Israel, Palestine, and Covid 19: a travesty

Israel, Palestine, and Covid 19: a travesty February 1, 2021

Israel, Palestine, and Covid 19: “No country has done what we are able to do,” said Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu. He is so right – but not in the way he thinks he is.

Dear Patheos readers,

My full-time gig is writing about Palestine – the human rights situation, the American politics and money that drive Israeli policy and practices.

As Christians who want to “do justice and love mercy” (Micah 6:8), we should care about injustice anywhere. The scale of the injustice that’s happening in the land where Jesus walked is shocking, and you need to know at least a little about it.

Everything I write about Israel and Palestine is meticulously researched and accurate – I never report on rumors or half-truths.

I invite you to read this troubling article that I just finished on how Israel is treating the Palestinians under occupation during the pandemic. (If you’re interested, you can read more of my writing here, here, and here.)

If you don’t know about the Israel-Palestine issue, this is your baptism by fire. If you do know about it, this might not match your current knowledge base – or maybe you’re one of the few Christians who know the unfiltered facts!

I invite comment, but not personal attacks. I know this is a contentious issue, but we Christians can be civil with one another.

Lastly, this is a long article, but please stay with it! And the photo below is members of my husband’s family in Gaza!

Members of my husband’s extended family: niece, 3 nephews, and aunt, living in Nuseirat refugee camp, Gaza.

Israel’s obscene mismanagement of the Covid-19 vaccine

by Kathryn Shihadah, reposted from If Americans Knew

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (who is up for re-election this spring) boasts, “We are vaccinating at 10 times the pace of the United States. No country has done what we are able to do.” He’s right.

Israel is so far ahead in the Covid vaccine game that the Israeli Health Ministry is making it available to all Israelis over 35 years of age – not just essential workers, healthcare providers, and high-risk individuals.

But most Palestinians under Israeli rule, regardless of age or risk, don’t qualify.

Compared to the US vaccination rate of about 6.2%, Israel has distributed initial doses of the vaccine to roughly 29% of its population, and second doses to nearly half (Israeli Palestinians – Muslim and Christian – appear to be receiving proportionately fewer vaccines than Israeli Jews). For a short time, Israel enjoyed celebrity status for having the “fastest rollout in the world.”

It wasn’t long before word got out that for the occupied Palestinian territories under Israeli control, the celebrated vaccine response was just another example of Israeli apartheid. Journalists and politicians chided Israel for its discriminatory policies – which in turn led to a wave of rebuttals against those who would dare to tarnish the good name of Israel.

The facts speak for themselves.

israel covid
“IDF Coronavirus Task Force” by Israel Defense Forces is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Israel not willing to share Covid vaccine

As the Financial Times reports, Israel has already received “planeloads” of vaccines, and more are due soon. By March, the state will have a surplus.

Next door, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has arranged with Russian suppliers and the World Health Organization (WHO) to get vaccines, but they are not expected to arrive anytime soon.

With a shortage of PPE, nearly 8,000 Palestinian medics have already been infected with Covid, hampering efforts to respond aggressively to the pandemic.

The PA requested from Israel just 10,000 doses to protect Palestinian frontline workers for now. Israel has refused, although the Fourth Geneva Convention requires the occupier to provide medical services to the occupied population, including “measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”

Israel has tried to hide behind a technicality, claiming that Palestine is not “occupied” territory, but “disputed,” and Geneva does not apply. (The International Committee of the Red Cross – ICRC – explains that occupation requires “some degree of control by hostile troops over a foreign territory.” This describes Israel’s position vis-a-vis the Palestinian territories. Read more on the definition of occupation and how it applies to the Palestinian territories here.)

Those Palestinians living in Israel and East Jerusalem have access to vaccines; those living in Gaza do not. In the West Bank – Palestinian territory – only the Jewish settlers living on land stolen from Palestinians are receiving vaccinations from Israel.

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein explained on a BBC interview,

As far as the vaccination is concerned, I think that it’s an Israeli obligation first and foremost to its citizens. They pay taxes for that, don’t they? 

But having said that, I do remember that it’s our interest – not our legal obligation – that it’s our interest to make sure that the Palestinians get the vaccine and they won’t have the Covid-19 spreading [to Israelis]…

If it is the responsibility of the Israeli Health Minister to take care of the Palestinians, what exactly is the responsibility of the Palestinian Health Minister? To take care of the dolphins in the Mediterranean?

