Al-Jazeera / February 5, 2021
Israel’s political and diplomatic standing in the world is noticeably on the rise, and its illegal occupation is rapidly being normalised.
Ten years ago, we, the Palestinians, were cautiously optimistic – we saw the possibility of change on the horizon. We thought the world was finally, albeit slowly, starting to pay attention to our plight. We believed, perhaps naively, that justice and freedom were within our reach.
A lot has changed since then. Today, we simply cannot shake off the feeling that we are stuck in limbo. Israel’s political and diplomatic standing in the world is noticeably on the rise, and its illegal occupation is rapidly being normalised. While more and more people are acknowledging the fact that Israel has built an illegal system of apartheid on our homeland, the international community appears to be more reluctant than ever to hold it to account. The unjust, illegal and deadly status quo in Palestine is slowly becoming permanent before our eyes.
Earlier this month, leading Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, published an explosive report describing Israel and its control of the Palestinian territories as a single “apartheid” government and stating that the lands between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea are being governed by “a regime of Jewish supremacy”. This was a much welcome recognition of our reality on the ground, but it did little to change the increasingly positive perception of Israel in the international arena.
The normalisation deals it signed with a number of Arab states, and its impressive drive to vaccinate its citizens against COVID-19, provided Israel with a lot of good press. Despite its ongoing crimes against the Palestinians and persistent violations of international law, it is not being shunned as a pariah state or sanctioned by the international community. Instead, it is strengthening its political, diplomatic and economic ties with the world. Most recently, it started exporting produce from its illegal settlements to the United Arab Emirates. These exports labelled “Made in Israel”, help normalise Israel’s settlement enterprise and claim of sovereignty over the occupied territories.
Meanwhile, the situation at home is only getting worse. Settlement expansion is continuing at an unprecedented pace, with more and more Palestinians being kicked out of their homes. According to the most recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories, 2020 witnessed “the highest number of demolitions and people displaced by Israeli authorities in recent years”.
Israel is also completing crucial infrastructure projects to ensure its illegal settlements are here to stay. It is expanding the separation wall, building bypass bridges for settlers, and approving Palestinian-only separation roads across the West Bank to transform its so-called “temporary occupation” into a permanent, hellish reality. It is also routinely sending its security forces into Palestinian population centres such as Ramallah to make it clear to the Palestinians they are living at the mercy of Israel at all times.
And all this is happening amid a deadly pandemic.
Israel is being praised the world over for leading the COVID-19 vaccination race. To date, Israel administered more than 4.6 million vaccine doses and it is expected to be the first country in the world to vaccinate the majority of its population.
But there is a dark side to this success story not many people are talking about – Israel is not vaccinating the millions of Palestinians living under its occupation.
The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council, the Palestinian NGOs Network and the Palestinian National Institute for NGOs recently issued a detailed joint statement accusing Israel of implementing a “discriminatory, unlawful and racist” vaccine policy and disregarding its obligation under international law to provide adequate healthcare to the Palestinian population. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has similarly issued a statement, accusing Israel of “violating the right to health of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem” by not providing them with adequate access to COVID-19 vaccines.
These accusations, however, are falling on deaf ears.
Israel has no plans to immunise Palestinians against COVID-19 in the near future because it is not really facing much pressure to do so. Beyond the aforementioned NGOs, which Israel is well accustomed to ignoring, no one is really talking about Israel’s moral and legal responsibility to provide healthcare to Palestinians living under its occupation. The international community is paying attention only to the number of vaccine doses being administered and praising Israel’s successful vaccination campaign without giving a second thought to the Palestinians.
The Israeli public, which overwhelmingly views Palestinians as a hostile neighbour rather than an occupied people, is not exerting any pressure on the government to take action either. Most Israelis are preoccupied with the volatility of the domestic political scene and the effect the pandemic had on their own lives and livelihoods, so they are paying little attention to the plight of the Palestinians.
Today, we, the Palestinians, are side-lined, silenced and forgotten. We are stuck in limbo, with no hope for a better future. Yes, more and more people are calling out Israel’s apartheid for what it is. However, more and more people also seem ready to accept this unjust and illegal state of affairs as unchangeable and move on.
It is not good enough to acknowledge that Israel is an “apartheid regime” but also praise it for its “successful vaccination drive” or “diplomatic achievements”. Until the international community ends its hypocrisy and starts holding Israel to account for its countless, ongoing crimes, we, the Palestinians, will remain stuck in limbo.
Jalal Abukhater, a Jerusalemite, holds an MA in International Relations and Politics from the University of Dundee.