After weeks of delays, Israel on Monday finally launched a two-week campaign to vaccinate the 100,000 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank who work in Israel.
Hundreds of Palestinians arrived at the Meitar checkpoint in the southern West Bank on Monday morning to receive the vaccination. After checking their entry permits and registering them, Israeli soldiers medical personnel vaccinated the workers on the Israeli side of the checkpoint.
According to the Coordinator of Government Operations in the Occupied Territories, any worker will be able to be vaccinated at six different checkpoints across the West Bank, with prior coordination between the employer and with the relevant authorities.
“I was very happy to be vaccinated,” said Muhammad, a Palestinian worker in his 50s from the village of Dura. “We’ve been in this mess for a year, and it has been three months since the vaccines reached the whole world. We waited and didn’t get it. I’m glad at least now we are doing something to kill this virus. Now we will feel more confident at work. It is not clear whether or when [all] Palestinians will have access to vaccines. In my opinion, the [Israeli] government must help in this.”
The workers’ vaccination campaign comes after months of criticism and pressure by human rights groups, activists, and political representatives abroad demanding that the Israeli government, as the occupying power under international law, vaccinate all Palestinians under its control, including in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This demand is especially pertinent for Palestinians living in Areas B and C of the West Bank, who are under the direct control of Israel.
Israel’s Health Ministry had previously refused to provide the vaccine to Palestinians living or working in Israel, including those with permits, despite allowing health clinics around the country to administer vaccines to asylum seekers, migrant workers, and undocumented persons. So far, Israel has transferred only a few thousand vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, with Russia and the UAE donating another several thousand including to Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Although the majority of the vaccines were distributed to medical workers, the Palestinian Authority admitted — following criticism by human rights groups over a lack of transparency — that 10 percent of the stock was given to senior political officials, as well as the Palestinian football team to enable them to travel abroad.
Inside the makeshift vaccination site, Magen David Adom staff placed tables and chairs near the checkpoint’s iron turnstiles and electronic passage gates, through which the workers pass every morning on their way to Israel. Many of those who were vaccinated arrived at the end of their work day, on the way back to the West Bank. Others gave up a day’s work to come to the checkpoint for the vaccine.
“We are all in one boat: if we drown, it will be all of us together,” said Abdullah from the town of Dahariya. “True, there are people in Israel who do not think we should be given vaccines. [But] In the end, Israel should vaccinate everyone who lives in the West Bank.”
At around 3 p.m., the checkpoint was full of workers returning from Israel. Naji, from the village of Samua, held a bouquet of flowers he had bought for his wife in honor of International Women’s Day. “This is a good decision, but I wish there were vaccines for our wives as well, for families, for everyone in the West Bank,” said Naji. “I would pay any amount of money for my wife to be vaccinated.”
A few hundred meters from the Meitar checkpoint is one of the most well-known breaches in the separation fence; Palestinian workers without permits and those who want to avoid the checkpoints regularly pass through this spot into Israel. In the afternoon, traffic at the site was sparse, with only a few passing through the hole. Others, even those with permits, returned through the breach into the West Bank.
“Those who pass [through the breach] should also be vaccinated,” said one of the workers standing on the main road. “COVID does not differentiate between those who have a permit and those who do not.”
Another Palestinian worker, who had already been vaccinated at the checkpoint and was trying to catch a taxi home, added: “I am in favor of giving vaccines to all the people in the West Bank, but I will tell the [Israeli] government not to give any vaccine to the corrupt Mahmoud Abbas.”
A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.