But as one resident of Gaza pointed out,

We are always obliged to get Israel’s permission to travel for medical treatment or to get medical supplies into the Strip. Why is it only now that we have to be responsible for our own health?

[Read more about Israel’s absolute control over medical travel here and here, and about the medical supply blockade here and here.]
israel covid
“destruction up close” by jenniferlisa is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Making matters worse

Israel has certainly not made it easy for Palestinians to take care of their own pandemic-related needs.

Israel controls imports and exports, and has allowed insufficient numbers of WHO-donated Covid testing kits, masks, and other necessities into the occupied Territories. (Some Israel partisans insist that the Palestinian territories are governed by the Oslo Accords. Read about that here.)

Israel has also demolished or dismantled a string of clinics and makeshift Covid testing facilities since the beginning of the pandemic, arrested volunteers as they worked to disinfect schools, and even stolen food meant for needy Palestinians.

(Demolition of residential and non-residential structures – and even entire villages – has been a regular occurrence since 2006.)

At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel vowed to stop home demolitions for the duration; however no such thing happened. 2020 saw, in fact, one of the highest demolition rates in recent years. According to OCHA, at least 847 housing units and non-residential structures were demolished, leaving over 1,000 people homeless – half of them children.

israel covid
“Life in Gaza” by United Nations Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bartering with Gaza 

As for Gaza, where the 14-year, ongoing blockade has tapped out the medical sector, some Israelis have suggested using vaccines as a bargaining chip.

Gaza’s ruling party, Hamas, holds two Israeli civilians as prisoners (as well as remains of two soldiers) since 2014. Alan Baker, a former Israeli ambassador, suggests a swap – essentially the lives of 2 million Gazans for the return of 4 Israelis.

Beyond its implicit cheapening of Palestinian life, Baker’s suggestion ignores the fact that Israel holds over 5,000 Palestinian prisoners and the remains of hundreds more.

Some Israel apologists point to Israel’s “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005 and claim that the enclave is no longer occupied, and thus not Israel’s responsibility. Nearly the entire world disagrees: the UN, international human rights groups, and most governments and legal experts maintain that Israel exercises near total control, keeping Gaza under “de facto occupation.”

Prison conditions

In recent weeks, as Israel’s discriminative Covid policies have become more widely known, human rights organizations around the world have been calling for equality, starting with the most vulnerable Palestinian population of all: prisoners in Israel’s infamously overcrowded, dilapidated jails (where only Israeli guards have been vaccinated).

Israel holds roughly 4,400 Palestinians as political prisoners, 440 administrative detainees, and 160 children in facilities where torture is routinemedical neglect is prevalent, and Covid rates have been spiking.

Israeli Prison Services (IPS) has removed many hygiene and cleaning supplies from the commissaries; has limited access to blankets and winter clothing for detainees; and per an Israeli High Court ruling last summer, the facilities are under no obligation to provide means for inmates to practice social distancing.

The president of Israel (a largely symbolic office) reminded the Health Ministry that withholding Covid vaccines from prisoners is “inconsistent with our values, the values ​​of the state, Judaism, and democracy.”

Either the president’s comments were compelling, or the global pressure from human rights organizations worked: the Health Ministry announced a start date of January 18 or 19.

My husband’s aunt Bahiyyah, refugee in Gaza since 1948.

We subsidize this abomination 

American taxpayers keep Israel in business to the tune of $10 million a day in military aid alone, plus additional funding in many shapes and forms.

(Israel receives more of the US foreign aid budget than any other country – in fact, the US has given more money to Israel with its population of 9 million than to the billion plus people in all of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean combined.)

As American money flows, human rights organizations regularly report on Israel’s violations of international law (for a few examples, read thisthis, and this), the International Criminal Court is investigating possible war crimes by Israel, and the word “apartheid” is being used commonly to describe the situation.

Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir described the situation succinctly:

“[P]eople on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian.

As much coverage as Israel’s deplorable pandemic policies have received worldwide, US politicians and mainstream media have paid little attention. President Biden has rarely criticized Israel; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer likewise has been silent (not surprising, since Schumer calls himself a “guardian of Israel” – see video).

Only a handful of Congress members have called out Israel on the Covid issue, including Reps. Marie Newman (D-IL-3), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY-16), Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

Pariah state 

But even as human rights organizations and the odd politician rail against Israel’s inhuman practices toward Palestinians and call on the Jewish State to exercise benevolence during a pandemic, the fact is, Israel will not comply.

