Six Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice on March 25, 2021, demanding that Israel take immediate steps to ensure regular supply of vaccines to the Palestinian population under its occupation and ongoing control in the West Bank and Gaza. The petitioners also demand that the state transfer its surplus vaccines to the Palestinians immediately.
The petition was submitted by Adv. Adi Lustigman on behalf of Physicians for Human Rights Israel; HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual; Al Mezan Center for Human Rights; Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; and Rabbis for Human Rights. It was motivated by the sharp increase in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in the occupied Palestinian territory.
According to recent data presented in the petition, the rates of COVID-19 mortality in the West Bank and Gaza have reached a new peak, with 27 fatalities a day, and the percentage of positive tests stands at 20%. Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank are filled to capacity, and some of them have stopped admitting cancer patients from the Gaza Strip who require urgent and lifesaving treatments. Together, the number of fatalities in the West Bank and Gaza exceeds 2,708, with a mortality rate of 1.1% of validated cases, a high rate compared to Israel. The total supply of vaccines provided to the occupied Palestinian territory so far numbers about 135,000 doses, enough for only 67,500 people, or less than 1.5% of the population in the West Bank and Gaza, and not enough to provide for all at-risk groups, including the elderly and sick.
In their petition, the organizations emphasize that Israel has legal, moral and ethical obligations towards the Palestinians, deriving from its occupation and ongoing control of Gaza and the West Bank. These duties are anchored in international law as well as Israeli jurisprudence. The Palestinian healthcare system and economy have been subjected for many years to severe restrictions imposed by Israel, which have led, among other things, to severe shortage of doctors and medical supplies, de-development, and difficulty dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the petitioners remind the court that “the Oslo Accords, to the extent that they are at all relevant, do not and cannot revoke the authority of the applicable laws, which require Israel to act to vaccinate the Palestinian population”.
According to estimates by the Israeli Ministry of Health, stopping the pandemic requires vaccinating over 90% of the population. Therefore, the petitioners stress, the high morbidity rates in the West Bank and Gaza, the low vaccine supplies and the uncertainty with regard to the future arrival of additional vaccines continue to risk lives, highlighting the need for immediate provision of vaccines.
The organizations also explain that avoiding vaccinating the Palestinians makes little epidemiological sense. Israelis and Palestinians come into daily contact. Palestinians enter Israel for commercial, family and humanitarian purposes, and are employed in Jewish settlements as well as in Israel proper. All these factors turn Israel, East Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a single epidemiological unit in terms of the spread of the pandemic. Israel’s recent decision to vaccinate some 100,000 Palestinian workers employed in its territory proves that it recognizes the importance of vaccination for protecting health and saving lives.
“The respondents’ current policy and their failure to ensure that the entire population is vaccinated violates Palestinian inhabitants’ basic rights to life and bodily integrity, and represents an ongoing injustice”, write the petitioners. “Evidently, the Palestinian Authority has an insufficient number of vaccines, whereas in what is practically the same area, the population of Israeli citizens and residents is almost fully vaccinated, apart from those who decline it. This situation cannot be justified in any way, and it violates both binding Israeli and international law as well as medical ethics, morality, and sheer humanity”.
*On December 5, 2021, the state updated the court on relevant developments during the past year: that the PA had bought or received as donation over 3 million vaccines in total, over a million of which had been transferred to Gaza; that in the West Bank, about a million people had received two doses of the vaccine or recovered and then received a single dose and that some 350,000 people were similarly vaccinated in Gaza. The state also noted that the PA had a surplus of over a million vaccines and that the Palestinian health system seemed to be coping well with the current scale of illness, without any irregular events in the hospitals.
Therefore, on January 5, 2022, the petitioners asked the court to delete the petition at this stage, given the substantial change in circumstances, adding that they wish to retain their right to return to the court with all of their arguments.