Israel's apartheid pandemic

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Middle East scholar Juan Cole. Photo by Scott C. Soderberg.

As Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination program got underway in recent months, reports in Western media, including the New York Times, lauded the country’s speedy inoculation efforts to vaccinate every Israeli over the age of 16. What many news reports failed to immediately note in detail, however, was that as the Middle Eastern nation was rapidly vaccinating its citizens against the deadly virus that turned the whole world upside down, it showed no signs of inoculating the approximately 5 million Palestinians whose land Israel occupies in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. After a global outcry ensued over the immorality of this decision, Israel ultimately promised to transfer 5,000 doses to the West Bank for medical staff.  However on Monday the Palestinian Authority accused Israel of blocking the 2,000 COVID-19 vaccines Palestinian officials were attempting to send to health care workers in Gaza from entering the blockaded territory.

To Middle East scholar Juan Cole, the term to describe these events is crystal clear: medical apartheid. On this week’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence,” the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor professor joins Robert Scheer to discuss what the coronavirus pandemic has revealed about the decades-long Mideast conflict.

“The fact is that Israel militarily occupies these people,” declared Cole. “It has undermined their economies, and the World Bank and others estimate that the Israeli occupation has cost the Palestinians billions and billions of dollars in the past two decades. And the restrictions on imports into Gaza are such as to have left the hospital system wholly inadequate. And the number of ICUs in both the West Bank and Gaza is very low in world terms. So the Palestinians don't have the resources to deal with this pandemic themselves.”

Cole explains that Israeli claims that under the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the health services on Palestinian territories ring hollow considering that the same treaty implied Israel would no longer occupy Gaza and the West Bank by the year 2000. What’s more, the Middle East scholar continues, due to the propagation of Israeli settlements across the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority only actually has any power over less than half of the territory, and even some of these parts are subjected to “direct Israeli military rule.”  

“I heard an Israeli politician interviewed who said, ‘Well, we're not going to give the Palestinians vaccinations before Israeli citizens,’” Cole tells Scheer. “That just struck me as outright racist [and serves as] another demonstration of how the Israeli contemporary apartheid works.”

Scheer and Cole discuss how Western media, particularly in the U.S., often fails to provide a full picture of the plight of Palestinians when reporting on Israel. Additionally, the two describe a “McCarthyite” targeting of people in the U.S. who speak out against the Israeli occupation in universities, as activists, in media or in other settings. Cole also examines how Donald Trump’s presidency has impacted Israeli-Palestinian politics, and comes to a harrowing conclusion regarding Israel’s far-right political leaders, such as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the global far right.

“The right wing in Israel has become a symbol for the right wing in Europe and the United States [because] what the far right is really about is racial hierarchy. And the racial hierarchy that's established in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is very clear. In fact, under Netanyahu in 2018, the Israeli parliament actually passed a law that said that sovereignty in Israel is invested in the Jewish Israelis, [meaning] 20% of [Israeli citizens] who are not Jewish have been denied sovereignty.”

Listen to the full conversation between Cole and Scheer as they discuss the history of the Israeli occupation, how Jewish Americans view the situation, and what connections can be drawn between Israel’s politics and the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol.



Joshua Scheer