Progressive Democrats on Monday called out the Biden administration for promoting Israel’s right to self-defense as the Israeli military pummeled parts of Gaza with airstrikes in response to rocket attacks from militant groups.
The Israeli airstrikes killed 26 people, including nine children, per the Associated Press. Most of the rockets launced by militants in Gaza were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, but six people were injured in a direct hit on an apartment building. The rockets were fired by Hamas, which controls Gaza, and other militant groups.
Discussing the situation at a press briefing on Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price called for “calm.”
“While we urge de-escalation on all sides, we also recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and to defend its people and its territory. It is critical for all sides to ensure calm and de-escalate tensions and avoid violent confrontations,” Price said.
‘He can’t even condemn the killing of children’
Responding to Price’s remarks in a tweet, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan said, “Is @StateDeptSpox really refusing to condemn the killing of Palestinian children?”
Similarly, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeted, “This unsurprising response is devoid of empathy and concern for human suffering. He can’t even condemn the killing of children.”
When asked about the reports of civilian deaths due to Israeli airstrikes during Monday’s briefing, Price said, “These reports are just emerging … I understand we don’t have independent confirmation of facts on the ground yet, so I’m very hesitant to get into reports that are just emerging.”
“Obviously, the deaths of civilians, be they Israeli or Palestinians, are something we would take very seriously,” Price added.
Monday also saw Israeli police raid the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites, injuring over 300 Palestinians in the process, according to Palestine Red Crescent Society. Police – who said 21 officers were injured during the raid – fired fired rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas in the compound, Reuters reported.
Tensions stoked by historic and more immediate factors
The recent escalation in violence has been fueled by a convoluted array of factors, both historic and more recent. Israel’s decadeslong occupation of Palestinian territories remains at the heart of the issue. More immediately, the planned evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem has led to demonstrations and increased tensions.
Progressives in Congress have spoken out against the impending evictions.
“We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem,” Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted over the weekend. “Israeli forces are forcing families from their homes during Ramadan and inflicting violence. It is inhumane and the US must show leadership in safeguarding the human rights of Palestinians.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in a tweet called on the US to “speak out strongly against the violence by government-allied Israeli extremists in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and make clear that the evictions of Palestinian families must not go forward.”
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israel unleashed new airstrikes on Gaza early Tuesday, hitting a pair of high-rise buildings believed to be housing militants, as Hamas and other armed groups bombarded southern Israel with hundreds of rockets. The escalation was sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.
Since sundown Monday, 26 Palestinians – including nine children and a woman- were killed in Gaza, most by airstrikes, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military said at least 16 of the dead were militants.
During the same period, Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets toward Israel, killing two Israeli civilians and wounding 10 others.
In a further sign of rising tensions, Israel signaled it is widening its military campaign. The military said it is sending troop reinforcements to the Gaza border and the defense minister ordered the mobilization of 5,000 reserve soldiers.
But, in a potentially positive sign, officials said Egypt was working on brokering a cease-fire.
The current violence, like previous rounds, including the last intifada, or uprising, has been fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, which is at the emotional core of the long conflict.
In a sign of widening unrest, hundreds of residents of Arab communities across Israel staged overnight demonstrations – denouncing the recent actions of Israeli security forces against Palestinians. It was one of the largest protests by Palestinian citizens in Israel in recent years.
Egypt is trying to broker a truce, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says fighting could “continue for some time.”
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.
Recent rounds of fighting have usually ended after a few days, often helped by behind-the-scenes mediation by Qatar, Egypt and others.
An Egyptian official confirmed that the country was trying to broker a truce. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive diplomacy, said Israeli actions in Jerusalem had complicated those efforts. A Palestinian security official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the cease-fire efforts.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has warned that fighting could “continue for some time.”
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that the military was in “the early stages” of strikes against Gaza targets that it had planned well in advance.
Israel carried out dozens of airstrikes, including two that targeted high-rise buildings where militants were believed to be hiding.
At midday, an airstrike hit an apartment building in central Gaza City. Local media said an unknown number of militants had been killed. But the force of the blast sent terrified residents, including women and children who were barefoot, running into the streets.
