CAMERA Op-Ed: More False Attacks Against Israel on COVID-19 Vaccines

“Palestinians,” the former Associated Press journalist and author Matti Friedman wrote in 2014, “are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate.” A December 19, 2020 Washington Post report, entitled, “Israel is starting to vaccinate, but Palestinians may have to wait months,” proves Friedman correct. The newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Hendrix and new correspondent Shira Rubi unfairly — and inaccurately — blame Israel for the failures of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Hendrix and Rubin write that “Israel, like many high-income countries, is moving quickly to roll out newly approved coronavirus vaccines,” but “next door in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the prospects for vaccinating almost 5 million Palestinians are far less certain, as financial, political and logistical hurdles could delay inoculations against the raging pandemic for months.” This “split,” the Post employees claim, “highlights the tense disparities between Israel and the Palestinian populations it effectively controls.”

“Few places,” they add, “offer a starker side-by-side example of the gap than Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

Yet, Israel doesn’t “effectively control” populations in either the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank or the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Nor is Israel responsible for their healthcare. In fact — although neither Post reporter mentions it in their 981-word article — the PA itself is responsible, per a signed agreement with Israel, for the healthcare of those living under the Authority’s rule.

Article 17 of the Oslo II agreement explicitly states that “powers and responsibilities in the sphere of Health in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinian side.” Further, the Oslo Accords specify that “the Palestinian side shall continue to apply the present standard of vaccination of Palestinians and shall improve them according to internationally accepted standards in the field, taking into account WHO recommendations.” For nearly three decades, this has been the case — including with other vaccines.

It doesn’t get clearer than that.

The Oslo agreements are well-known, and their text is readily available. Yet, curiously, these relevant passages were omitted in the Post’s report that blamed Israel. So, unfortunately, was important context.

In fact, the PA didn’t even request the vaccine. As The Jerusalem Post reported on December 21: “The PA has not asked Israel to supply Palestinians with the vaccine.” As a member of the PA’s Health Ministry told the Post, “We are working on our own to obtain the vaccine from a number of sources. We are not a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry. We have our own government and Ministry of Health, and they are making huge efforts to get the vaccine.”

As Lahav Harkov, the Post’s diplomatic correspondent, observed: “the Palestinian leadership refused to even talk to Israel when the latter was ordering vaccine doses, let alone coordinate a complex rollout operation.” Instead, the PA has chosen to acquire vaccines developed in Russia. These will be distributed in February — a timeline that is “comparable with neighboring countries in the region, including those with major Palestinian populations, such as Lebanon and Jordan,” Harkov noted.

And although The Washington Post doesn’t mention it, Israel has been vaccinating Palestinians. As Harkov highlighted, Palestinians living in east Jerusalem have received the vaccine. These are not Israeli citizens, but rather residents whose healthcare is under Israel’s purview per the Oslo Accords. Those who are 60 years or older, or who have chronic conditions, can be vaccinated. Further, Palestinians who are imprisoned in Israel will also be receiving the vaccine.

In fact, as CAMERA has previously noted, Israel has been lending crucial help to the Palestinian Authority, which continues to pay salaries to terrorists that murder Jews, as well as giving assistance to the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by a group that seeks the Jewish state’s destruction.

Israel has given substantial coronavirus aid to both the PA and Gaza. Israel has delivered hundreds of medical kits and supplies, including coronavirus tests, as well as protective gear, to the PA. Indeed, the PA and Israel have established a “joint operations room to combat the virus,” as The Jerusalem Post reported on March 18.

Even the UN, whose anti-Israel bias is well documented, has praised Israel’s cooperation with the PA, calling it “excellent.”

As one unnamed Palestinian official told Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh: “We have been working with the Israeli authorities from day one to fight the virus.” Additionally, “most of the measures we took in the Bethlehem area after the first cases were detected were done in full coordination with the Israeli authorities.”

Also supplied by the IDF: hundreds of medical kits that enable observation of the virus, protective personal equipment for security and medical staff, and joint tutorials and professional medical workshops.

It should also go without saying — but apparently it doesn’t — that Arab citizens residing in Israel will be receiving the vaccine at the same rate as other Israeli citizens.

Yet, the Washington Post story omits this crucial context, failing to note that it is the PA’s responsibility — indeed its obligation — to vaccinate Palestinians.

The Post employees clearly view Palestinians as victims of Israeli malfeasance, lamenting that “Palestinian leaders say that they can’t afford either of the first blockbuster vaccines to hit the market.” Yet, the Washington Post fails to tell readers another crucial fact: if the PA doesn’t have money for certain vaccines, it’s partly because it prefers to pay salaries to those who murder and maim Jews.

In the first five months of 2019 alone, the PA increased these terror payments by 12% — giving $66 million US dollars to imprisoned terrorists. The PA clearly prioritizes rewarding and incentivizing anti-Jewish violence over the health and well-being of Palestinians. And the PA isn’t alone in this regard.

Hendrix and Rubin quote Ali Abd Rabo, a “director of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza,” who claims that they “don’t have the technical capabilities” to store the Pfizer serum, which must be kept at 94 degrees — “a cold chain effectively unavailable in Gaza, where electricity is available only eight hours a day.” But again, this is hardly Israel’s fault, as omitted facts make clear.

Hamas invests in terror — not in healthcare for the Palestinians living in Gaza. The terror group spends millions every year on arms and rockets that it launches into Israel. As The Washington Post itself has previously reported, millions are spent on the construction of so-called “terror tunnels,” which are used to launch attacks and smuggle weapons. More than six years ago, in 2014, the newspaper reported that “while the Gaza Strip remains mired in poverty — the 2011 per capita income was $1,165 — Hamas is thought to have sunk more than $1 million into the excavation and maintenance of every tunnel.”

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas prioritize attacking Israel over the well-being of Palestinians. And so do many in the media, who eschew facts in favor of the narrative that the Jewish state is always to blame and Palestinians are always without independent agency and responsibility.

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an op-ed in the Algemeiner on Jan.5, 2020)

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