded directly by the PA and Hamas. For every dollar or shekel given to the Palestinian Arabs tangibly or in kind for humanitarian services, that’s another dollar or shekel that they can use to invest in terrorism. And they do.
A concise meme to this point has been circling social media critical of the PA’s “pay to slay” funding of terrorists, which says. “If you can afford to pay people to stab Jews, you can afford to pay people to inoculate Arabs.”
This, and many other good reasons, should be a call for Palestinian Arabs who want better for their own society to demand that money and resources be put toward the welfare of their own people, and not invested in weapons, infrastructure to attack and harm Israel, or incite that. They’ve been living for decades on hand outs, rather than taking responsibility for themselves. If they truly want more, they need to step up and own it, and stop blaming Israel for all their problems.
In many ways, Israel and the Palestinian Authority do cooperate, coordinate, and exchange ample information in accordance with the Oslo Accords. Given geographic proximity between Israel and the PA and daily interaction among their respective residents, there may be good epidemiological and practical reasons for Israel and the PA, as well as Hamas, to act together in one another’s mutual interest.
Israel cannot ignore the reality of the daily interaction of hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. Cooperation, however, doesn’t require Israel to provide millions of vaccinations to the PA, much less for free. Whether there’s an election or not, the PA should step up and provide full vaccination to all its residents who have the right to demand no less from their leaders. Maybe by investing in their own welfare and not in terrorism, they can truly aspire to a healthy society, on multiple levels.