An earlier airstrike struck a high-rise elsewhere in Gaza City as people were conducting dawn prayers, residents said. Health officials said two men and a woman were killed. The woman’s 19-year-old disabled son was among the dead, residents said.
Ashraf al-Kidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said a total of 26 people were killed and 122 people were wounded. He said Israel’s “relentless assault” was overwhelming the health care system, which has been struggling with a COVID-19 outbreak.
The escalation comes at a time of political limbo in Israel.
Netanyahu has been acting as a caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliamentary election in March. He tried and failed to form a coalition government with his hard-line and ultra-Orthodox allies, and the task was handed to his political rivals last week.
One of those rivals is Israel’s defense minister, who is overseeing the Gaza campaign. It was not clear whether the toxic political atmosphere is spilling over into military decision-making, though the rival camps have unanimously expressed support for striking Hamas hard.
The support of an Arab-backed party with Islamist roots is key for the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s efforts. But the current tensions might deter the party’s leader, Mansour Abbas, from joining a coalition for now. The sides have three more weeks to reach a deal.
The violence has coincided with Ramadan
The current round of violence in Jerusalem coincided with the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in mid-April.
Over the weekend, confrontations erupted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.
Over several days, Israel police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.
On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. From there on, the escalation was rapid.
Conricus, the army spokesman, said Gaza militants fired more than 250 rockets at Israel, with about one-third falling short and landing in Gaza.
The army said that a rocket landed a direct hit on a seven-story apartment block in the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon. Israeli paramedic service Magen David Adom said it treated six people injured in the rocket strike. Two were hospitalized in moderate condition.
Later, a second building in the city of Ashdod was hit, lightly wounding four people, Israeli police said.
Conricus said the military hit 130 targets in Gaza, including two tunnels militants were digging under the border with Israel. He said Israel’s new system of concrete barriers and electronic sensors, intended to thwart tunnel digging, has proven effective.
He did not address Gaza Health Ministry reports about the dead children.
In Gaza, most of the deaths were attributed to airstrikes. However, seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in an explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket.
Dozens of mourners took part in the funeral of Hussein Hamad, an 11-year-old boy who was among the dead.
More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.
Israel struck scores of Gaza homes in its 2014 war with Hamas, arguing it was aiming at militants, but also killing many civilians. The practice drew broad international condemnation at the time.
Israel’s tactics in Jerusalem have drawn angry reactions from the Muslim world.
Regional power house Saudi Arabia on Monday condemned in the strongest terms what it said were attacks by Israeli forces against the sanctity of Al-Aqsa and the safety of its worshippers. The Saudi Foreign Ministry called Tuesday on the international community to hold Israeli forces responsible for any escalation.
Laub reported from the West Bank. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion contributed from Jerusalem.
Andrew Yang tweeted in support of Israel amid the country’s latest unrest with Palestinians on Monday, provoking anger from fellow liberals and support from top Republicans.
Yang, who is currently running to be mayor of New York City, tweeted late Monday that he is “standing with the people of Israel who are coming under bombardment attacks” and condemned “Hamas terrorists,” referring to the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.
“The people of NYC will always stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel who face down terrorism and persevere,” Yang tweeted.
Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Springfield, Massachusetts chapter of the NAACP, said: “The systemic oppression, institutional discrimination, and violent persecution of Palestinians are crimes against humanity. It is wicked, evil, and inhumane.”
The hashtag #YangSupportsGenocide also trended overnight.
But Yang’s tweet also earned him praise from Republicans, who traditionally support a strong relationship between the US and Israel.
“Bravo to Yang for opposing the rabidly pro-Hamas & anti-Israel attacks from fellow Dems Omar & Tlaib,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted in response to Yang’s tweet, referring to the progressive Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashia Tlaib, who have both voiced support for Palestinians amid the renewed violence.
Stephen Miller, who worked as a senior advisor to former President Donald Trump, tweeted that Yang is “exactly right,” while Meghan McCain retweeted Yang’s tweet with the hashtag “#YANGGANG.”
According to the Associated Press, 24 Palestinians – including nine children – have been killed in the Gaza airstrikes since sundown Monday, and six Israeli civilians were injured when one of the Hamas rockets hit an apartment building across the border.
