“The mainstream British media has mainly neglected the reality of how Palestinians have been largely excluded from the vaccination campaign.”Yasmine Dar
In Britain we have rightly appreciated the rapid roll out of vaccinations against Covid. And we are profoundly grateful to the public sector, the National Health Service and hundreds of volunteers for this achievement, although I would additionally like to see Britain provide more support for vaccination programmes in the developing world. However, Britain has sometimes been compared to Israel in its achievements in vaccinating its population. This is deeply misleading.
The mainstream British media has mainly neglected the reality of how Palestinians have been largely excluded from the vaccination campaign. Under the terms of Geneva conventions, Israel as an occupying power has a responsibility for those living under its occupation, but this has been far from reality. Even the residents of the illegal West Bank settlements have been offered the vaccine, but not the Palestinians living under the occupation. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention are also not being vaccinated,.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has rightly called this out as ‘committing racial discrimination against the Palestinian people’. An Amnesty International statement pointed out ‘there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones’.
These acts of discrimination compound the deterioration in living conditions that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem have suffered in the last year. In 2020 there were the highest number of home demolitions and forced displacements since the OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, began systematically documenting this practice in 2009. Families in East Jerusalem, such as the Sumarin family in Silwan, the al-Kurds in Sheik Jarrah and many others are under imminent threat of losing their ancestral home as a result of Israel’s policy to get Palestinians out of the Old City.
Palestinian Bedouin communities in the West Bank and in an increasing number of villages in the Jordan Valley have been targeted for demolition and displacement in order to enable the expansion of existing illegal settlements and the setting up of new outposts and settlements.
The British government recognises that settlements are illegal and a barrier to peace, but trade policies allow British companies to facilitate demolitions and financially benefit from settlement activities. In 2020, British-made JCB bulldozers demolished 191 Palestinian structures including 64 homes, forcing the displacement of 278 people and making 160 children homeless and destroying water pipes, water tanks and vital irrigation networks in the area. This is just one example.
Palestinian women bear the brunt of relentless human rights violations as they resist administrative detentions of their children; ongoing attacks on their homes and family life and their children being denied access to education, health services and basic services like water and electricity. This has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
I hope that as CLPs and trade unions consider their motions (deadline 26 May) to be submitted to Labour’s women’s conference in June, they will consider drawing attention to the situation of Palestinian women and reaffirming Labour’s policy to recognise Palestinians’ collective rights to self-determination and to return to their homes; and to promote an ethical policy on all trade with Israel, in particular by applying international law on settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and stopping any arms trade with Israel that is used in violation of the human rights of Palestinians.
There is much to be done and Labour, with its strong policy agreed unanimously at our annual conference, should be in a position to lead the way. We must act on Labour’s commitment to recognise the State of Palestine; and call on the Government to fulfil its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and under customary international humanitarian law, to ban UK trade with illegal settlements and make binding regulations for companies to uphold human rights standards. And we must demand that the British government make an explicit appeal to the Israeli government to stop all demolitions, with a particular urgency in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley; dismantle all new outposts; stop the expansion of existing settlements and, in light of COVID-19 crisis, lift the closure of the Gaza strip and immediately release all children in detention. Finally, it is imperative that Israel fulfils its duties and responsibilities as the occupying power by providing a proper vaccination programme for the people of Palestine.