On Sunday, January 24, Israel’s health minister Yuli Edelstein went on British television and disavowed any and all legal obligation to vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It was really a rather shameful performance by Mr Edelstein, who until then, had answered all the other questions put to him by Andrew Marr with commendable clarity and apparent candour. You can watch the interview here . His remarks about vaccinating (or rather not vaccinating) Palestinians start at the 43-minute mark and finish at 45. If, for some reason, you don’t get to see the interview, relevant highlights are below. They illustrate Israel’s attitude to the people who live on land they occupy – high-handed, dismissive, unyielding and unkind.
Mr Edelstein insisted that Israel had no “legal obligation” but acknowledged that it was in its “interest” to vaccinate Palestinians. However, he said, it stood to reason that Israel would look after its own tax-paying citizens at the outset. Perhaps. But what about the responsibility it bears as an occupying power?
The Israeli health minister said it wasn’t really his business. Resisting the idea that Israel bore responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention for preventing contagious disease in a population under its control, he said that the “so-called Oslo agreement” conferred such duties on the Palestinians themselves.
When reminded that the United Nations had said international law superseded the Oslo agreement, Mr Edelstein fell back on sarcasm. If the Israeli health minister has to take responsibility for the Palestinians, what job does the Palestinian health minister get to do, he asked in a jeering tone? Look after the dolphins in the Mediterranean?
Such remarks ill-behoove a health minister anywhere, let alone one charged with the responsibility for ensuring equal protection to people within a territory.
As of now, with Israel having managed to vaccinate 20 per cent of its citizens, including Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, a dismal health apartheid is in place.
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, says the ugly “reality” in parts of the West Bank is as follows: “…people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian”.