International law requires Israel to provide healthcare to its occupied population – but for decades nothing has happened. Why would it start now?

International law demands that Israel allow the return of the indigenous Palestinians that fled wars in 1948 and 1967 – but Israel has prevented them, leaving a population that now numbers in the millions to suffer in refugee camps, brooding on the injustice.

International law has called for an end to Israel’s occupation, now in its 6th decade, and to Israel’s brutal blockade of Gaza, now in its 14th year – but Israel has refused.

This is not the conduct of an enlightened nation. This is not the conduct of a democracy.

The global community needs to insist on justice now, before Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine is complete.

Inaccurate Israeli claims

US media often carry inaccurate Israeli claims about the situation. For example, Israel and Israel apologists in the US allege that the Palestinian territories are supposedly governed by the Oslo Accords. However, that claim rests on an incomplete rendering of the facts; read about it here.

Similarly, Israel and its advocates often point to Israel’s 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza and claim that the enclave is no longer occupied, and thus not Israel’s responsibility. That also is incorrect, as the UN, international human rights groups like the Red Cross and Amnesty International, and numerous legal experts (eg this and this) have stated that Israel exercises near total control of Gaza, therefore keeping Gaza under “de facto occupation” and therefore responsible for its inhabitants.

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10 responses to “Israel, Palestine, and Covid 19: a travesty”

  1. I can’t stand Netanyahu. I’ve never liked the Likud, and he is the worst of their PMs. But ignoring, for the sake of discussion, Israeli internal politics, there are some basic problems with the terms and definitions used when addressing any issue involving that nation and the aspirational nation of Palestine. As the article indicated, one can get hung up in the adjective used to describe the West Bank: “occupied”? “disputed”? I think I prefer “hopelessly confused”. Really I could find objections to any term anyone proposes.

    I’m certain that there are aspects of Israeli policy I find objectionable. But I’m not comfortable with criticisms based on the a priori assumptions that Israel is illegitimate, everything Israel does is reflective of an “apartheid” policy, that anywhere a Jew is standing is “occupied Palestine”, and so on. Conversely I cannot accept any assertion that all “Palestinian” Arabs are terrorists, that they don’t deserve human rights, and so on.

    I do have a few questions that likely will annoy nearly everyone, so perhaps I’m on the right track. First, if the PA (never mind Hamas for the moment) would agree to condemn terrorism and to discourage its citizens from engaging in “kill a Jew, any Jew” actions, would the Israeli govt agree to provide COVID relief to the PA territories equivalent to the provision of those to Israeli citizens? Would they agree to curtail the glorification of Jew-killing which is broadcast even on their children’s programming, in return for a relaxation of Israel’s unequal treatment? We could go back through the years with a tit-for-tat quest for whom to blame, but the fact is this conflict is now mired in all that and seemingly impervious to solution. Could we get both sides to simply cease and desist, abandon preconceptions, come to the table and honestly seek a solution? Ok, I’m dreaming.

    Well, my other question is, how is pandemic relief being conducted in the neighboring countries—Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and so on? Never mind Syria where not much is going well in any respect right now. I think it behooves us to examine things in perspective, comparatively, before indulging in the common (on the Left) assumption that Israel = bad. For myself, currently I praise Israel for its advanced society, its demosocialism, and so on, but as far as current policies go, I have little good to say about the Israeli govt, the PA, Hamas, or anyone else in the region, sadly.

  2. I appreciate your willingness to think through the problem. I find some of your assumptions are problematic. The word “apartheid” is not used lightly of Israel. It is a serious accusation, and very appropriate according to many experts. As for terrorism, truly and literally the actions of Palestinian individuals pales in comparison to those of the Israeli government and some of its citizens. “Terrorism” may have been the right word for some Palestinians years ago, but no longer. The label persists because Israel’s propaganda machine sees to it.

    I’ve studied this issue for years, so I could go on. Instead I’ll refer you to my website,

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. Apartheid was a specific system, in South Africa. The word itself is Afrikaans. The situation in Israel is not analogous. There are many differences. For one thing, were any black S Africans elected representatives? That was not possible. But Arabs sit in the Knesset. S. Africa had no distinction between blacks who were citizens, and those living in some conquered territory. There again the analogy breaks down. The term “apartheid” elicits an emotional response because of all the horrors it entailed. It becomes something of a scare tactic. In the extreme form of this rhetoric, people call the Israelis “Nazis”. I hope I don’t have to explain how inappropriate and offensive that is.

