Three weeks after she was denied a COVID-19 vaccination by Israel’s Health Ministry, a Palestinian student living in the occupied West Bank who studies at Tel Aviv University finally received the vaccine.
As Local Call first reported three weeks ago, Tel Aviv University initiated a vaccination drive for faculty, staff, and students, including foreign students. Nadia Sabaana, a resident of the northern West Bank and a graduate student studying in the Tel Aviv Business Administration program, arrived on campus to get the vaccine, but was repeatedly turned away by the medical staff running the vaccine drive.
A university official who was there that day confirmed last week that the university staff spent six hours trying to persuade Health Ministry officials to allow Sabaana to be vaccinated, but refused because of the ministry’s sweeping directive not to allow Palestinians to get vaccinated (the ministry has since amended its position to allow Palestinians with permits to work in Israel to receive the jab). “It was strange and very unpleasant. I tried to talk to everyone [from the ministry] but we weren’t able to [get Sabaana the vaccine],” the source said.
Tel Aviv University currently has around 400 foreign students, 10 of them Palestinians from the occupied territories. The university confirmed that the foreign students were indeed vaccinated without difficulty, and only the Palestinian students were denied the vaccine because of the Health Ministry’s directive.
Last week, TAU President Ariel Porat sent a letter to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein demanding that Palestinian students be vaccinated. Porat wrote that during the vaccine drive three weeks ago, “Palestinian students studying in the various programs at the university also came to the vaccination center. Magen David Adom refused to vaccinate them and explained that it was part of the Health Ministry’s policy not to vaccinate Palestinians.”
Porat continued in the letter: “I urge you to allow the vaccination of Palestinian students of Tel Aviv University. Without vaccines, they will likely not be able to participate in student life on campus and their studies will be harmed. Discrimination against Palestinian students as opposed to other Israeli and international students contradicts the spirit of Tel Aviv University, as well as the basic principles of a liberal and democratic society.”
“I’m glad they did not make an exception just for me,” Sabaana said. “I hope I made [the vaccine] accessible to other Palestinians who had their right to receive it questioned.”
She continued, “Yes, sometimes when you face some injustice, you assume and make a generalization that everyone is like that. But the university did follow up on the matter and pressured the Health Ministry, and the student union was also keeping track of the story. It is good to see that there are still professionals, that there are still human beings.”
“Sometimes it’s naïve to believe that one is guaranteed basic human rights,” Sabaana added. “Sometimes you have to push to get your rights against all odds and against the whole system.”
Health Ministry Spokesperson Anat Daniel Lev offered the following response: “The director general of the Health Ministry has given an unequivocal order to vaccinate all students with a valid student ID, including said Palestinian students.”
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.