Jerusalem and the West Bank are in a state of unrest, and the current violence between Palestinians, Israeli security forces, and Jewish settlers are the worst in years.
A spike in settler and revenge attacks, the advent of significant but politically sensitive dates, and an upcoming verdict on Palestinian evictions from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood have all contributed to an atmosphere of chaos.
Dramatic footage of recent protests, clashes, and killings offers a window into the reality of the worsening conflict.
On May 5, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. Saeed Odeh’s killing followed Palestinians in Beita hurling Molotov cocktails towards IDF soldiers, Sky News said. Large crowds attended the funeral.
Three Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli border police based in the occupied West Bank early on Friday, Reuters reported. Israeli fire killed two of the Palestinians and critically wounded the third, the news agency said.
Israel’s Supreme Court will decide on upholding a ruling that would see several Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, known in Hebrew as Shimon Hatzadik, removed from their homes.
The controversial case has sparked protests, violent clashes, and unrest in the holy city.
On Thursday, Palestinians and Israeli settlers hurled rocks and chairs at each other in Sheikh Jarrah before Israeli police separated them, AP said.
Several buses carrying religious pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for one of Ramadan’s holiest nights – Laylat al-Qadr – were held up at a police checkpoint on Saturday, The Washington Post reported. Many began walking to Jerusalem on foot instead, according to local media.
-Louis Fishman لوي فيشمان לואי פישמן (@Istanbultelaviv) May 8, 2021
On Saturday night, over 90,000 Muslims gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Following prayers, many Palestinians gathered at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of East Jerusalem. Palestinian protesters hurled stones at the police, according to the BBC. This led to clashes with Israeli security who used tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades, The National’s senior correspondent Joyce Karam said on Twitter. Palestinian medics said 90 Palestinians were wounded, while Israeli police said at least one officer was hurt.
Israeli jets and attack helicopters launched strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip following a night of rocket fire by Palestinian militants, the Associated Press reported.
Underground infrastructure and rocket launchers belonging to Hamas were destroyed in the targeted attack, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The strikes were in response to some 36 rockets being fired into southern Israel overnight, AP said. Six of the three dozen rockets fired were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome Aerial Defense System, the IDF said on Twitter.
Some of the rockets fell in Israeli communities near the Strip and air-raid sirens blared throughout the night but no serious damage or injuries were reported, The Times of Israel said.
Two militant groups in Gaza claimed responsibility for the rocket fire – Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, and the Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades. Hamas did not take responsibility for the attacks, but Israel holds the enemy group accountable for all rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, AP reported.
The fire exchange comes as tensions reached a boiling point in Jerusalem on Thursday evening. The situation first escalated when Israeli police placed barricades outside the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City – a popular nightly gathering point with local Palestinians after the end of the Ramadan fast.
Palestinian protesters gathered near the entrance and threw glass bottles and rocks at police, CNN reported. Israeli police responded by using stun grenades, rubber bullets, and water cannons in a bid to disperse the crowds, the media outlet said.
Around 100 Palestinians were injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Meanwhile, police blocked supporters of a far-right Jewish group, several hundred strong, as they marched through the Jerusalem streets towards the Damascus Gate. Some of the followers of the ‘Lehava’ group chanted “death to Arabs,” reported to CNN.
In the ensuing chaos, Israeli police clashed with both groups. In other incidents, Jewish youths attempted to set fire to a Palestinian family’s home and a Jewish motorist was beaten and his car set ablaze by a Palestinian mob.
Clashes in Jerusalem have occurred nightly throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, AP said.
The US Embassy in Jerusalem said in a Friday statement that it is “deeply concerned” about the violence over the last several days. “We hope all responsible voices will promote an end to incitement, a return to calm, and respect for the safety and dignity of everyone in Jerusalem,” it said.
Coronavirus variants first found in South Africa and the UK are able to partially “breakthrough” the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to an Israeli study that studied real-world infection data. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
The study, released on Saturday, compared the incidences of both variants between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The study, conducted by Tel Aviv University and Israeli healthcare provider Clalit tracked almost 400 people, and counted both partially vaccinated (one dose) and fully vaccinated (two dose) patients.
