Last week, I was talking with my aunt who is in her late sixties. She used to visit Jerusalem every Friday when the Israeli government allowed visits for Palestinians over 50 years old. However, after the corona pandemic has expanded worldwide, Israeli authorities closed the Al-Aqsa mosque for months and traveling to Jerusalem was not allowed. It is a holy practice for my aunt on Fridays to visit the mosque, especially during the month of Ramadan. “I don’t think I can visit al-Aqsa this Ramadan. We need to get the vaccine first”, she said. This brought to my mind a part of a poem called “In Jerusalem”:
“Here lie all sorts of people that ever walked the earth
They were the footnotes of the book, now they are the main text before us.
Is it just for us that the city has become too small?
Oh, chronicler! What made you exclude us? Re-write and think again, for I see that you made a grave mistake”
I know this situation is not really new for Palestinians. For most of our life, we have been banned from travelling to Jerusalem—or anywhere inside the green line—unless we pay for a permit and the Israeli authorities determine that we are good enough to visit. Today, being vaccinated has been added to the checklist.
Israel was one of the first countries that raced to buy up large numbers of the COVID-19 vaccine and now have vaccinated almost 60% of its citizens. At this point, 116 of every 100 persons have been vaccinated with a total of10,290,033 doses. The Israeli prime minister announced that Israel will be a model country having vaccinated all of its citizens over the age of 16 by the end of March. Now as the restaurants have resumed indoor service up to 75% capacity, “we are coming to life,” the prime minister said.
But this “great victory” comes at the expense of Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the 4th Geneva Convention, occupying forces are responsible for providing healthcare to the population of the occupied area. Yet, Israel’s health minister told Sky News: “I don’t think that there’s anyone in this country, whatever his or her views might be, that can imagine that I would be taking a vaccine from the Israeli citizen, and, with all the goodwill, give it to our neighbours.”
Meanwhile, Israel is giving the vaccine to its allies. The governments of the Czech Republic, Honduras, Hungary, and Guatemala will be receiving around 5000 doses each of the Moderna vaccination.
Israeli settlers celebrated the Passover holiday normally in Hebron/Al-Khalil and Jerusalem. It is a great shame that Muslims and Christians are unable to celebrate their Easter and Ramadan holidays with family and friends. The West Bank went into another lockdown on 27 February 2021 that lasted for two weeks and affected all sectors of society. More lockdowns are expected to follow. The Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila said that 16,262 people have been vaccinated in the West Bank and 17,272 in the Gaza Strip, including the medical staff. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has received 62,000 doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines and are expected to receive 125,000 new doses of the Chinese Sinopharm and British AstraZeneca vaccines.
The PA has received much criticism from Palestinian citizens and organizations for distributing these vaccines without following the global health instructions of prioritizing ill people, elderly, teachers and those who have critical status. In early March, the PA distributed a number of vaccines for PA ministers and their personal security, members of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), workers in the Central Elections Committee, employees of several Arab embassies in Occupied Palestine, players in the Palestinian national football team, and 100 students heading abroad.
The vaccine has been one of the most controversial points between Palestinians. How safe are the various types of the vaccine? When are we actually going to get the vaccine? How are we going to protect our families until we get the vaccine?
Some wealthy families were able to buy the Pfizer vaccine from Israel. This pandemic has expanded the classism gap within the Palestinian community when 300,000 workers have lost their jobs, either totally or partially while large companies continue to grow or were not affected as much as the actual workers.
Also, white supremacy has played a serious role in the vaccine rollout, where powerful nations are buying up all the Pfizer and Moderna doses, and creating unfounded concerns about receiving other vaccines. My dietitian shared with me that “I have direct contact with my clients, and we do not know yet when our turn is going to be, I would prefer to get Pfizer, even if it means I would have to buy it from Israel.” Also, in early April, the PA started to vaccinate teachers in order to continue this school semester in-person, using the Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines, however, some teachers refused to take them and left.
The vaccine has become a power grab between powerful and rich countries like Israel, leaving the developing countries on the waiting list, concerned and wondering.