Lebanese citizens have launched an online campaign that says that they have the right to be vaccinated before any foreigner living in the country. The term "foreigner" mainly refers to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Israel has vaccinated more Palestinians than any Arab country. Pictured: A Palestinian woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a branch of Clalit Health Services in Jerusalem, Israel on January 12, 2021. (Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)
While Israel has been falsely accused by some international media outlets and human rights organizations of "refusing" to vaccinate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip against COVID-19, no one seems to be paying attention to what is happening in Lebanon, an Arab country that has long been hosting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Syrians and other Arabs.
First, the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement states that "powers and responsibilities in the sphere of health in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall be transferred to the Palestinian side."
According to the agreement, "the Palestinian side shall continue to apply the present standards of vaccination of Palestinians and shall improve them according to internationally accepted standards and shall continue the vaccination of the [Palestinian] population."
Second, the Palestinians said they had refused to accept vaccines from Israel, and that the Palestinian government was working to get the doses from the World Health Organization and companies around the world.
Third, despite the Palestinian denial, Israel recently acknowledged that it gave 100 vaccine doses to the Palestinians, with another delivery expected shortly.
Fourth, the Palestinian government announced that it has signed in the past few weeks agreements to purchase vaccines from four different companies.
Fifth, Israel recently facilitated the delivery of 5,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine to the Palestinians. The Palestinians were easily able to import it, as they said they preferred to do.
Sixth, Israel is in fact giving vaccines to Palestinians – those living in east Jerusalem and who, as holders of Israeli ID cards, enjoy access to the same healthcare system as Israeli citizens. (The majority of east Jerusalem Palestinians are residents, not citizens, of Israel).
All these facts have failed to convince anti-Israel journalists and organizations around the world that the Palestinian government, and not Israel, is responsible for obtaining vaccines for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israel-haters are bringing up the issue of vaccines not because they care about the Palestinians, but because they seek to hold Israel responsible for Palestinian suffering that, as usual, is being caused by their own leaders.
The Palestinian leaders had a great deal of time to ask Israel to help them get vaccines. Instead of doing so, however, they announced in May 2020 that they had decided to sever all relations with Israel to protest Israeli government policies on settlements. In late 2020, the Palestinian leaders reversed their decision and decided to restore their relations with Israel. They had wasted precious time that could have been used planning how to get vaccines for the Palestinians.
Have any of these Israel-haters bothered to ask the Palestinian government why it has been so slow in obtaining vaccines from the vaccine-producing companies? Do they really expect Israel to send its soldiers into West Bank and Gaza Strip hospitals forcibly to give vaccines to the Palestinians?
While the debate about Israel's alleged responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinians, who are not (and do not wish to become) Israeli citizens is unfolding in the international media and other forums, the Israel-haters have apparently not heard about the controversy that erupted in Lebanon in the past few days.
Lebanese citizens have launched an online campaign that says that they have the right to be vaccinated before any foreigner living in the country. The term "foreigner" mainly refers to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Lebanon.
The campaign, which is being condemned by Palestinians and others as "racist" and "discriminatory," has evidently failed to attract the attention of all those individuals and organizations who are making false, libelous accusations against Israel. They do not care about this racist campaign because an Arab country, and not Israel, is discriminating against Arabs (the Palestinians).
A hashtag on Twitter titled "The Vaccine for Lebanese First," has drawn mixed reactions from Arabs.
"The Lebanese ruling party is lobbying against vaccinating non-Lebanese in Lebanon," remarked Twitter user Wael Kaafarani. "The World Health Organization should be aware of that and divert its support to non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross in Lebanon."
Another social media user, Hani, wrote:
"It's very funny how Lebanese people are traveling to Dubai to get vaccinated, and the ones living abroad are getting the vaccine in whatever country they're in, but want to deny it to anyone of different nationality in their country (Lebanon)."
Also denouncing the call for prioritizing Lebanese in the vaccinations, Marianne Hassoun commented: "The hashtag is the epitome of pettiness and racism."
Several Lebanese, though, have come out in defense of the campaign.
"We as Lebanese have the full right to get vaccinated before any foreigner," remarked Amin Tohme on Twitter. "This is not racism, but it's called patriotism."
Another Lebanese, who calls himself "Lebanese Loyalist", wrote:
"This is not racism, simply logic. As a Lebanese taxpayer, I have the full right to take a vaccine I am paying for before any non-Lebanese citizen. My money, Lebanese money, brought the vaccine here. Not refugee money."
The Democratic Forum for Palestinian Journalists in Lebanon said that it was "surprised" by calls to limit vaccines to Lebanese citizens.
"Such calls only come from ignorant people who do not understand anything about the health strategies adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic... This racism harms the image and reputation of Lebanon."
The campaign does not come as surprise to those familiar with Lebanon's apartheid policies and laws against Palestinians.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy several important rights. Palestinians cannot, for example, work in as many as 39 professions and cannot own property (real estate). Palestinian refugees, officially considered "foreigners" in Lebanon, are unable to acquire Lebanese citizenship. They also face restrictions accessing basic services, such as education and healthcare.
Those who are now attacking Israel over its purported responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, do not care about the Palestinians living in Lebanon. They do not care about the calls in Lebanon not to give vaccines to "foreigners," including Palestinians and Syrians.
Israel, in fact, has vaccinated more Palestinians than any Arab country. For the record, thousands of Palestinians from east Jerusalem, as well as Arab citizens of Israel, whom many in the international community call Palestinians, have received the vaccine in the past few weeks.
The same individuals and organizations that are attacking Israel refer to Arab citizens and residents of east Jerusalem as Palestinians. Given that tens of thousands of Arab Israelis and residents of east Jerusalem have received the vaccine without any problem, means that Israel is the only country that actually has so far given the vaccine to Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority government, which has its own healthcare system, has so far given zero vaccines to its people in the West Bank. Hamas, which also has its own healthcare system, has so far given zero vaccines to its people in the Gaza Strip.
Clearly, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are too busy with other matters – for example, inciting and carrying out terrorist attacks on Israelis, including paying the families of terrorists for the bloody acts of their relatives – to deal effectively with the health care of their people. Instead, they are sitting and waiting for the international community to donate vaccines to them rather than making a serious effort to purchase the doses.
They join the anti-Israel journalists and organizations in ignoring the medical apartheid Palestinians are facing in an Arab country: Lebanon.
Bassam Tawil, a Muslim Arab, is based in the Middle East.