200 rabbis call on Israel to make COVID vaccine available to Palestinians

Rabbis for Human Rights NGO says Israel has ‘moral imperative’ to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza

A vial of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen as medical staff are vaccinated at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN/FILE PHOTO)
A vial of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen as medical staff are vaccinated at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel
A group of some 200 rabbis have signed a petition by the Rabbis for Human Rights organization calling on the Israeli government to hasten the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines amongst the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
The rabbis, including Reform, Conservative and some Orthodox figures, said that providing vaccines to the Palestinians was a moral imperative especially in Gaza over which, the rabbis asserted, Israel exercises extensive control.
Palestinian Authority officials have declined to ask the Israeli authorities for assistance in obtaining vaccines, with one PA Ministry of Health official saying in December the ministry “is not a a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry” and that the PA ministry was itself seeking to acquire vaccines.
“We, rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, call upon the Government of Israel to expedite the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine throughout Israel, and in parallel – with as much importance and urgency – in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” wrote the rabbis who signed the Rabbis for Human Rights petition which was created on December 24.
“Without Israel’s intervention, the rate and scale of COVID-19 infection in Gaza will skyrocket. The State of Israel, which exercises extensive control over Gaza’s land, sea and air access, should acknowledge responsibility for the health and welfare of the two million Palestinians who live there.”
The rabbis cited the words of the great medieval scholar Maimonides who wrote in his Mishna Torah codex of Jewish law that it is a religious obligation to save other human beings.
“Judaism teaches a moral imperative not to show indifference as our neighbor suffers, but rather to mobilize and offer help in times of need,” wrote the rabbis.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the former senior rabbi to Reform Judaism in the UK and a past chairwoman of British Rabbis for Human Rights, said the vaccination needs of the Palestinians “goes to the core of who we are as Jews,” and that Israel had a moral obligation to assist them during the pandemic.
“We are driven not just by caring for our own but an imperative for looking after those around us for who whom we have either direct or indirect responsibility,” said Janner-Klausner.
“Even though we don’t have direct responsibility, we have control over what goes in and out of Gaza, it would be farcical to say otherwise and it’s unconscionable not to take part in vaccination program over the green line and hide behind veneer of different legal systems.”
Asked if Israel should give vaccines it has received through its contracts with Pfizer and Moderna to the Palestinian Authority, Janner-Klausner said questions regarding what Israel should do practically were not a matter for her but for the Israel Ministry of Health.
She said that the Israeli government should assist the Palestinians in their efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the West Bank and Gaza and should work “closely and collaboratively” with the PA to assist it in the distribution of the vaccines when they arrive.
The PA has previously declined to request assistance from Israel in obtaining novel coronavirus vaccines and has instead sought vaccines though the World Health Organization and the UN.
PA sources have said this week said that requests have recently been made to the Israeli authorities for assistance in obtaining vaccines.
The PA has also said said it is expecting to receive the first shipment of the Russian Sputnik V vaccination next week, although reportedly there is skepticism amongst the Palestinian public about the Russian vaccine.
The PA is also in contact with the British-based AstraZeneca company to procure its vaccine.
It is unclear if the PA will distribute the vaccines it obtains in the Gaza Strip since it is controlled by Hamas.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.