The South African variant, B.1.351, was found to be eight times more prevalent among vaccinated patients while the UK strain, B.1.1.7, was more prevalent among partially vaccinated patients, though the fully-vaccinated showed increased protection against the UK strain.
The study suggests that the Pfizer vaccine provides less protection against the South African variant than the original coronavirus, but it is not able to actually conclude that because it is focused on those who have already tested positive for the virus, not total infection rates.
Roughly 80% of Israel’s population is vaccinated, with almost 53% of the population having received both Pfizer doses. The study found that only 1% of total cases in the study were the South African variant, a promising sign for Israel, the most vaccinated country.
Earlier this month, a Palestinian student studying at Tel Aviv University in Israel won the right to be vaccinated after being turned away from a school vaccination site and then suing. Israel has just recently begun to vaccinate Palestinians.
In data released on April 1, Pfizer and Biotech found that their shot was 91% effective at preventing COVID-19 and showed early signs of preventing the spread of the B.1.351 strain as well. Earlier lab trials had suggested that the vaccine provides some protection against the strain, but not full protection.
Aman was imprisoned following a backlash against him for helping set up a two-hour-long Zoom chat between Israelis and Palestinian peacemakers, Insider’s Anthony L. Fisher reported in April 2020.
He was one of over 200 people on both sides of the Israel-Gaza divide who participated in the English-language Zoom chat initiated by Aman’s organization – the Gaza Youth Committee.
Following a campaign on Facebook by a Palestinian journalist to shame those who attended and the subsequent social media outrage online, Aman was charged with the crime of “normalization” with Israel.
His former wife was also arrested, the Associated Press reported.
After Aman’s arrest on April 9, 2020, he said that he was interrogated and tortured. He claims he was blindfolded, taken to a prison cell, and was forced to sit in a tiny child’s chair for days or weeks on end, according to AP.
He was referred to by his prison number, only allowed to remove his blindfold for bathroom breaks, and could only leave his seat to be interrogated or pray, AP reported.
During his imprisonment, a police officer reportedly told him that it would be “better” if he proceeded with a divorce. He resisted the request for months, AP said.
In August, an Islamic judge asked him whether he felt coerced into separation. Aman said yes but the judge, the activist told AP, refuted this. “How are you being forced? Do you see me carrying a gun?” he says the legal official told him.
Aman, 39, eventually signed divorce documents, expecting to be released, but remained imprisoned for two more months.
“The deplorable treatment of Rami Aman by Hamas authorities reflects their systematic practice of punishing those whose speech threatens their orthodoxy,” Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, told AP.
His ex-wife, who has been deported to Egypt, confirmed to the Associated Press that she was forced into the divorce and wants to reunite with Aman.
Aman is now banned from leaving Gaza and security officials are still holding onto his laptop, computer, and phone, the news agency said.
He is in frequent communication with human rights organizations, lawyers, and Hamas officials, AP reported.
But his priority is to be reunited with his lover.
“Now I have my personal battle: return to my wife,” the activist told the news agency.
The video of the incident, initially shared by the human rights nonprofit B’Tselem, shows the young boys being escorted into a vehicle by soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces. One of the children can be seen crying and struggling as an armed soldier lifts him into the van. Another holds hands with one of his masked captors.
They’re just children, what is this?” an adult can be heard yelling at the soldiers.
The young boys are accused of attempting to steal parrots from a private property in an Israeli settlement, a spokesperson for the Israeli police told Insider.
Armed military personnel reportedly took the children into the settlement and questioned them about their alleged attempted theft, according to the children’s lawyer.
“They were taken to the Havat Maon illegal outpost, where the soldiers tried to get a confession from them, which is illegal,” their lawyer, Gaby Lasky, told Insider.
Both the Israeli police and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) dispute this claim and instead insist that the young boys were immediately taken to a police station.
After being transferred to Kiryat Arba police station, the young boys were detained for several hours. Their parents, despite multiple attempts, were unable to contact or locate their children, according to Lasky.
Israeli officials claim that the detention’s purpose was to help reunite them with their families. A spokesperson from the IDF told Insider that the boys were transferred to a police facility for “further processing” and to “locate their parents.”
