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An Apartheid COVID-19 Vaccine Drive

Human rights organization faced condemnation for defining Israeli sovereignty over Gaza and the West Bank as an Apartheid system. Yet, COVID-19 vaccine drive demonstrates inequalities.
Palestinian artists
Palestinian artists painted murals as part of a campaign to raise awareness of prevention of the coronavirus COVID-19
Foto: Abed Rahim Khatib/Dreamstime

Aarhus, Denmark (TP)

‘A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid’

This scathing statement is the title of a paper on the human rights organization B’Tselem’s website. Throughout the paper, the organization argues why this dark designation is applicable to the state of Israel.

The Free Dictionary defines Apartheid  as ‘an official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal and economic discrimination against nonwhites.’

Through a series of laws, it became an integral part of South African society and a guiding principle for keeping white and nonwhite South Africans segregated.

It resulted in nonwhites being deprived of citizen rights and being forced to live on reserves and in so-called townships some of which grew to become huge, chaotic and destitute suburbs to major South African cities within which only whites were allowed to live.

In the paper, B’Tselem draws parallels between the conditions of nonwhites in the South Africa system of Apartheid and the conditions of Palestinians in the Palestinian Territories today.

Israeli Apartheid   

Not unlike people of colour in South Africa, Palestinians today live in disjointed enclaves and do not hold sovereignty of the borders surrounding them. This means that the comings and goings of people, goods and services is out of the hands of the Palestinians.

Freedom of movement for Palestinians is not a guaranteed right since it is the Israeli authorities who de facto control checkpoints and crossings where denied access, arbitrary arrests and detentions are common.

The integrity of the enclaves are not self-assured as unilateral Israeli confiscations of Palestinian land regularly results in the occupation of increasingly more territory in the West Bank. This has forced a growing number of Palestinians into increasingly smaller and crowded enclaves surrounded by walls and fences.

Palestinians do have the right to vote and form political bodies and representations.

However, these representatives only maintain authority of a small range of internal matters in the enclaves while freedom of movement, the occupation of land and territorial security is decided by Israeli authorities representing only Israeli citizens.

These Israeli citizens sometimes only live a few kilometers away on the other side of the walls and the fences.

B’Tselem’s designation of Israel as an Apartheid state drew sharp condemnation from the Israeli authorities with the Israeli education minister going as far as to forbid any organization that calls Israel an Apartheid state from lecturing at schools.

The segregated reality of the corona vaccine rollout

Whether or not Apartheid is an accurate term to describe the Israeli domination of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, the vaccine drive in Israel has nonetheless shown the chasmic difference between an Israeli and a Palestinian life in the region.

It brought the Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International Saleh Higazi to state that ‘Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine program highlights the institutionalized discrimination that defines the Israeli government’s policy towards Palestinians.’

More than 30 percent of the Israeli population of around nine million people had received at least one jab by the middle of February. This is a staggering feat and places Israel far ahead of most other countries. In Europe, most countries have yet to reach five percent of their population.

While Israelis can look forward to having most citizens vaccinated within the coming month, the story is a completely different one in the Palestinian Territories. Here the vaccine drive has barely begun.

Furthermore, the first 2000 vaccines set to enter the Gaze Strip were detained by the Israeli authorities pending review on February 15.

‘There could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones’

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Saleh Higazi

Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International

On the same day, Israeli lawmakers debated whether vaccines for the Gaza Strip should be withheld and only released in return for concessions by Hamas, the leading authority in the Gaza Strip.

In the West Bank, the vaccine drive did not kick into gear before international pressure led the Israeli authorities to transfer 5000 Moderna vaccine doses to the West Bank for use on medical workers.

‘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,’ said Saleh Higazi.

Apartheid or no Apartheid the inequality that exists between an Israeli and a Palestinian life is certainly comparable to the inequality between whites and nonwhites in Apartheid South Africa.

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The Postcolonial | Copenhagen | CVR: 41032421

Lasse Sørensen (Founding Editor-In-Chief)

Suvi Loponen (Deputy Editor)