The year 2020 was yet another annus horribilis for the Palestinian people, betrayed by their long-standing Arab and African allies, further abandoned by the United Nations, humiliated by the United States, and victimized by an occupier whose cruelty knows no bounds.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which ravaged and continues to wreak havoc on the Palestinian people in disproportionate numbers, with more than 85,000 Palestinians infected with the virus in the occupied West Bank, alongside roughly 30,000 cases in Gaza. All of it due largely to the criminal-level incompetence and callousness of the Netanyahu-led government.
The situation in Gaza has reached what epidemiologists are calling a “dangerous stage,” with ten residents dying in a single 24 hour period ending on December 16, bringing the total to 220 deaths—a frightening number given the virus didn’t make its way into the Israeli sealed off territory until August.
Blame for the mishandling of the pandemic has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the Netanyahu government.
Blame for the mishandling of the pandemic has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the Netanyahu government, with Professor Gabi Barbash, the former Director-General of Israel’s Health Ministry, telling the Times of Israel the government “should have responded more and earlier,” “neglected the development of efficient testing,” and reopened schools too soon after the first wave of infection.
In other words, roughly 120,000 Palestinians have been infected and more than 1,000 are dead, excluding the number of Palestinian Israeli citizens killed by the virus, because of Israel’s mishandling of the pandemic.
It gets worse! Despite experiencing a rising spike in infection and death, the roughly 5 million Palestinians living under Israeli control have been excluded from Israel’s massive vaccination campaign “Give a Shoulder,” which rolled out last month, with the Israeli Prime Minister on December 19.
“I asked to be vaccinated first, together with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, to serve as personal examples and encourage you to be vaccinated,” Netanyahu told a national television audience.
That’s right, the guy who botched the national pandemic response, resulting in a crushing second wave of infection and death, is the first to be protected from further infection and possible death. Unfortunately, yet expectedly, his cowardice, cynicism, and callousness does not stop there.
Nearly 3 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, who will be denied the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, will watch on as their illegal occupiers receive their jab.
Nearly 3 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, who will be denied the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, will watch on as their illegal occupiers, namely 800,000 Jewish settlers, receive their jab. Earlier this year, CCTV footage captured Jewish settlers spitting on Palestinian cars to spread the coronavirus among Palestinian towns and villages. Hence, one can only imagine what similar horrors will be dished out by a settler population now immune to the virus.
Palestinian leaders and human rights activists contend Israel is obligated to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated as quickly as possible, with the non-governmental-organization Physicians for Human Rights stating, “Israel bears moral and humanitarian responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population under its control.”
Israel has purchased 8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 4 million doses of the one developed by Moderna at a rate of US$20 and US$30 per dose, respectively.
The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which, unlike Israel, does not receive billions of dollars in US foreign aid, however, is left dependent on the goodwill of humanitarian organizations and a global consortium of 92 low-income countries that aim to deliver the vaccine to the most vulnerable 20 percent of each participating nation.
“Nobody is safe until everyone is safe,” Gerald Rockenschaub, the World Health Organization chief for the Palestinian territories, told the Washington Post. “It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that countries that can’t purchase vaccines on the global marketplace have their needs met adequately.”
Israel has imposed a brutal and unrelenting blockade on the Palestinian territory, one that includes a daily 16-hour cut in electricity.
Further complicating the delivery of the COVID vaccine to Gaza is the fact Israel has imposed a brutal and unrelenting blockade on the Palestinian territory, one that includes a daily 16-hour cut in electricity. The Pfizer vaccine requires refrigeration at a temperature of sub-94 degrees, a task made near impossible by Israel’s punishing control of the territory’s electricity grid.
“We just do not have the technical capabilities for that,” said Ali Abd Rabbo, Director of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, referring to the refrigeration requirements of the Pfizer vaccine. “We have held sessions with the Israeli side in this regard, but until this moment there is no agreement.”
The problem facing COVID distressed Gaza doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. Israel controls what or who comes in and out through the territory’s sealed borders; and given Israel has previously blocked the importation of unapproved drugs, that poses a potential problem for any effort by either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority to source vaccines from countries like say Russia, China, or elsewhere.
What’s clear is that Israeli citizens and illegal Jewish settlers will be vaccinated and protected from the virus months and even years before the Palestinian people, further illustrating the yawning gulf between the occupier and the occupied in terms of socio-economic-political-psychological-physiological well-being, and adding to the inhumane and unjust woes Palestinians have endured in 2020.