Fact Sheet: Israel’s Responsibility to Vaccinate Palestinians During the Pandemic

February 09, 2021

Is Israel responsible for vaccinating Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza against Covid-19?

  • Under international law, occupying powers are responsible for ensuring and maintaining public hygiene and the healthcare systems of the occupied populations living under their control, including measures to prevent the spread of infectious disease and epidemics. According to Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:
“To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory, with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.

Who has called on Israel to provide vaccines for Palestinians in the occupied territories?


  • Independent UN human rights experts. On January 14, 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and another UN expert called on Israel “the occupying power, to ensure swift and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for the Palestinian people under occupation.” Noting the disparity between the number of Palestinians and Israelis vaccinated, they added: “Morally and legally, this differential access to necessary health care in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a century is unacceptable.”
  • Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In a statement released January 6, 2021, Amnesty condemned Israel’s discriminatory policies and called on it to provide vaccines to Palestinians in the occupied territories, declaring
The Israeli government must stop ignoring its international obligations as an occupying power and immediately act to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under its occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine program highlights the institutionalized discrimination that defines the Israeli government’s policy towards Palestinians. While Israel celebrates a record-setting vaccination drive, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer – there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones.”
  • Also on January 6, 2021, 30 Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights organizations released a statement calling on Israel to ensure Palestinians in the occupied territories have access to vaccines, urging “Israeli authorities to live up to their legal obligations and ensure that quality vaccines be provided to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

What about Israel’s argument that according to the terms of the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority is responsible for vaccinating Palestinians?

  • The Oslo Accords, a series of agreements signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization between 1993 and 1999, and the Palestinian Authority, which was created under Oslo, were not intended to be permanent. Instead, the Oslo process was supposed to lead to Palestinian statehood by 1999, but that never happened because of Israeli settlement construction and other actions that rendered the creation of an independent Palestinian state all but impossible. Today, the Palestinian Authority continues to operate under the overall control of Israel. However, even under Oslo, Israel is required to “cooperate in combating” epidemics and contagious diseases with the Palestinian Authority. 
  • Even if the Oslo Accords were still valid, Israel’s responsibilities as the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention would still supersede it, something that has been repeatedly affirmed by the UN and human rights organizations. This is also true in Gaza, despite Israel’s withdrawal of its settlers in 2005. In January 2021, in response to the claim, the Oslo Accords negate Israel’s responsibilities as the occupying power, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 declared: “The ultimate responsibility for health services remains with the occupying power until the occupation has fully and finally ended.



  • Israel took control of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza during the June 1967 War. Since then, millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have lived under oppressive Israeli military rule, denied the most basic of rights and freedoms, including the right to peaceful protest, because they aren’t Jewish. 
  • At the same time, successive Israeli governments have built more than 130 official settlements (and tacitly approved more than 100 unofficial ones) consisting of segregated housing for Jewish Israelis on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of international law and longstanding US policy prior to Trump. Today (February 2021), there are more than 675,000 Israeli settlers who enjoy the full rights and privileges of Israeli citizenship living on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem among approximately 3 million Palestinians who are governed by undemocratic Israeli military rule.
  • This dual system of laws and discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, along with the systematic discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel face, has been condemned as a form of “apartheid” by a growing number of human rights groups, legal experts, and others.
  • Because of Israel’s occupation and settlement enterprise, Palestinians in the occupied territories have no control over who enters their land, leaving them virtually defenseless against Israeli soldiers and settlers who carry the virus.