[News] Racism and Institutionalised Discrimination in the Roll-Out of the COVID-19 Vaccine in Palestine

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 21 12:44:14 EST 2021

PNIN & PHROC Joint Statement: Racism and Institutionalised Discrimination
in the Roll-Out of the COVID-19 Vaccine
January 21, 2021

The Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO) and the Palestinian Human Rights
Organisations Council (PHROC) and the Palestinian National Institute for
NGOs (PNIN) are concerned that since commencing the roll out of a vaccine
against COVID-19 in December 2020, *the **Israeli occupying authorities
have implemented its vaccine policy in a discriminatory, unlawful, and
racist manner*by completely disregarding its obligations to Palestinian
healthcare. Throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), apart from
East Jerusalem, Israeli occupying authorities have reserved access to the
vaccine to the unlawfully transferred in settler population of Jewish
Israelis in illegal settlements, and denied
vaccine to the Palestinian population. According to data collected by the
University of Oxford, around 1.99 million Israelis, Palestinian citizens of
Israel, and Palestinian from occupied East Jerusalem had been vaccinated
<https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations> by 13 January 2021.
According to the State of Palestine’s Negotiation Affairs Department, as of
9 January 2021, there were over 165,000 active cases in the occupied State
of Palestine, including in East Jerusalem.[1]As of 13 January, 1814
Palestinians in the OPT lost <https://corona.ps/> their lives to COVID-19.

In March 2020, the Chairpersons of the ten United Nations (UN) Human Rights
Treaty Bodies issued
joint statement calling on States parties “to adopt measures to protect the
rights to life and health, and to ensure access to health care to all who
need it, without discrimination”.[2]Representing the Chairpersons’, Hilary
Gbedemah, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women, warned
States exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to violate human rights and
affirmed that “States must take active steps to ensure a sense of
solidarity prevails, including through protection against racism and
xenophobia or the growth of unbridled nationalism”.

As affirmed by the Committee on the Elimination for Racial Discrimination
(CERD) in August 2020, States have international law obligations to
“ensure, in their own actions as well as through international cooperation,
that the development of vaccines as well as access to an eventual vaccine
against COVID-19 occur in a non-discriminatory manner, taking into account
the situation and needs of groups which are marginalized and subjected to

*Israel’s Obligations to Distribute Vaccine to all Palestinians under its

Israel, as Occupying Power of the Palestinian territory, i.e. the West
Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, has clear obligations to
ensure the protection and respect of the right to health of the protected
population. In particular, Article 55(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention
establishes Israel’s duty, as Occupying Power, to ensure the provision of
medical supplies to the civilian population in the OPT to the fullest
extent of the means available to it.

Further, Article 14(1) of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions,
reflective of customary international humanitarian law, provides that the
Occupying Power has the duty to ensure that the medical needs of the
civilian population continue to be satisfied, while Article 69(1) requires
the Occupying Power to ensure, without adverse distinction, the provision
of supplies essential to the survival of the civilian population.

These critical provisions are to be read in conjunction with Article 56 of
the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides that: “To the fullest extent
of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring
and maintaining, with the co-operation of national and local authorities,
the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and
hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the
adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures
necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Israel has rejected these responsibilities,
by failing to protect Palestinian workers
<https://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/16733.html> in Israel, Palestinian prisoners
<https://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/17228.html> and detainees in Israeli
detention centres, denying Palestinians in the Gaza Strip
<https://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/17031.html;> access to healthcare, and
systematically neglecting the healthcare in occupied East Jerusalem
<https://www.alhaq.org/publications/17118.html>. While some commentary has
sought to suggest that Israel’s obligations as an occupying power are in
some way diluted or excused by the terms of the Oslo Accords, we reiterate
that Article 8 of the Fourth Geneva Convention asserts that ‘protected
persons may in no circumstances renounce in part or in entirety the rights
secured to them by the present Convention’, and Article 47 of the
aforementioned Convention further asserts that:

“Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in
any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present
Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a
territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor
by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied
territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the latter of
the whole or part of the occupied territory.”

