Israel has extended its Covid-19 vaccination campaign to Palestinians working in Israel or its West Bank settlements, after facing criticism for not providing more doses to Palestinians in occupied territory.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have received few vaccine doses to date and lag far behind Israel, which has vaccinated over 40 per cent of its population in one of the world's fastest rollouts.
Amid the disparity, Israeli employers had privately secured doses for thousands of their Palestinian labourers, many of them in construction. On Monday, the government formally extended its programme to all 120,000 Palestinians with Israeli work permits.
“We hope others in the West Bank, all of them, [will get] the shots,” labourer Qais Ghaith said after receiving his first dose at a military checkpoint near Bethlehem, adding that because he works inside of Israel, “the government obligated [us] to take the shots.”
“I hope my kids and my family and for the West Bank, all of them, [to] take the shot [so] all of us [will be] safe.”
Around 5,000 Palestinian workers received their first shot on Monday, according to COGAT, a branch of Israel's defence ministry that is co-managing the programme.
The West Bank and Gaza, home to a combined 5.2 million Palestinians, have received around 34,700 vaccine doses to date. These came from small donations by Israel and Russia as well as 20,000 sent by the United Arab Emirates to Gaza.
Palestinians have accused Israel of ignoring its duties as an occupying power by not including them in its inoculation programme. Rights activists say the workers vaccination campaign does not go far enough.
Israeli officials have said that under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank, is responsible for vaccinating Palestinians.