Israel has begun inoculating thousands of Palestinian laborers who have permits to work in West Bank settlements and inside Israel.
The force behind the campaign is the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an agency of Israel’s Defense Ministry, which said in a statement sent to The Media Line that the workers were not currently required to be inoculated in order to keep their work permits.
Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, the head of COGAT, said in a statement that Israelis and Palestinians “live in the same epidemiological space” and that it was a shared interest to vaccinate Palestinians.
But many laborers told The Media Line that their Israeli employers had warned them that if they don’t get their immunization shot, they could lose their jobs.
Ali Obeidat, a construction worker from Bethlehem, told The Media Line that he came to get vaccinated for fear of losing his work permit.
“I was vaccinated so I could enter Israel for work. My boss was clear that if I don’t get the shot, he won’t let me get back to work.”
The workers are being given the first doses of the Moderna vaccine; the second shot will be administered in three weeks.
The campaign to vaccinate more than 100,000 Palestinians comes more than two months after Israel rolled out the vaccination of its own population.
“Over the course of the next two weeks, every worker who wishes to do so can be vaccinated at one of these stations in coordination with his employer and the relevant government authorities,” said the COGAT statement.
Vaccination is taking place at different crossings throughout the West Bank, and near the settlements, which are widely seen internationally as illegal and an obstacle to peace.
Tariq Hassan, from Teqoa near Bethlehem, was one of the first 3,000 workers at this vaccination location to receive the vaccine on the third day of the campaign. He told The Media Line that he is the only one in his family of six to get inoculated.
“Quite honestly, I feel lucky to get the vaccine. By doing so, I feel that I’m protecting my family and community.”
While Israel has received international praise for rapidly immunizing its population, it has come under criticism from UN officials, human rights groups and medical experts for not providing vaccines to the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority imposed a full lockdown in areas under its control in the West Bank because of the sharp spike in virus cases.
But Palestinians working in Israel are still able to go to work.
“I want to get vaccinated; I feel good about it,” said Jameel Salahat, from Bethlehem, who works in construction in Tel Aviv.
Salahat told The Media Line that he “didn’t think twice” about getting the vaccine.
“In order to preserve my health and the health of my family, I took the opportunity to vaccinate because we have failed to vaccinate.”
Hamid Khatib, from the village of Beit Ummar north of Hebron, told The Media Line that his construction job required him to be near other people, and getting inoculated was a no-brainer for him.
“I got vaccinated because I work in Israel and have mixed with many people, and the vaccine is supposed to protect. Now I have the freedom to move.”