The Palestinian healthcare system in the OPT has suffered decades of
deliberate neglect, de-development, and fragmentation, which hamper an
effective COVID-19 response. Longstanding Israeli practices
closures of Palestinian cities, villages, and towns, and continuous
movement and access restrictions are a staple of Israel’s prolonged
military occupation, undermining the right of Palestinians to access
available healthcare and to develop their own healthcare system. In its
2018 report on the right to health in Palestine, the World Health
warned that the health system in the OPT is fragmented and fragile and
highlighted the precariousness of the situation in the Gaza Strip, noting
that the “ongoing blockade and successive conflicts have had a devastating
impact on underlying factors that contribute to health and wellbeing”.
Under international human rights law, Palestinians on both sides of the
Green Line are entitled to respect, protection, and fulfilment of their
right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as
enshrined in Article 12(1) of the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The Committee for Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (CESCR) has stressed that: “In all circumstances, in times
of peace and during conflict, States have an obligation to maintain a
functioning health-care system. They must maintain essential primary health
care… *as well as provide essential drugs, while respecting the principles
of non-discrimination and equitable access.*States must also design and
implement public health strategies.”[4]

CESCR has further affirmed that, in line with their core obligations to
fulfil economic, social, and cultural rights, States must “take measures to
prevent, treat and control epidemic and endemic diseases”.[5]In its
November 2019 Concluding Observations on Israel, CESCR expressed its deep
concern: “about the severe impact of the policies adopted by the State
party relating to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, namely the closure
policy and the related permit regime regarding the Gaza Strip and the
occupation and settlement policy in the West Bank, including East
Jerusalem, on the enjoyment of Covenant rights by people living there,
including the rights to work, food, water and sanitation, health and
education, and to their cultural rights”.[6]

*Vaccine Roll-Out Exposes Israel’s Inhumane Acts of Apartheid*

That the fragmentation of Palestinians into segregated administrative
groupings, separated from each other, to maintain Israel’s settler colonial
expansion constituting apartheid, has been vividly evidenced through the
racist and structurally violent method by which Israel has restricted
access to the vaccine to specific Palestinian groups, other than those
Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.

In December 2019, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination (CERD) recalled its General Recommendation No. 19 (1995)
concerning the prevention, prohibition and eradication of all policies and
practices of racial segregation and apartheid, and urged
“*to eradicate all forms of segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish
communities and any such policies or practices which severely and
disproportionately affect the Palestinian population in Israel proper and
in the Occupied Palestinian Territory*”.[7]

While the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged
in countries affected by COVID-19 to take all necessary steps to address
incidents of xenophobia or stigmatisation”, the very basis of Israel’s
prolonged military occupation continues to be one of structural racism and
the denial of Palestinians’ inalienable rights. Amnesty International has
“Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine programme highlights the institutionalised
discrimination that defines the Israeli government’s policy towards
Palestinians. While Israel celebrates a record-setting vaccination drive,
millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer – there
could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above
Palestinian ones”.

*States COVID-19 Human Rights Obligations *

In its August 2020 Statement on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its
implications under the International Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination, CERD observed that groups that are subject
to racial discrimination are “disproportionally affected by the overall
negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services in general,
with health issues not directly related to the COVID-19 disease being left
unattended. The pandemic thereby exposes and further deepens structural
inequalities affecting vulnerable groups protected under the Convention,
based on entrenched structures and practices of discrimination and

CERD stressed that States “must protect against and mitigate the impact of
the pandemic on individuals and groups subject to structural discrimination
and disadvantage”[9]and emphasised that “States have an obligation to
ensure equal access to healthcare services, including testing, medicine and
medical procedures, and to eliminate discriminatory practices against
groups and minorities protected under the Convention”.[10]

