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Israel, Palestine and vaccinations

Sir, – In recent weeks, Israel has been lauded for the successful roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccination programme. With more than a million vaccination doses already administered, the Israeli healthcare system continues to be a model for co-existence, as Jewish, Muslim and Christian Israeli healthcare staff work together to achieve the best outcomes for their patients.

It is a truly exciting development, not just for Israelis, but for the world, if soon we will have evidence of how these vaccinations can halt the spread of Covid-19.

It is therefore disappointing that two members of the Oireachtas – Patrick Costello TD (Letters, January 6th) and Senator Michael McDowell (Opinion & Analysis, January 6th) have chosen to make misleading allegations about the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Those who are truly concerned with the issue of the Covid crisis in the Palestinian areas should take the time to educate themselves as to the facts. Had they done this, they would have learned that as per the Oslo Accords and other treaties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, civic responsibilities – including the provision of health services – is exclusively under the remit of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA has been negotiating the supplying of vaccines with various suppliers as well as with relevant international organisations. In addition to this, Israel will do whatever is needed to facilitate the supply of such vaccines to the Palestinian Authority.

Despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has sole responsibility for the healthcare of its population, it hasn’t always acted in its populations best interest, but rather chose to politicise the situation.

For months, the PA attempted to deny Palestinians medical treatment in Israel for political reasons by stopping civil coordination with Israel (however, the PA made an exception in the case of the late Saeb Erekat).

At the height of the Covid crisis, the PA refused shipments of personal protective equipment only because the Emirati airplane carrying that aid landed in Israel.

Through months of that crisis the PA refused, again for political reasons, to receive hundreds of millions of euro in tax revenues from Israel, which are transferred every month under the existing accords, thus inflicting even more suffering on their own people and aggravating the Covid crisis in the Palestinian-controlled areas.

At the same time, realising the humanitarian effects of the pandemic and knowing that the virus knows no borders, Israel initiated high-level cooperation with the Palestinians in the battle against Covid-19.

Despite the cynical actions of the PA, Israel has done its utmost to assist by training Palestinian medical staff both from the West Bank and Gaza, by facilitating the supply of thousands of donated test kits, large volumes of personal protective equipment, and assisting with other aid activities.

The UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace, Nikolay Mladenov, has hailed this cooperation as “exemplary”.

Rather than hijacking the global Covid crisis to further an extremist anti-Israel agenda, those who claim to support the Palestinian people should perhaps look into the irresponsible conduct of the Palestinian leadership and urge them to put the welfare of its own people above any political whims. – Yours, etc,

ORLI WEITZMAN,

Deputy Ambassador

of Israel,

Ballsbridge,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – As asserted by Alan Shatter (Letters, January 7th), the Palestinian Authority, under the terms of the Oslo Agreement, which was signed in 1993, was responsible for the administration of the health system for Palestinians in Occupied Territory.

However, what Mr Shatter fails to mention is that the Oslo Agreement was intended to be an interim agreement. The interim five-year period elapsed without any further progress and 28 years later, Palestine, including Jerusalem, remains a state under occupation. Israel, as the occupying power, has reneged time and time again on its obligations under international law as an occupying power. Under international law, the occupying power is responsible for the treatment of the local citizens under its occupying authority.

As we are an occupied state, we cannot raise our own revenues and are therefore on the back foot when it comes to competing for vaccine doses on a world stage. Due to the stranglehold of the occupation, our health system is badly underfunded and relies on help from NGOs and international aid to keep it operating at the most basic level of function. The profound effect of inequalities in access to healthcare (including the much coveted limited supply of vaccines) on a nation’s ability to respond to Covid has been well articulated by leading experts such as Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

When the pandemic was first announced, we began immediate preparations to try to contain the virus and cushion the blow to our health service. This was made inordinately harder by the withholding of our tax revenues by the occupying power, Israel, the blockade of Gaza and the defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). We simply could not afford to pay the premiums the occupying state did to secure early access to vaccines. Instead, we are working with the WHO to secure vaccines as part of its scheme for poor and middle-income countries.

Contrary to recent reports from Israeli media, the Palestinian Authority has indeed been in touch with Israeli officials and has asked to purchase 10,000 doses of the vaccine which they have managed to secure. We have not yet had a response, which is not unusual. Withholding essential medical supplies is not a new Israeli tactic.

Mr Shatter notes that the “Israeli Government has been actively encouraging Israel’s Arab population to get vaccinated”.

No one has questioned the availability of the vaccine to the Arab population of Israel. The profound discriminatory feature of Israel’s vaccination programme that it is administering vaccines to the settler population deep within Palestinian Territory while failing to offer the vaccine to the Palestinian population under its control within that same territory.

Covid-19 has presented the entire world with unprecedented challenges, but the harsh reality is that Palestine as a country under occupation has the added disadvantage of a beleaguered economy and healthcare system as a result of a decades old occupation.

Our population in the West Bank has the added challenge of watching on while illegal settlers on Palestinian land are administered a vaccination under an internationally acclaimed vaccination programme – and they remain at risk, unvaccinated and with no end in sight. – Yours, etc,

SARAH HOLLAND,

Communications Officer,

Mission of the State

of Palestine,

Dublin 4.