    There are many inappropriate criticisms made of Israel, especially in the pretense that Israel is so much worse than other countries, in terms of human rights. Looking at UN resolutions that would be the conclusion. Yet, really, is Israel worse than Saudi Arabia? Iran? N Korea? Pakistan? Syria? China? In fact, Israel is an advanced democratic society, and not exempt from criticism for its real sins, but to hear the caterwauling about Israel from people who ignore the other countries I mentioned and others I did not, one cannot think that the criticism is rational.

    Terrorism? By Israel? Throwing rockets at civilians from both Lebanon and Gaza? Knife attacks against Israelis in the streets? One cannot declare that the Arabs have a right to resist, and then accept ANY means by which they do this. Would we agree then that it would have been alright for Dr. King to sponsor bombings of white churches, random killing of whites, and so on? I am frankly astounded that anyone with knowledge of what the Jews went through less than a century ago would condone such actions against them.

    It has become almost cultish among many to use all these negative characteristics of the Israelis (apartheid, occupiers, “Zionists” used to mean some sort of fascists, and so on), following which any action against them, however terrorist, or any rhetoric, however antisemitic, is acceptable. The descriptions of Israel by its enemies are very uncomfortably similar to what we can read in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

    And so, you see where we end up? The discussion is about demonizing Israel, and little is said about any notion of how to realize full civil rights for Arabs in the territories. By this means the Arabs themselves have been skunking their own cause since the 1920’s. I’m sure that in fact right-wing Israelis appreciate all this, whether coming from Arabs themselves or their Western supporters. When I hear rhetoric in favor of the Arab people which also expressed an acknowledgement of the rights of Jews and Israelis, I’ll take it more seriously.

  4. “Apartheid” is a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. Yes, it’s an Africaans word, but it applies wherever such a system is used. Are you aware of the race-based system in Israel-Palestine? It is absolutely apartheid.

    If you call homemade rockets and individuals with knives “terror,” what term do you use for the airstrikes that destroy entire neighborhoods in Gaza, the home invasions and demolitions – even demolition of entire villages, the destruction of property and crops that Israel carries out daily?

    Palestinians (they’re not “Arabs”) are the ones lacking full civil rights. Israel is withholding them, so we have to talk about Israel in order to fix the problem.

    “Demonizing Israel” is not what’s happening here. What’s happening is calling out Israel for its human rights abuses. Are other countries doing it too? Yes, of course they are. Somebody else is protesting that. We pick our battles.

    It’s disingenuous to throw around the word “antisemitic” when somebody legitimately criticizes a state, just because it happens to identify as “Jewish.”

  5. It’s a matter of semantics, often, when we all get into this whirlwind of argumentation over Israel-Palestine. Terrorism? Israel kills civilians during military actions which target real military threats. That is called “collateral damage”. Is all collateral damage “terrorism”? Rarely is it called that. In Gaza it is very well known that Hamas hides rocket-launchers in schools and hospitals, and among residential neighborhoods. In effect they are enticing Israel to bomb them so they can then claim that Israel is targeting civilians. Notice when they allow cameras into the places where the wounded are cared for, or bodies are stacked, there are never any fighting-age males there? Right, Israel “only kills civilians”. Hamas is playing games with the lives of Gazans. Israel could avoid this only by failing to respond to terrorist rocket attacks. The rockets used are deadly and can kill people, so whether they’re “homemade” or not is irrelevant. Tim McVeigh used a homemade bomb, did he not?

    What we also have to talk about is genocide. The Arab approach to Israel is genocidal. Few Arab countries these days will even allow an Israeli into their territory. They violently ran out their Jewish populations in 1948, appropriating their property, of course. That is why so many Sephardim are in Israel, while many Ashkenazim remain in other countries. And, the founder of the Palestinian movement, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, helped Hitler craft the “Final Solution”. Many Arabs today still are following that plan. One cannot reasonably ignore the genocidal propaganda emitted by Palestinian TV in the West Bank. And it is not imaginary that Arabs go into Jerusalem intending to “kill a Jew, any Jew”. That is genocidal by any measure.

