Rights groups accuse Oxford University website of using ‘politicised’ numbers in Israel vaccine row

Nineteen NGOs said the methods used for calculating Israel vaccine numbers was flawed

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Wednesday 21 April 2021 17:33
An elderly Palestinian waits to receive a dose of COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a clinic in Gaza City
An elderly Palestinian waits to receive a dose of COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at a clinic in Gaza City

Over a dozen rights groups have accused Oxford University of using politicised numbers and “celebrating” a military occupation because its website tracking coronavirus vaccine delivery, Our World in Data, does not include Palestinians in its figures on Israel’s vaccine rollout.

Citing the Fourth Geneva Convention, 19 NGOs including Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights Israel and a coalition of Palestinian human rights groups said that all 4.5 million Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation should be included in the calculation of the percentage of Israel’s population that has been vaccinated.

That includes the millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. It said the Covid-19 vaccinations chart shows Israel’s remarkable achievement in vaccinating many of its citizens.

“However, it omits the fact that, as an occupying power, Israel has failed to fulfill its obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide vaccines to all 4.5 million Palestinians living under its military occupation, as affirmed by leading Palestinian, Israeli and international  health and human rights organizations,” the letter read.

The charities added that writing that Israel has vaccinated a percentage of "its population" without counting the population under its military control is “legally incorrect and morally problematic”.

Our World in Data, which is affiliated with Oxford University, said it agreed with their concern that the population living in Palestine should be taken into account but declined to change its way of tracking the rollout in a written response that was shared with The Independent. It said that as they have different figures and percentages for those In Israel and for Palestine and if they attempt to absorb the two it “would be double counting”.

Israel has received worldwide praise for the efficiency of its vaccination programme and is on track to becoming the first country to completely inoculate its population.

However, it has been criticised because of the discrepancy between the number of Israelis vaccinated in comparison to the number of Palestinians who have received the jab.

Well over half of Israelis have been vaccinated, according to World Health Organisation data, in comparison to under 150,000 Palestinians who have been vaccinated in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

So far nearly 840,000 people have had coronavirus in Israel while 6,345 have died. Some 284,000 Palestinians are known to have contracted the virus while over 3,000 have died. Medics in Gaza in particular have struggled to contain the virus with sweeping electricity blackouts and medicine shortages.

The Israelis have vehemently denied accusations of discrimination in its vaccine rollout and officials have pointed to the fact that Israel has vaccinated Palestinians living in Jerusalem as well as Palestinians who work in Israel.

Israeli officials have in the past blamed the Palestinian Authority for not seeking cooperation with the Israeli government to procure and distribute the vaccines.

Some commentators, meanwhile, have argued that Israel has no obligation to vaccinate the Palestinians.

The Israelis cite the Oslo Accords, the interim peace agreements signed by the Israelis and Palestinians in the 1990s, as the reason why the Palestinians are responsible for their own health response. Under the agreement, the PA is required to maintain international vaccination standards and for both sides to exchange information and cooperate in combating epidemics.

United Nations experts have said that Israel has not ensured that Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza have near-future access to the available vaccines.

Israelis take a photo as they are sitting in a street with no face mask on April 19, 2021 in Tel Aviv, Israel. As of April 18, Israelis could circulate outdoors without a face mask, for the first time in a year.

They said that as “the occupying power, Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention, ‘to the fullest extent of the means available to it’, to maintain health services in the occupied territory”.

The experts cited Article 56 which they say means Israel must adopt and apply “the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics” in cooperation with national and local authorities”.

In the letter given to Our World in Data, the charities urged the site to accurately include all Israelis and Palestinians living under Israeli control as a denominator when calculating Israel’s percentage of vaccination coverage.

“Adding these millions of vaccine-deprived Palestinians to Israel’s figures would change the picture entirely,” the letter read.

The Israeli embassy in London declined to comment about this when approached by The Independent.

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