Sunday 10 January 2021

The Usual


Jake Wallis Simons has a piece in The Spectator taking Amnesty International to task for traducing Israel's much-admired handling of its coronavirus vaccination rollout. 

Amnesty, which has become remarkably anti-Israel in recent years, has accused Israel of "denying Covid-19 vaccines to Palestinians", which is claims "exposes Israel’s institutionalised discrimination". 

I'll summarise it: 

The Palestinian leadership hasn't complained because, under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority runs health in the parts it runs (Hamas runs health in Gaza) and they don't like asking Israel for help, viewing it as collaboration with the enemy, and initially insisted on obtaining the vaccine themselves via the WHO/United Nations. Israel, meanwhile, speeded ahead impressively with Israeli Arabs being fully encouraged to take up the vaccines. The PA, seriously lagging behind, appears to have now changed its mind and (covertly) asked for - and received - Israeli help.

Jake concludes, "Seen in this light, the picture bears little resemblance to the narrative pushed by the likes of Amnesty International. The Palestinians neither expected nor requested help from Israel. They held no sense of grievance, even as hand-wringing commentators from overseas sought to stir up resentment by reporting that a great injustice had been done. Palestinians appear to be seen by some as an infantilised people in need of Western intervention. But this is certainly not how they see themselves."

Enter the BBC. On Friday, the BBC News Channel announced: 

Israel is also facing criticism over what responsibility it has to share its vaccine supply with Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza. Well, to discuss this more we are joined from Jerusalem by Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, head of the World Health Organization office in Palestine.

Dr Rockenschaub was captioned "Head of the WHO office in Palestine", though the word "Palestine" isn't in his official title. It appears to have been the BBC's decision to use that word, even though its official guidelines say it shouldn't be used in "day-to-day coverage" to refer to the West Bank and Gaza. (Wonder who wrote Annita McVeigh's script?)

Anyhow, here were the BBC's questions to Dr Rockenschaub: 

  • How many people - and we are talking about 5 million people, aren't we, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, roughly? What percentage of those people have actually received a vaccination yet?
  • So what are Israeli officials are saying about this criticism then? 
  • If it has been doing really well vaccinating its citizens, what is it saying about the lack of vaccinations for people in the West Bank and Gaza? Why is it saying that has or hasn't happened? 
  • I know you have said nobody is safe until everyone is safe, so presumably that's a message that you are really trying to hammer home with the Israeli authorities as you try to facilitate the fair spread of the vaccine, I guess, can we put it that way, through the region?
  • Looking at the new cases, more than 8000 new cases per day leading to a third lockdown, believed to be because of this new variant first identified in Britain. Do we think this variant started to take off before the effects of the vaccination programme could really be felt? 
  • Getting new supplies in before hospitals become overwhelmed and before health care becomes overwhelmed is absolutely of the essence now, isn't it? 
  • Dr Rockenschaub, thank you for talking to us today. Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, head of the World Health Organization office in Palestine.
It would have been interesting to hear an Israeli perspective on this.

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