Israel has been praised in the world press for its speedy vaccination program in response to COVID-19. Since vaccinations in Israel began on December 19, 2020, 14 percent of Israeli citizens have received vaccinations. This has successfully decreased the spread of infection to fewer than one per case, meaning COVID-19 in Israel is on the decline. However, there is one fact many of these reports fail to mention – Israel doesn’t just govern ten million citizens within its borders. Israel also militarily occupies the West Bank and Gaza strip where five million Palestinians live. As residents of the Occupied Territories, they are faced with this pandemic on top of an already intolerable situation.
The state of Israel was founded in 1948 on Palestinian land, and ever since that time, Israeli state policy has taken advantage of crises and events of all sorts to maintain and extend control over the territory. The land seized by Israeli settlers in 1948 became the state of Israel, but in 1967, Israel militarily seized more Palestinian land on the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip of the Sinai Peninsula. These regions have formed the “Occupied Territories” and have remained under Israeli military control ever since. While Palestinians have won a degree of control within the territories under the Palestinian Authority, they are kept within limits set by the state of Israel. Through its control of the Occupied Territories, Israel has engineered a horrific health inequality.
- The Palestinian administration spends $248 per person on healthcare in Palestine. In Israel the state spends $2,046 per person on health care.
- Infant mortality is 18 per 1000 births in the Occupied Territories and 3.7 per 1000 births in Israel.
- The average life expectancy is ten years lower in the Occupied Territories than in Israel.
- There is one doctor per 5000 residents of the Occupied Territories compared to two doctors per 1,100 citizens of Israel.
- In the Occupied territories there are 73 liters of water consumed per day per person, in Israel there are 242 liters of water consumed per day per person.
These inequalities were already in place before the pandemic. Now, cases of COVID-19 are surging in the Occupied Territories, but the attitude of the Israeli government couldn’t be clearer. According to Health Minister, Yuli Edelstein, Israel will “consider helping, once it takes care of its own citizens.” In other words, the Palestinians are on their own as far as COVID goes. This policy is especially insulting as 500,000 Israeli settlers have taken Palestinian land, and live in settlements illegally in the West Bank. As Israeli citizens, these settlers get the vaccine delivered to them within the Occupied Territories by the Israeli health care system!
The Israeli vaccination program is as flagrantly unequal as any of the historic racist policies of segregation in the U.S. South, and should be loudly condemned. The consequences of Israel’s brutal policy will be thousands more Palestinian lives lost while they wait for the vaccine. This horrific inequality of health care for Palestinians isn’t a triumph of Israeli health care, it is a morbid symptom of the Israeli occupation and control of Palestinian lives.