Palestinian ambassador to SA | To deny health rights to Palestinians is to deny them human rights

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The writer argues that Covid-19 has further exposed Israel's discriminatory and unlawful treatment of Palestinians.
The writer argues that Covid-19 has further exposed Israel's discriminatory and unlawful treatment of Palestinians.
Michael Ciaglo, Getty Images via AFP

Logistics and distribution of vaccines that Palestinian Authorities have managed to secure is challenging because of poor infrastructure and the restrictions imposed on Gaza, blockaded for 13 years, writes the Palestinian ambassador to South Africa Hanan Jarrar.


With South Africa marking Human Rights Day on 21 March, I am reminded of the equality and human rights violations on the Palestinian people by Israel.

The Covid-19 pandemic has magnified Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinians, seen in the unequal access to healthcare and vaccines.

Israel is being praised for having the world’s fastest Covid-19 vaccine rollout to Israelis, but what the world fails to recognise is that Israel has only been able to do this because it has denied healthcare and failed to give Palestinians in occupied territories equal access to vaccines.

Israel is using the pandemic as another avenue to abuse Palestinians’ rights.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel, as the occupying power, is legally obligated to supply adequate food, healthcare services and medical supplies to Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Israel claims, under the Oslo Accord, that it is not its responsibility to vaccinate Palestinians.

READ | Opinion: Vaccine rollout in Gaza and West Bank: Palestinian authority to blame

We, along with the United Nations, strongly disagree.

Israel is compelled under International Law to fulfil its obligations to vaccinate and supply adequate resources to Palestinians. This is another show of deliberate denial of Palestinian rights by Israel and it must be condemned.

Inequality

While life in Israel is slowly beginning to return to normal, new restrictions are being imposed on the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem because of a rise in infections.

Israel started its vaccine rollout in December and by March at least 60% of the population received their first shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Israel had more than enough money to secure two doses of vaccines for its population of 9.3 million ahead of time. Israel was one of the first large countries in the world to secure vaccines and its rollout has been speedy. Palestinian workers who are crossing over into Israel are receiving their first shots - two months after Israel started its rollout.

READ | Israel re-opens restaurants, bars with 40% of country fully vaccinated

The Palestinian Authorities have only recently been able to secure the Russian Sputnik V vaccines for the five million people living in occupied Palestine - the UAE also donated 20 000 vaccines to Gaza, but the logistics and distribution of these vaccines are challenging because of poor infrastructure and the restrictions imposed on Gaza, blockaded for 13 years.

While Israel’s healthcare system records the details of fully functional healthcare facilities, hospitals in Occupied Palestine are under resourced and filled to capacity.

Getting to a hospital for even emergency medical treatment is a challenge because of checkpoints and the restriction of movement of Palestinians. Palestinians are also at further risk of exposure to Covid-19 when they wait in lengthy and often crowded queues to pass through the dehumanising checkpoints.

READ | Top Palestinian official Erekat dies of Covid-19

These are confined cage-like lanes that scores of Palestinians must pass through daily to get to the other side of the border for work. Palestinians need permits (similar to the dompas in South Africa) to enter Israel, so Israeli forces can govern their movement.

Hospitals in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem were poorly equipped even before the pandemic, but the increase in Covid-19 infections has put added pressure on the healthcare system, and the inequality is becoming more evident.

Condemnation of Israel

Israel calling itself a democratic state is an insult to democracy. It is an apartheid state and Covid-19 has further exposed its discriminatory and unlawful treatment of Palestinians.

South Africans were able to overcome apartheid through social solidarity and after sanctions were imposed on its unlawful regime.

As Palestinians this gives us hope to overcome our struggles and resist Israel’s occupation of our land. Today I am reminded of the sacrifices that South Africans had to make to achieve a true democracy, one that ensures every citizen has equal access to rights, healthcare and housing. Palestine, like South Africa, will rise.

We therefore call on the international communities to stand with Palestine to ensure its people have equal access to healthcare, vaccines and their basic human rights.

- Hanan Jarrar is the Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa, Namibia and Lesotho.


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