Vaccine Apartheid: Marc Lamont Hill, Mitchell Plitnick on Israel’s “Indifference to Palestinian Health”

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Israel has had the fastest vaccination rollout in the entire world, with 40% of Israelis already fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have received almost no doses — a situation critics call “vaccine apartheid.” By one count, just 34,000 vaccine doses have been administered to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, which has a population of over 4.5 million. “What we’re seeing right now is a gross injustice,” says Marc Lamont Hill, author and professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University. We also speak with Mitchell Plitnick, political analyst and president of ReThinking Foreign Policy, who rejects Israel’s claim that the Oslo Accords put public health responsibility on the Palestinian Authority. “The Oslo Accords don’t say that,” Plitnick says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our coverage of the pandemic, this is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we turn to what some are calling “vaccine apartheid” in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Israel has had the fastest vaccination rollout in the entire world. Forty percent of Israelis have already been fully vaccinated. More than 8 million shots have been administered. Israel has also vaccinated Jewish residents living in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

But Palestinians have yet to even begin a public vaccination rollout. By one count, just 34,000 vaccine doses have been delivered to the Occupied Territories, where some four-and-a-half million Palestinians live. Most of the vaccines came from the United Arab Emirates and Russia. The New York Times reports Israel has sent just 2,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority, with a promise for 3,000 more. Israel has also been accused of delaying vaccine shipments into Gaza.

On Sunday, Israel announced it would also start vaccinating some Palestinians who work inside Israel and inside the illegal settlements. This comes as Israel has begun rolling out a vaccine passport system, where people would need to show proof of vaccination to access certain facilities in Israel.

We’re joined now by the co-authors of the new book Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics. Marc Lamont Hill is a professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University in Philadelphia. Mitchell Plitnick is the president of ReThinking Foreign Policy. Plitnick is also the former director of the U.S. office of B’Tselem and co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Marc Lamont Hill, if you can talk about what is happening now in the Occupied Territories when it comes to access to the vaccine?

MARC LAMONT HILL: What we’re seeing right now is a gross injustice. Right now Israel has one of the most impressive rollouts of vaccines. When you look at the population over 50, the numbers are extraordinary. When you look at the overall population of Israeli citizens who have gotten the vaccine, the numbers are the best in the world. But that number only is impressive if you don’t count those living — those Palestinians living in the West Bank, those living in Gaza. When you add those numbers, then what we see is a basic denial of Palestinians of the right to or access to the vaccine.

And what the Israeli government has argued is that because of the Oslo Accords of 1993, that Palestinians are responsible for their own self-care and their own access to the vaccine. That is untrue for two reasons. One is that the Fourth Geneva Convention trumps that, despite what the Israeli government has argued. They have a responsibility to make sure, in an occupied territory, that their health is protected, particularly from a pandemic. But also, the Oslo Accords don’t suggest that. The Oslo Accords still would suggest that the Israeli government has a responsibility to coordinate, and particularly under the circumstance of a pandemic, control of the pandemic vis-à-vis a vaccine. And so, in both cases, in either case, the Palestinian people are denied what international law suggests and what, quite frankly, I think, just good medical judgment would suggest, which is that everyone in the region should get access to a vaccine.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Mitchell Plitnick, your response to that, the argument in particular that Israel has put forward, that Marc just talked about, that the Oslo Accords, effectively, supersede the Fourth Geneva Convention?

MITCHELL PLITNICK: Yeah. So, I actually — I have an article all about that very point on Medium, that people can look up. But the summary of it is that the Oslo Accords don’t say that. The Oslo Accord actually lays out a very specific schedule of vaccines that the Palestinian Authority is assuming responsibility for. And they’re the routine vaccines that most of us get when we’re children. In fact, it’s so specific that not only do they list the vaccines, they even list when the Palestinian Authority is required to administer them. So, it’s a very clear list.

And another clause in that same area says that when unusual epidemics, like — obviously, like COVID-19, come up, that Israel and the Palestinian Authority commit to work together to combat them as one. So, I think it’s very clear that Oslo, between that and, as Marc mentioned, the fact that the Fourth Geneva Convention still holds, and the occupying power is ultimately responsible no matter what, this argument that Israel is making is just not — it’s just false. It’s just a lie.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, if you could talk about what one of the Israeli officials just recently said when it comes to comparing Palestinians getting vaccines? I believe he said something along the lines of “That would be like Palestinians being responsible for vaccinating dolphins in the Mediterranean”?

MITCHELL PLITNICK: Well, doesn’t that just show the attitude here? You know, when people talk about this being a sort of medical apartheid, I mean, I think that just shows — it shows the attitude. That statement reflects a complete — I mean, it’s sort of directly saying that Palestinians are not humans, that they are not as important as Israelis. So, it is a — I mean, in other words, the comparison is not saying that Palestinians should be responsible for vaccinating people in Chad, right? It’s not comparing to other people. It’s comparing to nonhumans. And I think that’s what that statement reflects.

And it shows the complete indifference to Palestinian health, which, of course, is self-defeating, because if Palestinians are not immunized against COVID, ultimately, Israelis are not safe, either. So, the dehumanization goes to such an extent that they’re even continuing to put Israelis at risk despite the undoubtedly successful effort to roll out the vaccines within Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: To be exact, it was the Israeli health minister likening his obligation to vaccinate Palestinians to Palestinians’ responsibility to care for dolphins in the Mediterranean. Mitchell Plitnick and Marc Lamont Hill, we’re going to go to break, and when we come back, we’re going to talk about your book, Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics. We will also link to Mitchell’s piece in Medium, “Israel Is Responsible for Vaccinating Palestinians Under Occupation. Even the Oslo Accords Say So.” Stay with us.

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Marc Lamont Hill & Mitchell Plitnick on ICC Probe & the “Palestine Exception” in Progressive Politics

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