Significantly, CERD emphasised the obligations of States under the
Convention to “*ensure, in their own actions as well as through
international cooperation, that the development of vaccines as well as
access to an eventual vaccine against COVID-19 occur in a
non-discriminatory manner*, taking into account the situation and needs of
groups which are marginalized and subjected to discrimination”.[11]

In its on-going roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations, Israel is directly
violating its humanitarian and human rights law obligations by denying
lifesaving vaccines to Palestinians as part of its policy of maintaining
its apartheid regime of institutionalised domination. This policy has
revealed in a direct and clear manner how the system of apartheid operates.
Rather than typically spurious claims of security or self-defence being
relied upon to seek to explain away or justify the racist treatment and
dispossession of Palestinians through colonial violence, Israel is
signalling to the world that its rejection of international law is premised
on racial, rather than security grounds. The Palestinian Human Rights
Organisations Council, the Palestinian NGOs Network, and the Palestinian
National Institute for NGOs call on:

1.     Israel to immediately comply with its IHL and IHRL obligations to
the protected occupied population in the Gaza Strip and West Bank,
including East Jerusalem and ensure the non-discriminatory provision of
vaccines to all persons in the territory under its control;

2.     Israel to ensure the provision of life saving COVID-19 vaccinations
to Palestinian prisoners and detainees incarcerated in Israeli prisons and
detention centres;

3.     Third States to respect and ensure respect for the Geneva
Conventions, including by ensuring that Israel, the Occupying Power,
supplies lifesaving COVID-19 vaccinations to the Palestinian Authority for
distribution to the protected occupied Palestinian population;

4.     Pfizer, as a leading international pharmaceutical company, to comply
with its responsibilities under the UNGPs and to act with due diligence to
ensure that its supply of vaccines is not used in the service of illegal
settlement activity or to entrench apartheid policies and practices, and to
seek assurances that its vaccine is not intended for use in a
discriminatory, racist and xenophobic manner;

5.     The international community to hold Israel to account for denial of
health care amounting to the wilful causing of great suffering and injury
to the health of the Palestinian population, where this amounts to grave
breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention; and

6.     The Palestinian Authority to enhance its active role in ensuring the
protection of Palestinian protected population during a global pandemic,
including by continuously reminding Israel of its legal obligations, as
Occupying Power, and urging the international community to take effective
measures to halt Israel’s discriminatory policies and practices.

*Joining organisations**:*

*Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO), including:*

   1. Agriculture & Environment Development Society
   2. Aisha Association for Woman & Child Protection
   3. Al Foukhary Association for Development and Culture
   4. Al Sattar Garbee Association for Developing Countryside and Farmer
   5. Alahleya Society for Development of Palm and Dates
   6. Alanqaa Association for Community Development
   7. Al-Ataa Society for Development
   8. Al-Atta Charitable Society
   9. Al-Awda Center for Childhood and the Youth
   10. Almanal Society for Developing the Rural Women
   11. Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society
   12. Alsahel Association for Development
   13. Altaghreed Association for Culture and Development
   14. Al-Tawasol Forum Society
   15. Al-Wefaq Association for Relief and Development
   16. Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ)
   17. Arab Center for Agricultural Development (ACAD)
   18. Arab Women Union Society
   19. Asala for Credit and Development
   20. Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children
   21. Bait AL Mostuqbal Association
   22. Baitona For Community Development
   23. Balsam Association for Community Rehabilitation
   24. Beesan Benevolent Association
   25. Bisan Center-Research and Development Studies in Palestine
   26. Central Blood Bank Society
   27. Community Media Center
   28. Disability Representative Body Network
   29. Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi Center
   30. Early Childhood Resource Center (ECRC)
   31. El Amal Rehabilitation Society--Rafah
   32. El Wafaa Charitable Society
   33. ElWedad Society for Community Rehabilitation
   34. Fajr Association for Relief and Development
   35. Gaza community Mental Health program
   36. Gaza Culture & Development Group
   37. Hanan for Culture and Social Development Association
   38. Health Work Committee
   39. Human Rights & Democracy Media Center “Shams”
   40. Human Rights & Rehabilitation Center (TRC)
   41. Jabalia Rehabilitation Society
   42. Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center
   43. Khuza’a Permaculture Center Association
   44. Land Research Union
   45. Local Association for Social Services
   46. Ma’an Development Center
   47. Middle East Council of Churches
   48. Mother’s School Society
   49. National Society for Rehabilitation
   50. Palestine Amputee Football Association
   51. Palestinian Agricultural Development Association
   52. Palestinian Al-Nakheel Association for progress and development
   53. Palestinian Association for Development and Construction (PADR)
   54. Palestinian Center for Development & Media Freedoms
   55. Palestinian Charity Society
   56. Palestinian Counseling Center
   57. Palestinian Family Planning & Protection Association
   58. Palestinian Farmers Association
   59. Palestinian Hydrology Group
   60. Palestinian Medical Relief Society
   61. Palestinian Right and Justice Association
   62. Palestinian Youth Union
   63. Psycho-Social Counseling Center for Women

