Marty Eisenstein
Marty Eisenstein

Israel Should Vaccinate all Palestinians

We’re almost 100 Days into 2021

 21 Reasons Israel Should Vaccinate all Palestinians

From the beginning of the Covid vaccine rollout in December 2020, two main voices have been heard in the echo chamber regarding vaccinating Palestinians. One side argues that Israel, as an occupying power, is obligated under international law to do so. The other side argues that, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, all issues of healthcare lay solely at the feet of the Palestinian Authority.

My hope is that this extensive list, in no particular order ( the pandemic has shattered our preconceived notions of “order”) adds 21 additional perspectives on the imperativeness of public health for all in this era we are living.

#1. One hundred years after the Balfour Declaration, Israel is a strong vibrant state. What a great opportunity to fulfil one of the declaration’s basic tenets, “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.  The public health of Palestinians is certainly a prerequisite for enjoying civil and religious rights.

#2. One hundred years after WWI and the Spanish Flu, this pandemic provides an opportunity for reflection on historical statistics; Death tolls: WWI-20 million. Spanish Flu-50 million. WWII-85 million, including the Jewish 6 million. Global Covid deaths now approaching 3 million.   Israelis 6,243. Palestinians 2,716. Vaccination of Palestinians would be a proactive step in how history records the statistics of this era.

#3.  Eighteen years after a Coalition of the willing – 48 countries, set out ( perhaps under false pretences) to make the world a safer place by attacking  Iraq, and its WMD (?) program.  A similar but even broader coalition combining the “West” with China, Russia, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, etc could be convened by Israel to contribute to the vaccinating all in the West Bank and Gaza…for true humanitarian reasons.

#4.   The Nation State Act, Clause 1,B. B. speaks of Israel’s  Jewish religious nature. The great Rabbis, Hillel demanded “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Come on now, people, the clock is ticking!

#5. Israel, in 2021, is undoubtedly a scientific, military, and medical superpower. It is completely within a superpower’s abilities and responsibilities to seek to protect the vulnerable within, and next to its borders. It also makes public health sense for Israelis.

#6. After the August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut, Hezbollah is at its weakest ever. Lebanon, by all accounts, is experiencing an internal meltdown. The usual “Middle Eastern argument”, about not  showing kindness nor weakness to an enemy, in the face of an already weakened Northern threat, does not really apply to this public health emergency. This argument holds true as well for Syria. For the last two years the Israeli air force has demonstrated unrestrained dominance in its skies, in its policy of defeating Iranian expansionism.

#7.  Israeli Human Rights organisation B’tselm, recently made the irrefutable  claim that a state of Apartheid exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This claim could be partially disproved if healthcare during this pandemic is administered in a non discriminatory manner.

#8. The Abraham Agreements. An historic opening in Middle East relations, an annulment of old stereotypes and the continuation of creating real relations between countries/peoples. Vaccinating the Palestinian population would cement good will and keep this trajectory moving forward.

#9. Two hundred rabbis from Rabbis for Human Rights, a body made up of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, has called for vaccination of Palestinians. Healthcare is a human right.

#10. All political sides could spin vaccination to their advantage. The Right would look good in the eyes of the global Human Rights community, the Left would feel listened to. It was reported that Netanyahu called Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla no less than 30 times to sell him on Israel being the global laboratory for the vaccine. Is it really possible that two of the world’s most influential Jews spoke so many times without even one “So….Nu… let’s do a Mitzvah (good deed)  and vaccinate the Palestinians, too”! ?

#11. The first Covid vaccines are the result of five devoted scientists and businesspeople, all Eastern Mediterranean;  BioNTech husband and wife team, CEO and chief scientists, Turkish-German Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci. Pfizer CEO, Greek- Jewish Albert Bourla. Moderna CEO, Lebanese-Armenian Noubar Afeyan, and it’s Chief Medical Officer, Israeli Tal Zaks. An “Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Dividend”, if you will, awarded to the Palestinians, not unlike a peace dividend, would be a completely appropriate gesture now.

#12. There already exist Israeli – Palestinian healthcare initiatives such as Project Rozana, which focusses on bringing Palestinian doctors, nurses and therapists to Israeli hospitals for advanced training; transportation of Palestinian patients from checkpoints on the border of Gaza and the West Bank to Israeli hospitals; and the treatment of critically ill Palestinian children in Israel. Why not allow this initiative to extend to the vaccination protocol of all Palestinians?

#13.  One source of immense pride in Israeli society is the voluntary emergency rescue service called ZAKA- Identification, Extraction, Rescue, and True Kindness”. Founded after a terrorist attack on a bus in 1989,  when volunteers painstakingly collected human remains of victims for the preparation of  proper Jewish religious burials. Today, over 1,500 volunteers work in ZAKA, representing also Muslim, Bedouin and Druze teams operating in Israel for their respective communities. Additionally ZAKA has sent teams to countries after disasters as far and wide as Thailand, Sri Lanka, Haiti, and Brazil.    That this uniquely Israeli service organization, which affords the utmost in human and spiritual respect to the dead, could exist simultaneously within a society that does not offer preventative healthcare in the form of a vaccine to its living Palestinian cousins, seems like a complete and total contradiction.

#14. The largest independent, non-profit, fully volunteer EMS organization in the world,  United Hatzalah is a second source of pride as an Israeli organization. With over 6,000 volunteer medics nationwide The organization provides free services to all citizens regardless of race, religion, or national origin. With the help of its Uber-like GPS dispatch system and fleet of rapid response ambucycles, United Hatzalah has achieved an average response time of less than 3 minutes nationwide and 90 seconds in metropolitan areas.  What is the unique Israeli character that can give birth to the most efficient EMS model in the world? Why cannot this spirit be extended to the public health emergency  in the Palestinian territories?

#15.  Passover affords us with the perspective to fully appreciate the freedom afforded to vaccinated Israelis who travel and to the return of  Israel as a safe tourist destination. Why not apply a small “ travel privilege tax” on all travellers leaving and entering Israel. Even before the pandemic, Palestinians experienced innumerable international travel restrictions. The funds from the “travel privilege tax” could be used towards vaccinations for Palestinians, easing their burden in a real and symbolic way.

#16. Highly respected Israeli politician, human rights activist and author Natan Sharansky,  recently publicly expressed his views that the Oslo Accords are officially dead.  A man of his stature is surely a good judge of societal and political trends. It goes to reason then, that those voices  calling on the Palestinian Authority to be solely in control of their healthcare system ( as stated in the Accords) are out of time and date during this pandemic.

#17.  Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war came about partially as a result of Israeli supplied drones and technology.  Zev Chafets, respected author and journalist, has written that the decision comes laden with moral baggage for Israel. Despite the  shared history of the two nations surviving genocide, Israel did not support democratic Armenia, choosing instead to support an Islamic dictatorship. An Israeli decision to take responsibility for vaccinating Palestinians would be a “morally positive” move in the ongoing game of geopolitical chess, played by nation states.

#18. As of this writing, Israel  has seen an 85 percent drop in daily COVID-19 deaths, and 86 percent fewer daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic’s third peak in mid-January, according to Eran Segal, a data scientist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. Simultaneously, in the West Bank “The number of positive cases is at its highest level since the beginning of the pandemic,” according to  Dr. Juan Pablo Nahuel Sanchez, MSF intensive care unit (ICU) doctor, Dura hospital in Hebron—the main hospital and the only COVID-designated facility in the south of the West Bank. This disparity makes one’s hair stand on end.

#19. Israel has endured four national elections in the last two years. For now, at least, it appears that Democracy is holding strong against constant attacks. A national initiative to vaccinate all Palestinians would be a positive injection of Oxygen in the heavy, CO2 laden environment of internal Israeli political and social discourse.

#20. There have not been free and fair elections in the Palestinian territories in over 15 years. An Israeli vaccination initiative would be a welcome exhibition of people power from a neighbouring democracy, to a people suffering not only from the Pandemic but from an inherently anti democratic political system.

#21. This pandemic provides  a one hundred year opportunity to reenvision and possibly “reprogram” the painful events of the last century for both Israelis and Palestinians. A new starting place for more empathic and proactive relations between neighbours in the 21st century.

About the Author
Marty Eisenstein, originally from Cleveland, is a musician, Cantorial Soloist and guitar teacher in Athens, Greece. Throughout this past year of lockdown, he takes long walks every other day, most often accompanied by a soundtrack in his head, of among other things, the incredible songs from the 1973 hit album Sipurei Poogy by the Israeli rock band Kaveret.
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