This is echoed by the Israeli police force. “The minors were brought to the police, who acted in order to locate their parents that live in Palestinian territory, for several hours,” the spokesperson told Insider.
Lasky, who is representing the five boys, has said that the boys’ detention was criminal.
“Three of the kids were under the criminal age of responsibility, so they can’t detain them and they can’t take them to the police station or anywhere else. This is completely illegal,” she told insider.
The age of criminal responsibility in Israel is 12. Three of the boys are aged between eight and 11. The two older boys are 12 and 13 and are old enough to be charged with a crime.
The lawyer also believes that the use of military force on the children was unwarranted. “The way that the children were taken and made to kneel when they were detained is not only unnecessary but is also completely illegal,” Lasky told Insider.
Lasky has filed a complaint with the attorney general of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Israeli police.
All five boys were initially summoned for further questioning, according to their lawyer. While the two older boys will be interrogated on Sunday, the three younger children had their summons canceled after an objection by their lawyer, Lasky told Insider.
The human rights organization B’Tselem, whose activists were at the scene, has said that the incident shines a light on the reality of life under occupation.
“It is part of the routine of the occupation for incidents like this, as absurd as they are, to take place,” Amit Gilutz, a B’Tselem spokesperson, told Insider. “It is a reflection of the absolute disregard Israeli authorities hold for the wellbeing of Palestinians.”
“No matter what these children were doing in the vicinity of the settlements,” he added, “they shouldn’t have been arrested by military force.”
Israel is the world leader in vaccinating its population against COVID-19. About 19% of the population has already received a dose of the vaccine.
Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are eligible to be vaccinated. Those in the West Bank and Gaza are not — unless they are Israeli settlers.
Some people argue that the Oslo Accords mean that it’s not the Israeli government’s responsibility to vaccinate those in the Palestinian territories. Others cite the Geneva Convention to insist that it is.
Human rights activists argue that Israel holds a moral obligation to vaccinate vulnerable Palestinians.
It is unclear, at this point, whether the Palestinian Authority has actually asked Israel to secure vaccines on their behalf. There are conflicting reports.
As Israel leads the world in vaccinating its population against the coronavirus, critics have questioned whether the country is fulfilling its supposed legal and moral obligations to help millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
While some argue that certain peace treaties’ nature point towards Israel being absolved of responsibility, others have cited certain international laws to illustrate that Isreal holds a duty of care.
The debate as to who Israel is duty-bound to vaccinate is, ultimately, a complicated one.
Israel’s record-breaking vaccination rollout
“I am continuing to work around the clock to bring millions of vaccines to Israel and at the same time, the health system is continuing to vaccinate the citizens of Israel at a pace that is awe-inspiring to the entire world,” wrote Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter.
Since Israel administered its first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last month, the country has gone into overdrive to vaccinate its population against COVID-19 quickly.
As Netanyahu declared, it has gone at a pace that has been “awe-inspiring” to the entire world.
This marks Israel out as the clear world leader in the global vaccination rollout, as seen in Our World in Data data.
Israel’s total number of vaccinations administered per 100 people in the total population far exceeds comparative vaccination rates in the US, UK, and other Western nations.
The US has vaccinated 2.4% of its population against COVID-19, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The tracker also shows that the UK has a vaccination rate of 2.2%.
Israel’s vaccination rollout is going so well that it expects to have administered the second dose to the entirety of the high-risk population by the end of January, according to Forbes.
The country also expects to have a “fully vaccinated population” by the end of March, a former Israeli presidential aide – Yonatan Adiri – told Insider.
But while Israel has been applauded for implementing a world-beating vaccination strategy, critics have claimed millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been overlooked.
It has sparked debate about Israel’s legal and moral obligations and how this affects those situated in the Palestinian Authority.
The answer is not clear-cut, with both sides of the debate citing international treaties to prove their points.
Every citizen of Israel, Jew or Arab, is eligible for the vaccine
Healthcare in Israel is universal and, by law, all citizens and permanent residents must participate in it.
People who are over 60, work in healthcare, or are especially vulnerable are currently prioritized in the Israeli vaccine rollout.
The vaccination drive includes all Palestinian citizens of Israel and Arab Israelis, who make up around 21% of Israel’s population.
Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are also eligible even though they do not possess Israeli citizenship. The majority are covered by Israel’s health network, according to The Times of Israel.
While those in East Jerusalem are entitled to a vaccine, the takeup rate has been shallow.
Only about 20 percent of Palestinian East Jerusalem residents aged 60 and older have received the coronavirus vaccine, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. This compares to the 75% of Jerusalem’s Jewish population from the same age group, Israel’s Home Front Command told the paper.
An article about excluded Palestinians sparked controversy
Almost five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are not eligible for Israel’s vaccination program.
Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are being distributed to hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in settlements in the West Bank, according to the Los Angeles Times. These settlements are considered by many in the international community to be illegal.
It was titled: ‘Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers.’
The headline and choice of image – an Orthodox Jewish man being vaccinated – outraged some members of the Jewish community.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement: “We are extremely troubled by the Observer’s blatantly false headline claiming that Israel has ‘excluded’ Palestinians from its Covid-19 vaccination program.”
The organization added: “[It] has provided grist to the mill of far-right and far-left antisemites alike, who seek to take anything positive Israel does and twist it beyond recognition.”
Dr. Shany Mor, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, agreed. He told Insider: “People seem to be obsessed with this notion of an unbelievably diabolical Israeli evil.”
People took issue with the idea that the headline did not take into account the Palestinians who are included in Israel’s vaccine rollout. Others were angered by the headline’s implication that Israel should be responsible for the Palestinian Authority’s vaccination rollout.
While the headline was criticized, the article did refer to Palestinian autonomy and the Oslo Accords in the body of the text.
Israel’s legal responsibility and the Oslo Accords
This is where things get complicated.
It is argued that Israel does not hold a legal responsibility to vaccinate those under the Palestinian Authority’s control.
They cite the Oslo Accords – a historic agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1993 and 1995.
The Oslo Accords granted the Palestinian people the right to self-determination and, consequently, created a Palestinian Authority (PA) tasked with partial self-governance in parts of Gaza and the West Bank.
The accords transferred jurisdiction – including primary healthcare responsibility – to the PA
Shortly after the signing of the accords, the PA set up their own Ministry of Health.
Dr. Mor believes that this is a clear indication that the duty to vaccinate its population falls upon the Palestinian Authority.
He told Insider: “The Oslo Accords spell out exactly what the various parties’ obligations are and what their responsibilities are in terms of healthcare and even vaccination.”
Article 17 of the 1995 Oslo agreement reads: “Powers and responsibilities in the sphere of Health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian side, including the health insurance system.”
Seth Frantzman, the senior Middle East affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, said: “It can’t suddenly be Israel’s health insurance providers’ responsibility to absorb millions of people.”
Frantzman continued: “It also can’t possibly be true that, in December, Israel suddenly became responsible for vaccinating all these populations whereas some two weeks beforehand, Israel held no responsibility for the same populations.”
However, others dispute the idea that Israel holds no legal responsibility to vaccinate those in the Palestinian territories.
Dana Moss, an international advocacy coordinator for Physicians for Human Rights Israel, told Insider: “The Oslo Accords technically transferred responsibility for the healthcare system to the Palestinian Authority. That part is true. But the extent of Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza has essentially denuded this responsibility of any meaning.”
Moss continued: “Israeli control over the movement of people and goods means that patients can’t cross from the West bank to East Jerusalem without Israeli permits. Medication and equipment can’t pass either.”
She added: “Whatever was theoretically enshrined in the Oslo Accords is actually just a facade.”
Those who believe that the Oslo Accords are insufficient grounds to take responsibility for vaccinating people in the West Bank and Gaza point to a different set of international agreements – the Geneva Conventions.
Israel’s legal responsibility and the Geneva Conventions
The Geneva Conventions compromise four treaties and three additional protocols that provide the basis in international law for how countries should act humanely during wars.
Human rights activists highlight Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to argue that Israel is obligated to provide COVID-19 vaccines to those in the Palestinian territories.
Article 56 reads: “The Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation 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 preventative measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”
This, it is argued, is the legal basis for Israel’s responsibility in helping those in occupied territory to combat the coronavirus.