    So if the issue is Israeli human rights violations, which definitely DO occur, can we stop them by ignoring the myriad crimes of the Arabs while condemning the Israelis? By a people (Jews) who’ve endured 1000 years of genocidal binges against them by various peoples (mostly Europeans, but also Arabs), such an approach will be understandably dismissed. We have to address both sides. The Israeli right likes to pretend that Israel is innocent as a lamb, and only Arab terrorism is the problem. To claim the reverse, that only Israel is the problem, and anything done by the Arabs is justified, is essentially to make that same error.

    I’d love to be appointed to conduct negotiations between those 2 parties. I’d be standing in the door like Jimmy Carter did (to prevent Begin from leaving), but I’d be stopping both parties. No, cut the BS, sit down and NEGOTIATE in good faith, dammit! I just don’t see anyone on either side approaching it that objectively. Instead it’s always about demonizing either Israel or the Arabs. Tiresome and unproductive. I’m tired of seeing people die there. I’ve had good friends from both sides. They have all told me they’re willing to live with each in peace. So why can’t we get this done? Please don’t pretend it is entirely Israel’s fault. Are you aware of the various duplicitous moves by Abbas? If only we could get rid of both him and Bibi…

  6. The people that you see dying there are almost always Palestinians. It sounds like you have your mind made up, though. I’ve learned not to debate with people who have already made up their minds. I’ll ask you one favor, though, on behalf of my loved ones: can you at least dignify them with the descriptor “Palestinian” instead of “Arab”?

    Oh, and PS, I’d love to get rid of Bibi and Abbas too. There are SOME things we can agree on!

  7. No, I do not accept that anyone has “already made up their mind” and so nothing can be discussed. I am not a rightwinger dismissing Arab concerns, or anyone’s concerns, really. Now, we both dislike both Bibi and Abbas, so there is a starting point.

    I am convinced at this point that the 2-state solution is the goal to be sought. It is not feasible to have one big state in which Jews are not the majority, as they would then quickly be squashed. I have dealt with the people in question and can say this: I have met hard-liner Israelis who are eminently unreasonable and have come to the point of simply hating Arabs. And I’ve met anti-Israel Arabs from several countries who are just as intransigent and full of hatred.

    But, I had 2 friends at the university, one an orthodox Jew from Israel, the other a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship. The Palestinian woman I worked with in the anti-apartheid movement (is this ironic or just interesting in the light of our conversation?). The Israeli woman was simply a friend with whom I spent a lot of time. One day during lunch I saw them both at the same time, and went up to introduce them. After stating their names, I said, “She’s Israeli, and she’s Palestinian.” They both exhibited a surprised and somewhat apprehensive look on their faces. I then said, “would both of you agree that it would be nice if your people could live in peace, you could see each other in the market, ask how are your kids, have a nice day, in a situation where neither of you were deprived of your rights?” They were both emphatically answering in the affirmative. “Yes! Why can’t we do that?” I said, “Well, I think we need to put you 2 in charge of the respective sides, maybe then we’ll have peace.” And I sincerely believe that, as both women were ethical and admirable people.

    We could go on and on about the crimes of the Arabs (which are extensive for 14 centuries) or those of Israel (all much more recent, but nonetheless objectionable), but then all nations have such dirt in their backgrounds. I’m a Yank, a citizen of a country founded by genocide and rampant with slavery. And then even some of the victims of this were far from pristine. The Iroquois, for example, were guilty of genocide against the Huron.

    So there is one very big thing we can agree on, and which transcends all the disagreements over details, and that is that all the people involved in this (essentially Israelis and Palestinians) deserve their full rights. I currently favor a 2-state solution. As with all such conflicts, I want the suffering to stop. Same desire I have for the Uighurs, Tibet, the Rohingya, the people of Honduras, the Yemeni and so on.

  8. I thank you for your courage in writing this article. I have long been appalled by the treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Israel since I visited the country and saw with my own eyes the pain and suffering caused by Israeli policies. Yes, anti-semitism is real and terrible atrocities have happened to many times to count. But that can’t be an excuse for systematically creating unchecked pain and suffering against Palestinians. When I left Yad Vashem all I could think of is how could a people so brutally treated treat others so brutally as to build that hateful wall, destroy homes, place Palestinians in detention camps? And now this. There has to be a way forward in which honest reckoning can be made . Thank you for starting a conversation.

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