Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq is calling on the Pfizer pharmaceutical company to ensure that its COVID-19 vaccine is being used and distributed without discrimination, expressing concerns that Israel is using the company’s vaccine “to further entrench” injustices against Palestinians living under occupation.
In a letter to Pfizer, Al-Haq expressed concern over Israel’s “racially discriminatory exclusion of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from its vaccination efforts,” and noted the company’s “international obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”
In recent weeks Israel has emerged as a world leader in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, administering tens of thousands of doses of the drug to its citizens every single day, with the majority of doses coming from Pfizer.
The country has become the first in the world to vaccinate most of its population with the first jab of the two-dose vaccine, and has been celebrated by global health officials for its massive success so far.
Israel recently struck a deal with Pfizer, agreeing to provide the company with a treasure trove of medical data surrounding its vaccination campaign, in exchange for hundreds of thousands of new doses of the vaccine to be sent to Israel each week.
Critics of the deal have sounded the alarm over the potential privacy violations that could result from the deal, and have questioned Pfizer’s role in deepening the divide between Israelis citizens and Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, and who has access to vital healthcare in the midst of the pandemic.
In the letter to Pfizer, Al-Haq’s director Shawan Jabarin inquired as to whether the company
“sought assurances from the State of Israel that the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine would be equitably distributed in compliance with international human rights standards,” which require Israel as an occupying power to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to the occupied Palestinian population.
“Despite its obligations to uphold the highest standard of health under both international human rights, international humanitarian law, and its own domestic legal system, Israel has intentionally excluded Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from its vaccination effort,” the letter reads.
“In doing so, Israel is mass-vaccinating settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while neglecting the occupied Palestinian population subject to its effective control,” the letter continues.
Al-Haq noted that according to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies like Pfizer have a responsibility to ensure a higher level of scrutiny and oversight in situations of armed conflict and occupation, including through enhanced human rights due diligence.”
“Al-Haq calls on Pfizer to issue a public statement in support of the principle of non-discrimination in public health, stressing that all peoples under Israel’s effective control must have their inalienable right to health respected and vindicated,” the group said.
In recent days dozens of organizations have signed on to a statement published by Al-Haq last week, characterizing Israel’s vaccine roll out as “discriminatory, unlawful, and racist.”
The statement emphasized the fact that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has a duty to ensure the vaccination of the Palestinian population living under its control — though until now, the state has failed to uphold such duties.
“In its on-going roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations, Israel is directly violating its humanitarian and human rights law obligations by denying lifesaving vaccines to Palestinians as part of its policy of maintaining its apartheid regime of institutionalised domination,” the statement says.
The signatories of the statement went on to call for, among other provisions, Israel to “ensure the non-discriminatory provision of vaccines to all persons in the territory under its control,” including Palestinian political prisoners and detainees, and supply vaccination supplies to the PA.
The groups also demand the international community hold Israel accountable “for denial of health care amounting to the wilful causing of great suffering and injury to the health of the Palestinian population.”
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