Saleh Higazi, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Insider: “Although you do have the Palestinian Authority that has a very limited system of governance, it does not change Israel’s responsibility – according to international law.”
But, beyond the legal debate, some believe that moral obligation is the critical factor
Is Israel morally obligated to vaccinate Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank?
In a joint statement, they wrote: “We call on relevant international stakeholders to urge Israel to fulfill its duties and moral responsibilities to assist the Palestinian health systems and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”
Dana Moss, whose organization Physicians for Human Rights Israel co-signed the statement, told Insider: “It’s simply ethically unconscionable that a healthy 22-year-old living in a West Bank settlement will receive a vaccine, whereas an 80-year-old Palestinian with diabetes will not.”
The letter’s author Saleh Higazi said: “The pandemic has exposed Israel’s institutionalized discrimination and systematic abuses of human rights.”
A group of 200 rabbis also signed a petition calling on the Israeli government to hasten the distribution of vaccines to the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
One of those who signed it, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner from the UK, explained to Insider why the moral arguments matter.
“When you start pulling out the Oslo Accords to justify something that’s not moral, then that is very concerning,” she said. “It is the right thing that Israel, who is the dominant military power, look after the most vulnerable in Palestinian society just like they do with the Jews there.”
Even those who do not believe there is a responsibility enshrined in law recognize that there may be a moral obligation.
Seth Frantzman told Insider: “Insofar as Israel is an occupying power, there most likely are obligations to help facilitate the issuing of the vaccine. It just doesn’t come down to Israel’s health insurance providers to do that.”
Does the Palestinian Authority have a plan for securing COVID-19 vaccines?
Up to this point, the Palestinian Authority had largely been counting on WHO’s Covax initiative. This is a scheme that aims to provide vaccines to poorer countries.
Covax had pledged to vaccinate at least 20% of Palestinians, according to The Guardian. Though the authorization and delivery of these vaccines could be months away, it also reported. March is the earliest vaccines would be delivered, reported The Wall Street Journal.
Palestinian health officials had also looked into shipping Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, according to the Financial Times. These could also take a month or so to arrive, a senior Palestinian official told The Guardian.
There are also reports that the Palestinian Authority is in talks to secure two million vaccines from AstraZeneca to arrive at the end of February, according to the Israeli state-owner broadcaster Kan and The Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, it is unclear whether the Palestinian Authority has directly asked Israel to support a vaccination campaign in the West Bank and Gaza.
On Tuesday, a Palestinian health official told The Jerusalem Post that they had not asked Israel to supply the Palestinians with a vaccine or to purchase vaccines on their behalf.
Later that day, the paper reported that the PA was now examining the possibility of obtaining vaccines from Israel.
On Wednesday, two Palestinian officials told The New York Times that the PA had asked Israel for up to 10,000 doses to inoculate healthcare workers. A PA minister told the paper that Israel had refused this request.
On Thursday, a senior Palestinian official told The Wall Street Journal that the PA had not actually asked Israel for vaccines.
Israel has, however, reportedly provided several dozen doses of the vaccines to the Palestinians. This was done in secret and for “special humanitarian reasons,” according to Israeli broadcaster Kan.
Does Israel have enough vaccines to provide for those in the Palestinian Authority?
While Israelis have received widespread praise for the fast and efficient rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supplies are reportedly running low.
Israeli officials said that they might have to slow the vaccination program later this month unless they can convince vaccine suppliers to deliver doses sooner than promised, according to The New York Times.
This potential slow down will continue until a Moderna vaccine shipment arrives in late January, reports the Financial Times.
Israel has ordered enough vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to cover its entire population over age the age of 16, according to US News.
But, as for the nearly five million Palestinians in the territories, there might not be enough.
Israel has rebuffed a WHO request to provide 8,000 vaccines for frontline workers, according to the Independent. Officials cited a shortage of doses as the reason, the paper reported.
Israel has thus far ordered 16 million doses from Moderna and AstraZeneca, according to The Wall Street Journal. This is enough to vaccinate 8 million people. Its population is 8.9 million.
“Israel should have been procuring enough for the nearly 5m Palestinians that live under its control, and it specifically didn’t,” Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu told the Financial Times.