Israeli critics warn EU against legitimising Palestinian ‘vaccination apartheid’

File photo. Palestinians waiting in line to get vaccinated against COVID-19, in the mobile vaccinations unite next to Damascus gate in Jerusalem's old city as part of operations headed by Home Front Command and Magen David Adom, 26 February 2021. [Atef Sadafi/EPA/EFE]

A group of prominent Israelis have warned Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz not to cooperate with Israel on vaccines, citing what they termed vaccination “apartheid” vis-à-vis the country’s Palestinian population.

In an open letter published by the Danish newspaper Politiken on Wednesday (4 March), signatories including former Israeli lawmakers and a former ambassador to France issued the warning ahead of planned visits by Frederiksen and Kurz to Israel for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss potential vaccine cooperation.

Israel leads the world, having already vaccinated more than one-third of its nine million people in one of the world’s fastest roll-outs. In contrast, the West Bank and Gaza, home to a combined 5.2 million Palestinians, have received just 34,700 vaccine doses to date. These came from small donations by Israel and Russia as well as 20,000 sent by the United Arab Emirates to Gaza.

Palestinians have accused Israel of ignoring its duties as an occupying power by not including them in its inoculation programme. But Israeli officials have said that under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian Authority health ministry is responsible.

“We seek to direct your attention to the fact that while Israel has been lauded around the world for its efficacy in vaccine distribution, this narrative is incomplete and misleading, as millions of Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation are not given access to this life-saving vaccine”, the open letter reads.

“In the very same territory, Israeli settlers are given vaccines, while their Palestinian neighbours are not. There is no word for such a reality other than apartheid,” it adds.

Signatories underline that any conversation with Netanyahu that does not address this imbalance would be “disingenuous and contrary to the human rights principles” Austria and Denmark have committed to respect.

They urge Frederiksen and Kurz to use their visit to bring up this important issue with Netanyahu and to make sure that any potential cooperation on vaccine production or supply will be conditioned on this very basic principle.

“If not, we fear that you, unintentionally, but in stark contrast to Austria’s, Denmark’s and Europe’s clear and law-based position on the occupation, end up contributing to legitimizing a reality of unequal rights”, the signatories conclude.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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