In his first foreign policy address, President Biden vowed that human rights and multilateralism would be the guiding principles in his approach to foreign policy, pledging to “defend equal rights of people the world over.” So far, however, the administration has failed to make any significant move to end U.S. complicity in Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people — a major stumbling block in the path toward reclaiming the United States’ moral authority around the world.
Palestinians must be included in President Biden’s promise to defend equal rights across the globe. For too long, Israel has held a position of impunity with regard to international human rights law and policy while Palestinians have suffered under a brutal military occupation. The decades long relationship between the United States and Israel has been marked by virtually unconditional military and diplomatic support for Israel's denial of self-determination to the Palestinian people. Israeli exceptionalism and American exceptionalism concerning human rights and international law must both be rejected.
Though Israel has celebrated its achievement of delivering 5 million COVID-19 vaccinations, today, Palestinians’ secondary status is underlined by Israel’s vaccine rollout plan, which excludes the nearly 5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Israeli military occupation. As noted in a joint statement signed by the Middle East Council of Churches, Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically provides that an occupier has the duty of ensuring “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.” This duty includes purchasing vaccines and distributing them to the Palestinian population under Israeli control.
“The situation is miserable and bleak across the Palestinian Territory,” said Dr. Bernard Sabella of the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees, speaking to GlobalMinistries.org. “Scores of patients do not find beds in hospitals and they are placed in corridors without the needed ventilators and other medical equipment needed to treat the more serious among them. According to some reports, patients are just sent home to take care of themselves.”
Following calls by leading human rights organizations and medical leaders such as Save the Children, Oxfam and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Israel has begun administering vaccines to 100,000 Palestinian day laborers who carry Israeli work permits. Still, for most residents of the West Bank and Gaza, vaccines remain unattainable even as coronavirus infections rise and 95% of the intensive care unit beds in West Bank hospitals are occupied.
“A situation where Israelis can access a vaccine but not Palestinians living under Israel’s actual control is inherently discriminatory,” reads a Feb. 18 joint letter by humanitarian organizations working in the occupied Palestinian territories. “Without rapid action, health inequalities between Israelis and Palestinians will worsen, and the humanitarian crisis in the [occupied Palestinian territories] will become further entrenched.”
Tell President Biden to defend Palestinian human rights! Biden must hold Israel accountable to its international obligations as an occupying power and must strongly appeal to the government of Israel that it ensures COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under occupation.
If you respond and have not already registered, you will receive periodic updates and communications from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Dear [Decision Maker],
Thank you for your consideration,[Your Name] [Your Address] [City, State ZIP]