Senators' Letter to Secretary of State Blinken Urging Palestinians Receive Adequate Supply of COVID Vaccines

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on March 12th 2021 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking the Biden administration to urge the Israeli government to do more to help the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip receive adequate supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Following is the full text of the letter: 

Dear Secretary Blinken:

As we watch the progress the new administration has made in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also keenly aware of the success the State of Israel has had in vaccinating its citizens. Yet in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians have received only a very small number of vaccines. While we note that the Israeli government recently sent a few thousand doses to the occupied territories, and has approved a plan to vaccinate about 120,000 Palestinians with work permits in Israel, we write to ask the administration to urge the Israeli government to do more to help the Palestinians in the territories receive adequate supplies of the COVID vaccine.

As the occupying power under international law, Israel is legally obligated to provide for the health and well-being of all people under its control. This obligation stems from the Fourth Geneva Convention Article 56, which states: “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”

While the Oslo Accords gave the Palestinian Authority considerable responsibility for the health care of Palestinians in the occupied territories, which they should also be urged to uphold, the Accords do not supersede Israel’s responsibilities under the 4th Geneva Convention.

The urgency of the moment, as both Israelis and Palestinians face the threat of COVID, demands immediate action. Israeli citizens cannot be safe from COVID until the Palestinians who live right next to them are also immunized. We concur with those Israeli health officials who last week urged their government to vaccinate the entire Palestinian population. The attempt to treat some parts of the territories beyond the Green Line as Israeli while treating other parts, where the majority of Palestinians reside, as a separate entity jeopardizes the good work Israel has done in vaccinating its citizens, of all ethnicities.

The occupation will continue to present problems such as those articulated above, so we urge the administration to work towards an equitable resolution to ensure the rights of all people. Ultimately these issues will not be fully resolved until both parties agree to a fair solution that ensures full citizenship rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. To that end, we encourage you to use all diplomatic measures at the United States’ disposal in support of concluding such an agreement. In light of the pandemic, we also urge the administration to quickly resume funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides education, health care, food, and other critical assistance to meet the humanitarian needs of millions of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian Territories and in neighboring countries.

We believe that by taking these steps the United States can help to revive the hope for peace while also ensuring the security, health, and well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians.