Since medieval times, libels were wielded opportunistically during times of adversity as weapons to incite against the Jews and, in more recent times, against the Jewish state. So it came as no surprise that the coronavirus pandemic was seized upon as an opportunity to spread conspiracy theories and libels about Israel.
Despite Israel having provided the Palestinians with testing kits, protective gear for healthcare workers, and training, Palestinian leaders used the Covid-19 pandemic as a hook for anti-Israel libels to incite the world against Israel.
The latest one disseminated by the Palestinian leadership has attracted the most followers. It accuses Israel of being “complicit in the increased vulnerability of the Palestinian population to COVID-19” and responsible for providing Palestinians with vaccines—as a politically-motivated letter in The Lancet recently put it—or worse, of withholding vaccines to Palestinians because of their ethnicity, as a letter in the Johns Hopkins’ Global Health NOW newsletter claimed.
These libels rest upon the false premises that a) Israel is required by the Fourth Geneva Convention to inoculate Palestinians and that b) Israel is guilty of racism and apartheid.
Beyond the question of whether the Geneva Convention is even applicable to the West Bank, against which there are strong arguments, the claim that it would oblige Israel to vaccinate the Palestinian population under the governance of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is false. The Convention’s relevant Article 56 regarding public health refers specifically to maintaining health “with the cooperation of national and local authorities.” This, the International Committee of the Red Cross explains, means not only that the “Occupying Power” is not expected to shoulder the entire burden of epidemic control measures, but that there’s no requirement for it to intervene at all where national authorities can look after the health of the population. The only requirement is to “avoid hampering the work of the organizations responsible for the task.”
So does the PA consider itself a national authority competent to look after the health of its population or is it willing to cede its authority and cooperate with Israel? The answers are clear.
According to the 1995 Oslo II Accords, the “powers and responsibilities in the sphere of Health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” were transferred completely to the Palestinian Authority, as were the powers and responsibilities for education and other civil affairs. For over two decades, the PA has, in keeping with these accords, acquired and distributed vaccines.
Plans by the PA to procure the Covid-19 vaccine and inoculate the Palestinians under its jurisdiction were made public at the beginning of December when Health Minister Mai al-Kaila announced the PA had signed an agreement with Covax to obtain 20% of its vaccines for free and had ordered additional vaccines from AstraZeneca and from Russia’s Sputnik-V. President Mahmoud Abbas underscored that it was purchasing vaccines “in large quantities.”
Regarding cooperation and coordination with Israel, the PA avoided any formal requests for Israeli help in vaccinating West Bank Palestinians, having suspended cooperation as punishment for Israel’s considering extending sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A senior PA health ministry official explicitly declared the PA does not expect Israel to provide vaccines because it managed to obtain the vaccine “from other sources.” Another official emphasized the health ministry’s unwillingness to coordinate with Israel, saying, “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.”
But with their own vaccination efforts lagging far behind Israel’s, Palestinian leaders soon changed their tune and seized on the opportunity to do what they do best – blame the Jewish state. Despite their previous insistence on vaccinating their own population, they released a public statement holding Israel responsible for inoculating Palestinians and made contradictory statements about whether they had requested vaccines from Israel.
When the PA officially requested help for humanitarian cases for the first time last month, Israel provided some vaccines. It later delivered 2000 doses of vaccine to the PA, agreeing to provide 5000 in total for Palestinian medical workers.
The accusation that Israel is withholding vaccines from Palestinians purely because of their ethnicity is as absurd as it is false. Israel is vaccinating all those falling under its jurisdiction without regard to ethnicity or religion. The vaccination program is implemented in Arab and Israeli sectors alike. The program extends to Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem who are not citizens of Israel, as well as to Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails.
Regardless of the above, the issue of Covid vaccines was a propaganda opportunity to vilify Israel and so the Palestinians amplified their false accusations at the UN. The usual cast of Israel defamers eagerly latched on to this bogus narrative and brought it into medical and public health journals.
Those in the mainstream media who increasingly see their role as political advocates rather than objective journalists credulously repeated the false account. US Member of Congress Rashida Tlaib (followed by other far-left members) joined the chorus, branding Israel an “apartheid” and “racist state” that denies Palestinians access to the vaccine solely because they are not of Jewish ethnicity.
And this is how another modern-day blood libel is created.
(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an op-ed in JNS on Feb. 4, 2021)