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October 22, 2021 12:02 pm

Palestinians Acquire Millions of COVID Vaccines. Are Media Not Covering Story Because Israel Can’t Be Blamed?

avatar by Akiva Van Koningsveld


A health worker prepare a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Gaza City March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Are stories about the Palestinian struggle against COVID-19 only newsworthy when Israel can somehow be blamed?

Our analysis confirms, once again, that this twisted logic seemingly prevails in newsrooms around the globe.

Some eight weeks ago, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh stated his intention to inoculate healthcare workers and high-risk populations in the West Bank with a coronavirus booster shot. On October 7, the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip followed suit, and announced that the third vaccine would be made available to everyone six months after receiving their last shot.

“Not receiving vaccinations is not a matter of personal freedom, as your freedom ends when this freedom harms the health of others,” Shtayyeh said, as he explained the PA’s policy. To date, over 10,000 Palestinians have opted to get jabbed a third time, in addition to the 1.2 million who have been vaccinated twice.

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Palestinians are among the fortunate few who have the option of getting a booster — with some countries in the region still struggling to obtain doses.

However, data shows that many Palestinians have voluntarily been holding off on getting immunized. According to recent figures, just half of Palestinians eligible to get vaccinated, ages 16 and up, have done so — and only after the PA and Hamas imposed sweeping measures against the unvaccinated.

Revealed: Palestinian Hesitancy, Not Israel, to Blame

In late August, the West Bank and Gaza vaccination rate stood at barely a quarter of the target population.

Experts connected the low interest in getting vaccinated to “disinformation and conspiracy theories, along with more well-founded concerns about waning vaccine efficacy.” A glance at the Facebook page of the PA Ministry of Health strengthens this hypothesis. Posts with calls to get the shot are often swamped with comments calling the vaccine “suicide,” with some Palestinian anti-vax groups blaming purported side effects on “Masonic Jews.”

In a bid to push people to get the shot, the government in Ramallah then took drastic measures. For instance, civil servants who refused to get vaccinated were put on unpaid leave. Moreover, travel between the West Bank and Jordan became contingent on presenting a vaccine certificate.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas started handing out lottery tickets to those who chose to take the jab, with a chance of winning over 3,000 US dollars — the equivalent of eight average monthly salaries in the poverty-stricken coastal enclave. The terror group also forced anyone who works in a public-facing business — including restaurants, taxis, and government offices — to get the shot.

The restrictions, described by Israeli media as “a system of both carrots and sticks,” had some effect.

Between August and October, the vaccination rate more than doubled, bringing it to 50%. By comparison: in the United States, 77% percent of the eligible population has to date gotten the shot. In India, this number stands at 66%, while 93.7% of all Brazilians in the target population have been inoculated against COVID-19.

Strikingly, neither the rapid start of the booster campaign nor the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy among Palestinians made headlines in the various publications that previously promoted the malicious narrative that Israel was withholding vaccines from the Palestinians.

Rather, in December 2020, as Israel rolled out its world-leading vaccine drive, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Reuters, and the Associated Press, among others, ran countless articles implying or outright declaring that Jerusalem was responsible for Ramallah’s purported lack of access to shots.

Some outlets even insisted that Israel was violating international law or enacting a system of “medical apartheid.”

Estimate: 80% of Palestinians Over 15 Can Now Get the Shot

As HonestReporting pointed out at the time, the issue is, in reality, much more complex than portrayed in the media. Some even contended that if Israel had begun a vaccination drive in the West Bank, such a move would have been interpreted by the leadership in Ramallah as a violation of the latter’s authority.

Despite these open questions, the Jewish state transferred some shots to the West Bank, and vaccinated nearly 120,000 Palestinians who work in Israel.

Furthermore, the Palestinians sourced vaccines from various other places, including donations from the United States (500,000), the UN-backed COVAX initiative (133,440), China (100,000), the United Arab Emirates (60,000), India (25,000), and Russia (10,000).

Ramallah eventually purchased another 4.5 million shots of the Pfizer and Sputnik V vaccines. Once all the vaccines are delivered, the PA and Hamas will be capable of fully inoculating over 80% of all West Bank and Gaza residents ages 15 and up, amounting to 3,224,000 people.

To put it another way, the Palestinians could, according to the current state of affairs, theoretically become the most highly vaccinated population in the entire Middle East after the United Arab Emirates, where over 85% of the population has received two shots.

Indeed, the PA’s fact-finding committee that examined June’s failed vaccine exchange with Jerusalem concluded that there was “no justification or need” for an expedited shipment through Israel, “neither to accommodate the epidemiological situation in Palestine [sic] nor to stock up the Ministry of Health’s vaccine supplies.”

Yet, apart from an August 29 story in The New York Times — which, to its credit, admitted that the Palestinians received “millions of doses” — the media has effectively ignored the unwillingness by Palestinians to utilize the plethora of shots acquired by the Palestinian Authority.

Aside from the Times article and a single paragraph in an NPR piece, not a single major English-language publication has reported on the issue.

Already in June, we wrote that media outlets entirely ignored the story of the PA’s successful vaccine procurement, because they are seemingly intent on perpetuating a narrative, reminiscent of ancient blood libels, in which Palestinians are nothing more than eternal victims of alleged wrongdoings by the Jewish state.

If it is not deemed newsworthy that the PA and Hamas have an abundance of vaccines — even though their subjects are reluctant to take them — why was it newsworthy when Israel, however unjustifiably, could be blamed?

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article was first published.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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