Israel: builders want government to vaccinate Palestinian workers

Palestinian labourers work at a construction site in the Jewish settlement of Kerem Reim in the occupied West Bank (Menahem Kahana - AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  February 10, 2021

Israeli building contractors have called on the government to vaccinate Palestinian construction workers from the West Bank against Covid-19, the Times of Israel has reported. The builders cited a tax that employers and employees pay which they say is meant to cover such health requirements.

International human rights groups and UN officials have called out Israel over its responsibility for the Palestinians as an occupying power under international law. Following global pressure, Israel’s defence ministry announced last week that it has transferred 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the Palestinian Authority and said that it has earmarked another 3,000 doses for the Palestinians.

However, representatives of Israeli contractors say that this isn’t enough, since the regular movement of construction workers between the West Bank and Israel means that the virus is being spread. Around 133,000 Palestinians with special permits work in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Many do so too because of the high unemployment rate in the West Bank, while others prefer to work in Israel for better wages, sometimes more than double what they would get in the occupied territory. Before the pandemic, almost 65,000 Palestinians worked for Israeli building contractors inside Israel, accounting for a third of their workforce.

The Israel Builders’ Association sent a letter to Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch asking for the vaccination campaign to include their workers. “In light of the close and long partnership between Israeli employers and workers and the Palestinian workers on construction sites, we believe it would be just and moral to advance this,” said the association. The health ministry has so far declined to comment on the builders’ request.

Israel has one of the most advanced vaccination campaigns in the world, inoculating more than half of the country’s 9 million people. However, health experts have warned of the dangers of the continued spread of the virus in Israel if the vaccine programme is not extended to Palestinians. The Palestinian health authorities have so far confirmed 183,365 cases of Covid-19, with 2,072 fatalities.