Israelis should give Palestinians the jab: A COVID-19 Dayenu

There is no doubt in my mind that we in Israel should send a few hundred thousand doses of whatever SARS-CoV-2 vaccine we can lay our hands on over to the Palestinian territories as soon as possible, with many more doses of the jab to follow. And we should do so without charging anything to the Palestinian Authority. There is a raft of excellent reasons for so doing.

First, the Palestinians are our neighbours; and we are much richer than are they. If the shoe were on the other foot, any doubters on our side would instantly understand that this would be the correct thing to do. Much is being written about the rich world grabbing the majority of the vaccine resources for themselves. Let’s stick (sorry!) out as an exception.

Second, viruses are not the only critters that do not respect borders and ours are very porous – both to people and to their viral friends. Jews live in the West Bank and West Bank Palestinians (and some Gazans) cross over every day to work in Israel. Furthermore, many Israeli Arabs have relatives in the territories and visit them frequently. For their part, looking for a “bargain”, Israeli Jews shop in West bank towns all the time. No matter how careful we all will be regarding hand washing, mask-wearing and physical distancing, any human interaction increases the likelihood of infection.

Whatever we may think of the large Arab weddings (both in Israel and Palestine) which we frequently see on the TV news with their attendant lack of social distancing and the poor mask-wearing compliance so clear to all,  this population is at high risk for infection. And the more “they” get sick, so too the chances of “us” catching the virus rise.

And lest we feel like climbing up on a moral high horse, just take a gander at Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews who also seem to enjoy big fat weddings;   and even more so, ever-larger rabbinical funerals. Or how secular Israelis are crowding (again that cursed word) into the newly opened flights to the UAE and coming home infected. The thronging and lack of mask-wearing make the two populations look very similar – at least in their fatalism about catching this terrible virus. Since we share the risk, let’s share the solution.

Even if we suddenly become generous, there will still be some obstacles to The Clarfield Plan set out by our neighbors’ politicians. Unfortunately, the PA as well as the organized Palestinian medical profession (not all individual doctors, many of whom are much more pragmatic) avoid cooperating with Israeli medicos like the plague (ouch! again). True, all Hamas wants to do, at least officially, is trade dead Israelis for live terrorists.  But with respect to the PA cooperating with the Israel Medical Association and our Ministry of Health, they seem paralyzed by a fear of another infectious disease – “normalization”.

To my mind, this foolhardy boycott is a great example of how to shoot oneself in both feet. If we offered to share some of our vaccines, especially gratis, the PA would be hard-pressed to break their self-destructive embargo on the Israeli medical profession, at least in part. Who knows, despite the best efforts of the lousy politicians on both sides of the fence, maybe health care could help act as a bridge to peace?

Unfortunately, there are still many, both within and without the Arab world, who for political and perhaps other reasons (aka hatred) never miss an opportunity to falsely accuse Israelis of well–poisoning, harming Palestinian babies, damaging Palestine’s nutrition etc, etc. One can still read these ridiculous, medieval slanders not just in poisoned social media posts but sadly even in respectable publications, both lay and medical. Although sharing our vaccine supply would hardly convince a diehard anti-Semite, who knows, a kind gesture may open a few eyes to the falseness of these pernicious claims. Israel might even get some brownie points in the international press. Let’s try to learn from 18th century Anglo-Saxon Protestantism of how to do well by doing good.

Finally, if none of the above reasons convinces us of the wisdom and/or self-interest of sharing this scarce but vital resource, is it so much to ask that we should simply do the right thing?

About the Author
Dr. A. Mark Clarfield is an Emeritus Professor of Geriatrics and head of the Centre for Global Health of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He grew up in Toronto went to medical school there before moving to Montréal. He is certified in Family Medicine, Public Health and Geriatric Medicine. In 1992 together with his family he moved to Israel. Apart from work he enjoys performing in his folk music band, "The Unstrung Heroes".
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