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Human rights activists slam Israel for ‘politically motivated’ decision to postpone vaccination of Palestinian prisoners

Human rights activists slam Israel for ‘politically motivated’ decision to postpone vaccination of Palestinian prisoners
The order by Israeli Public Security Minister Amir Ohana to withhold Covid-19 vaccines from Palestinian prisoners was discriminatory and contradicted the guidelines of the country’s own Health Ministry, human rights groups say.

Ohana told Israeli prison officials to hold off administering jabs to Palestinian inmates until further notice, and provide the vaccine only to prison staff. The prisoners will get their shots later, “in accordance with the progress of vaccinating the general public,” according to the Saturday statement by the office of Israel’s first openly gay minister.

The order came after a high-ranking Palestinian official dealing with prisoner affairs, Qadri Abu Bakr, announced that voluntary vaccination of those held in Israeli prisons will kick off “in the coming days.”

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On Sunday, the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights decried the move by the Israeli authorities as “politically motivated” and called for the transfer of responsibility for the wellbeing of Palestinian inmates from the Public Security Ministry to “a body whose first priority is health.”

“The minister’s directive contradicts the vaccination guidelines that the Health Ministry issued,” the group pointed out, adding that the inmates should be given “high priority for vaccinations” due to high risk of disease transmission. 

Another NGO, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, said that by postponing the vaccination “Israel is pursuing its racist policies and it has turned the pandemic into a tool of oppression and abuse against Palestinian prisoners.”

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The Israeli Health Ministry put prisoners into the second priority group to get the jabs together with chronically ill patients and first responders, Haaretz paper reported. Overcrowding and poor conditions at Israeli prisons have led to around 140 out of some 4,400 Palestinian inmates being diagnosed with the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to Palestinian Wafa news agency.

The immunization campaign with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine kicked off in Israeli on Sunday. First in line for the shots are medics and those over 60 years of age. They’ll be followed by a second priority group, which includes teachers, social workers, first responders and security personnel. The vaccination of the general public is expected to begin within seven to 10 days, the Health Ministry said.

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