64.  Public Aid Society

   1. Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies
   2. Red Crescent Society for Gaza Strip
   3. Sareyyet Ramallah
   4. Social Development Forum
   5. Society of Remedial Education center
   6. Stars of Hope Society (SHS)
   7. Tamer Institute for Community Education
   8. Teacher Creativity Center
   9. Thalasemia Patients Friends Society Palestine
   10. The Assembly Benevolent of Operation
   11. The Civil Commission for the Independence of the Judiciary and the
   Rule of Law
   12. The Culture and Free Thought Association
   13. The Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center/ Gaza
   14. The Eastearn Association for Agriculture
   15. The National Centre for Community Rehabilitation (NCCR)
   16. The National Society for Democracy and Law
   17. The Palestinian Center for Organic Agriculture
   18. The Palestinian Hydrology Group/Gaza
   19. The Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development
   20. The Palestinian Working Women Society for Development
   21. The Society of Women Graduates in Gaza Strip
   22. Union of Agricultural Work Committees
   23. Union of Health Care Committees
   24. Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees_ Gaza
   25. Union of Palestinians Women's Committees
   26. Wassel Center for Youth Development
   27. Women’s Studies Centre
   28. Zakher Association for Capacity Development of Palestinian Women

*Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), comprising of:*

93.  Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association

   1. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
   2. Aldameer Association for Human Rights
   3. Al-Haq – Law in the Service of Man
   4. Defense for Children International (DCI) – Palestine
   5. Hurryyat – Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights
   6. Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC)
   7. Muwatin Institute for Democracy and Human Rights – Observer
   8. Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
   9. Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS)
   10. The Independent Commission for Human Rights (Ombudsman Office) –

*The Palestinian National Institute for NGOs (PNIN),**including (62 NNGO)*

[3]Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, “Statement3
(2020): Prevention of Racial Discrimination, Including Early Warning and
Urgent Action Procedures. Statement on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic
and its Implications Under the International Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” 7 August 2020.para. 5.

[4]ICRC, “Factsheet: Respecting and Protecting Health Care in Armed
Conflicts and in Situations Not Covered by International Humanitarian Law,”
page 3.

[5]UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General
Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health
(Art. 12 of the Covenant), 11 August 2000, E/C.12/2000/4. para. 44.

[6]UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), UN
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Concluding Observations
on the fourth Periodic Report of Israel, 12 November 2019, E/C.12/ISR/CO/4.

[7]CERD Concluding observations on the combined seventeenth to nineteenth
reports of Israel, 12 December 2019, CERD/C/ISR/CO/17-19, para 23.

[8]Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, “Statement3
(2020): Prevention of Racial Discrimination, Including Early Warning and
Urgent Action Procedures. Statement on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic
and its Implications Under the International Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” 7 August 2020.

[9]*Ibid.*para. 4.

[10]*Ibid. *para. 4.a.

[11]*Ibid.*para. 5.
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