ISRAEL’S most senior diplomat in Australia has labelled accusations that Israel is withholding coronavirus vaccines from Palestinians as “another brick in the anti-Israel propaganda”.
Groups such as Amnesty International and press including The Guardian have claimed Israel is shirking its alleged responsibility to Palestinian Authority (PA) citizens. Amnesty said it exposes Israel’s “institutionalised discrimination”.
But Ron Gerstenfeld, the deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Canberra, told The AJN this week that under agreements reached between Israel and the PA, the Palestinian health system is “totally independent and Israel does not have any commitment in that sense”.
“The Palestinians didn’t request Israel’s assistance regarding the vaccine,” he said.
“We are assisting the Palestinians fighting the coronavirus pandemic since day one with equipment, with training, with any technical assistance that they ask for.
“We have the highest interest that it wouldn’t be spread within the Palestinian Authority because of the daily contact between Palestinians and Israel citizens.
“We all know in the world there’s a lot of [anti-Israel] bias … and this is something else in order to attack Israel,” he concluded.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim said some media and groups like Amnesty International “have disgraced themselves by publishing false and misleading claims”.
“Few of these commentators mentioned that within Israel, no distinction has been made between Jews, Arabs and others in who gets vaccinated,” he said.
“Fewer still acknowledged that the PA, which under the Oslo Accords has jurisdiction over health matters among Palestinians in the West Bank, has steadfastly refused to issue a formal request for assistance to Israel.
“Nor did they mention the billions of dollars’ worth of aid from the EU, the US and others over the last 25 years which was earmarked in part to establish a modern health system by the PA, but has been squandered by a corrupt and incompetent PA administration.”
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Colin Rubenstein noted AIJAC “responded promptly when we first saw this anti-Israel slander” via social media postings and conveying its concerns to media.
“The allegation Israel is legally or morally obligated to provide vaccinations to Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, but refusing to do so, is a dangerous and ugly campaign to misuse international law to defame Israel,” he said.
“False claims about a legal obligation to do so are not only baseless anti-Israel propaganda, but damage the actual system of international law, as well as realistic hopes for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian resolution in future.
“Furthermore, Israel has not ruled out providing vaccines to Palestinians and, according to some reports, has already done so in limited quantities.”
Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler called upon the media outlets who have carried the claims to “correct errors in their reporting”.
“Under Article VI(2) of the 1993 Declaration of Principles, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been responsible for their own health since 1994,” he said.
He further noted that “all non-citizens residing in Israel, including Palestinian residents in Jerusalem, are being vaccinated” by Israel.
Around 20 per cent of Israelis have been vaccinated so far, most with the Pfizer vaccine, which requires sub-zero storage unavailable in the Palestinian Authority.
PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila announced a deal with Russia on Monday for its Sputnik V vaccine, while PA Health Ministry spokesman Kamal al-Shakhra said on Saturday an agreement had been signed with AstraZeneca. The PA has also joined the United Nations COVAX program.