Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, Government Press Office (Israel)/Wikimedia Commons

2020-2021 University of Pittsburgh CAMERA Fellow Joshua Beylinson

The Pittsburgh branch of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) recently circulated a petition that claims that Israel’s alleged refusal to vaccinate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is “medical apartheid” — even though these Palestinians are not citizens of Israel and live under the purview of their own independent governments — which said they did not want the COVID vaccine from Israel.

JVP’s national organization has employed this “medical apartheid” myth repeatedly.

The petition claims that “The US funds Israel’s system of separate-and-unequal control” over the West Bank and Gaza, and that Israel is obligated to vaccinate Palestinians under international law. But Palestinians are not citizens of Israel — and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is the entity ultimately responsible for procuring vaccines for its residents.

Israel’s responsibility is to vaccinate its own citizens, just like every other country in the world. The Israeli government rolled out one of the most successful vaccination programs in history — and offered the vaccine to every single Israeli citizen regardless of race or ethnicity.

The PA has its own vaccination program and initially refused any cooperation with Israel’s efforts to procure vaccines.

But now, because it has lagged far behind Israel’s program, Palestinian leaders have changed the narrative to blame Israel — and anti-Israel groups have followed their lead.

JVP’s insistence that Israel is neglecting its obligations under international law does not hold up under scrutiny. 

The organization claims that Israel is obligated to vaccinate Palestinians under Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but a closer look at the document reveals that this does not apply to Israel. 

Article 56 states that an occupying power has the responsibility, “with the cooperation of national and local authorities,” to maintain hospitals and other health services in the territory that it holds. Accordingly, JVP claims that Israel, as an occupying power, must distribute vaccines to Palestinians.

But this is a faulty legal analysis. According to International Law Expert Eugene Kontorovich, “All these experts present Art. 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention as the sole governing provision, with no other context. This position is entirely misleading about the content of international law, and even the Geneva Convention itself. First, the contention that the Geneva Convention supplants [the Oslo Accords] is preposterous — it makes much of the latter agreement a dead letter, something none of these ‘experts’ argued when Oslo was first signed.”

So, what are the Oslo Accords? They are the very accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that created the PA itself. Under the Accords, the PA was given the “powers and responsibilities in the sphere of Health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” The Accords also divided up the West Bank into three areas: Area A, B, and C. In Gaza, Hamas is the authority.

The PA accepted that Israel has the right to conduct security operations in Areas B and C, with the Palestinian Authority in charge of security operations in Area A. Therefore, it’s not accurate to call Israel an occupying power throughout the entire West Bank, as the PA itself controls much of the territory. 

Ever since the Oslo Accords were ratified, the PA has been in charge of giving vaccines to its people. This makes sense, as the PA considers itself to be the national authority of the Palestinians in the West Bank — and it provides all health care services for its people. Furthermore, it proudly — and publicly — stated that it would acquire COVID the vaccine from other sources.

Despite these facts, JVP makes the bold claim that Israel is practicing “medical apartheid,” which is nothing more than another new term to slander and demonize Israel.

The bottom line is this: Palestinians living in the West Bank aren’t citizens of Israel, and have their own national authority to represent them. 

But despite no legal obligation to do so, Israel has given vaccines to Palestinians with work permits in Israel, as well as in other cases. It’s not that Israel should never give vaccines to Palestinians, but every country’s ultimate responsibility is to vaccine its own citizens first.

JVP’s “medical apartheid” slander is merely another way to blame Israel for all the troubles of the Palestinians — and the world.

A slightly different version of this article was originally published in The Algemeiner.

Contributed by 2020-2021 University of Pittsburgh CAMERA Fellow Joshua Beylinson.

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