Middle East Eye / March 16, 2021
Western governments and media are, once again, helping Israel to sanitise the fallout from its criminally negligent coronavirus response.
On 8 March, ABC News ran the headline: “Israel celebrates 5 millionth coronavirus vaccination” – a milestone in the country’s race to prove its global superiority by vaccinating its nine million people faster than anybody else.
It helps, of course, that Israel was able to strike a data-sharing deal with Pfizer-BioNTech, according to which all Israeli vaccine needs have swiftly been met in exchange for a gargantuan sum and rampant violations of medical privacy.
But this sort of winner-takes-all logic of corona-capitalism means that there are lots of losers. News consumers who read beyond headlines will discover in the second paragraph of the ABC article that, by numerical coincidence, there are also five million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza – who, as usual, have nothing to be celebrating.
In a case of massive criminal negligence, Israel has refused to vaccinate Palestinians in the occupied territories, despite being obligated to do so under the Geneva Conventions. After donating a mere 2,000 doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine to the Palestinian Authority, Israel has now charitably agreed to vaccinate Palestinian labourers who work – surprise surprise ! – in Israel and illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The negligence is even more criminal in the context of Israel’s ongoing crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has long thwarted the import of critical medical equipment and driven the coastal enclave’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse. Even before the onset of the pandemic, Gaza was effectively unable to breathe.
Predictably, however, Israel’s current perpetration of corona apartheid has not prevented certain western corporate media from gushing over the “dramatic success” (CBS News) of the Israeli vaccine rollout.
A New Year’s Day New York Times article by Isabel Kershner – one of the paper’s resident Zionist propagandists – undertook to explain “how Israel became a world leader in vaccinating against Covid-19”. The Israeli vaccination rate, Kershner wrote, had already “far outstripped the rest of the world and buoyed the battered domestic image of the country’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu” – whose penchant for militarily battering Arabs is surely no reason he shouldn’t be rehabilitated into lifesaving coronavirus vaccine hero.
It is not until the 26th paragraph of the article that we learn: “So far, the government’s inoculation campaign has not extended to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, who have not had access to any vaccinations yet.” Kershner went on to mention that “legal experts and human rights activists said Israel was obliged to provide the Palestinians with vaccines”.
Roundabout language also appears in the ABC News article, which notes that Israeli settlements are “widely seen internationally as illegal”, and in another New York Times dispatch from February, which states that “critics say Israel has an obligation to inoculate Palestinians under its occupation”. It’s sort of the equivalent of reporting that “critics say murder is lethal” – or that “the sun is widely seen as being hot”.
Indeed, media coverage of Israel’s coronavirus response replicates media coverage of all of Israel’s other blatantly criminal transgressions, which are hardly ever straightforwardly reported as such. Recall that time in 2014 when the Israeli military slaughtered four Palestinian children playing on the beach, and Times editors chose to immortalise the moment with the headline: “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife.”
On the coronavirus front, Bloomberg featured an opinion piece on New Year’s Day – evidently an auspicious occasion for whitewashing apartheid – titled “Vaccination Miracle Brings Israel Back to Its Roots,” penned by one Daniel Gordis of Shalem College in Jerusalem. The piece can be safely filed under the category of reading materials that may cause your computer or mobile phone to end up smashed to bits on the floor.
Although Gordis naturally views Israeli “roots” in a far more mythological fashion, the choice of terminology is – objectively speaking – fitting, given Israel’s literal roots in screwing over Palestinians. He describes his own emotional vaccination experience in a sports arena in Jerusalem, where, “as I looked at the eyes of other people waiting, their faces hidden behind their masks, I could tell that I was not the only one overwhelmed by a profound sense of gratitude for being part of this country”.
Shipping vaccines to allies
In Gordis’ hallucination, Israel’s high-speed vaccination drive evoked once again the good old “Israel that sees itself as a family” – a country where, “when a little kid is crying outside without an adult in obvious proximity, people scoop him or her up and wait for someone to show”.
Obviously, Palestinian kids shot and bombed by the Israeli army need not apply.
Some families will always be more important than others, and – while Israel’s “vaccine diplomacy” efforts to ship surplus vaccines to “far-off allies” rather than Palestinians were temporarily stalled due to controversy – the plan is now back on track. “Allies” include nations such as Guatemala, which moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, and other assorted international actors complicit in one way or another in Palestinian dispossession.
When it comes to Israel’s vaccination “miracle”, meanwhile, plenty of folks are keen to get in on the action, and Netanyahu has been courted by aspiring collaborators ranging from the Dutch prime minister and Colombian president to the leaders of Austria and Denmark.
And as Israel continues to make the whole coronavirus business even sicker – and western governments and media assist in sanitising the fallout – one finds oneself wishing for a vaccine against propaganda.
Belen Fernandez is the author of Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World and The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work; she is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine