Fauci champions Israeli medical apartheid

Anthony Fauci punted when asked about Israel's refusal to provide vaccines to Palestinians living under its military rule (Al Drago - UPI)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  February 19, 2021

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the immunologist and chief medical adviser to the US president, has given his implicit endorsement of Israeli medical apartheid.

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Fauci lauded Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination program as a “model for the rest of the world,” crediting the socialized healthcare system in the country.

Israel has been lionized for its supposedly comprehensive vaccine rollout, with outlets like The New York Times saying it points to a way out of the pandemic.

The only trouble is that Israel is refusing to distribute vaccines to millions of people living under its single system of unequal rule.

If anything, Israel exemplifies the deeply inequitable global allocation of vaccines that will only allow COVID-19 to thrive.

The reality of Israel’s discriminatory vaccine rollout is hardly worthy of praise.

Fauci’s adulations are a major propaganda gift to Israel, which seeks to be viewed as a bastion of technical innovation rather than a brutal occupier.

The Times of Israel asked Fauci whether the country should “help vaccinate neighbouring Palestinians.”

The publication notes that “Fauci responded carefully” to the question.

“You’re asking me a political question, and I don’t want to go there. That only gets me into trouble,” he replied.

Obligation not benevolence

The very framing of the question as to whether Israel should “help” its “neighbours” is fundamentally flawed, whitewashing the reality that five million Palestinians live under its military rule.

Providing vaccinations is not simply a matter of Israel acting benevolently to a neighbour. It’s a matter of Israel fulfilling its obligations under international law.

As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the public health of the people living in the territory it occupies.

Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention makes “particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”

Providing vaccinations to Palestinians is not a matter of politics or plain morality but of rights and responsibilities. Israel has utterly failed to uphold its obligations at the expense of Palestinian public health.

But even if it were a matter of Israeli generosity and benevolence towards a “neighbour,” it’s telling that Fauci couldn’t just give a straightforward “yes” for an answer.

Fauci has explicitly called for vaccine “solidarity between countries” as critical to ending the pandemic.

Why are Palestinians excluded from this basic concern for humanity?

Medical apartheid

Israelis living in West Bank settlements, built in violation of international law, are able to receive inoculations but not Palestinians living in the same territory under the same state authority.

There’s a word for this kind of state-sanctioned separate and unequal treatment.

Earlier this week, Israel delayed the transfer of vaccine doses acquired by the Palestinian Authority for frontline medical workers in the Gaza Strip. Some Israeli lawmakers sought to condition the transfer of vaccines on political concessions from Hamas.

Under a severely tightened Israeli blockade since 2007, the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Israel’s siege has “pushed Gaza’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse,” Palestinian human rights groups have warned.

All aspects of Palestinian life, including the right to health, are harmed by Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonization and apartheid.

Decades of “de-development and economic subordination” have prevented Palestinians from access to vaccines, as the corporate watchdog Who Profits notes.

Meanwhile, Israel refuses to vaccinate the vulnerable Palestinian workers who serve as its captive and disposable labour force.

And while undocumented persons and status-less non-Palestinian refugees and migrant workers in Israel are eligible to receive vaccinations, Palestinians from the West Bank living in the country are being turned away.

The Times of Israel interviewed Fauci on the occasion of his winning the $1 million Dan David Prize awarded by a foundation based at Tel Aviv University.

That university is deeply complicit in Israel’s system of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid against Palestinians.

A prize that big may make it tempting to turn away from the reality of Israeli medical apartheid. But that doesn’t make it right.

By treating Palestinian rights as a “political question,” Fauci is undermining the work of groups who are calling on Israel to fulfil its obligations under international law.

That is a political act, and a very shameful one to be sure.

Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago