Palestinians and vaccination

 

Sir, – Michael McDowell (“Ireland appears to have a last-minute approach to mass immunisation”, Opinion & Analysis, January 6th) is right to praise Israel’s anti Covid-19 vaccination programme. There is much the Government could beneficially learn from Israel’s approach.

To date almost 1.4 million Israelis out of a population of 9.2 million have received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

Mark Weiss in his excellent article (World, January 4th) detailed Israel’s extraordinary success in acquiring stocks of the vaccine and the roll-out of its programme.

It is a pity that Mr McDowell, unlike Mark Weiss, felt the need to include in his article a canard that has been floating around social media, in particular Twitter, for the past 10 days which was adopted in an Associated Press headline and then given further oxygen by the Guardian, the Observer and various broadcast outlets.

I refer to Mr McDowell’s statement that, “disgracefully, Israel is making little or no provision for Palestinians in the occupied territories or in Gaza”.

On Twitter the leading Irish proponents of this canard are, interestingly, members of Sinn Féin and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. They were joined in your letters page (January 6th) by Patrick Costello TD of the Green Party.

This invented narrative is designed to detract from the so-far-successful roll-out of the Israeli vaccination programme by presenting Israel as intentionally leaving Palestinians to languish in the middle of a pandemic. It is not only false, it is of no benefit to Palestinians.

The Oslo Accords, under which the Palestinian Authority (the PA) was established, stipulate that the PA is responsible for healthcare, which includes vaccinations, for Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. Israel, when requested by the PA, regularly assists in the provision of health services to Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinians have been treated in Israel’s hospitals, Israel held training courses for Palestinian doctors and lab technicians dealing with Covid, and an Israeli hospital provided the best medical care possible to Palestinian lead negotiator Saeb Erekat, who was the secretary general of the Executive Committee of the PLO and who, sadly, was a Covid causality. At an early stage in the Covid crises, the UN envoy praised the close Israeli/Palestinian co-operation and the PA has been carrying out Covid testing.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the pandemic, the PA broke off communications with Israel and later asserted it did not want Israel’s assistance in the acquisition of vaccines. It later announced that it was obtaining vaccines from the World Health Organisation and Russia. In the absence of requested assistance from the PA and the full co-operation of Hamas, which rules Gaza with an iron fist, Israel cannot assist in the provision of a vaccination programme for Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank.

Any assertion or implication that Israel’s Covid vaccination programme is discriminatory is simply false. The Israeli government has been actively encouraging Israel’s Arab population to get vaccinated and substantial numbers have been vaccinated in East Jerusalem, which Michael McDowell has previously described as “ occupied” instead of “disputed” territory.

Throughout the Covid crises the Israeli health system and Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s national emergency response service, has provided care and Covid testing to all across Israeli society. MDA professionals and volunteers of all religious backgrounds have tested more than 3,500,000 people.

On Tuesday, a senior but unidentified PA official was reported as saying the PA is now “ considering” the possibility of obtaining Covid-19 vaccine from Israel. There should be the maximum possible co-operation between Israel, the PA and the international community in the provision of a vaccination programme for all Palestinians. The Covid pandemic should not become yet another issue weaponised for anti-Israel propaganda purposes, with the welfare and health of Palestinians sidelined and any consequent resulting sickness and deaths written off as collateral damage. – Yours, etc,

ALAN SHATTER,

Chairman,

Magen David Adom,

Irish Branch,

Dublin 16.