A response to The dark side of Israel’s vaccine success story”, Mail & Guardian, 13 January 2021

George Orwell, perhaps Great Britain’s greatest gift to Western literature, urged readers to be wary of the deceptive use of language, particularly in the realm of politics. Political language, Orwell wrote, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.

So it is with Yara Hawari’s opinion piece. Even a compassionate reading of Hawari’s commentary leads the reader to one of two unavoidable conclusions: first, that this University of Exeter-educated Palestinian political activist either overlooked or under-researched basic, publicly available information on the rights and responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and those of its neighbour, the state of Israel.

For the past 25 years, since September 1995, the Palestinian Authority has assumed responsibility for the national future of the Palestinian people in the West Bank. The Iranian regime-backed Hamas violently overthrew PA governmental control in Gaza in 2007. PA governmental control and Israel’s withdrawal from those areas under PA jurisdiction were carried out with the signing of the internationally witnessed and guaranteed Oslo II interim peace accords. This legally binding diplomatic agreement refutes Harawi’s baseless, ill-advised and misleading allegation of Israeli military occupation via a “regime of absolute control” that she erroneously asserts is responsible for vaccinating the Palestinian public in the West Bank and Gaza.

To be sure, Palestinians and Israelis and all peoples deserve equal access to the Covid-19 vaccinations. Hawari is correct that Israel has acted efficiently as the world’s leading vaccinator of its nine-million citizens, all of whom are guaranteed equal care by law including of course some 2 000 000 Arab Muslim Israeli citizens.

However, readers should not be misled into believing that Israel must provide Covid-19 vaccinations for residents of the neighbouring Palestinian Authority and Hamas-dominated Gaza.  Since 1995, the PA has operated as a proto-state assisted by Israel and the international community pending agreed-upon negotiations of the final status of the disputed lands of Judea and Samaria (the former West Bank of Jordan).

In Oslo II Article 17, agreement was reached that a fully independent Palestinian Authority and its fully operational high-quality health ministry has conducted its own health ministry policies and provided healthcare that includes legal, economic and moral responsibility for vaccinating 1.5-million residents in the West Bank and 1.8-million residents of Gaza.

Hawari would be more helpful to Palestinian residents of the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank if she were to prompt readers to ask why the Palestinian Authority has boycotted Arab allies and isolated itself among Arab League powers that signed full normalisation peace agreements with Israel in late 2020 and now enjoy full professional and civic cooperation in all areas from technology to healthcare, with emphasis in battling the Covid-19 epidemic.

I recently returned from my first visit to the United Arab Emirates. I was struck by expressions of disgust by UAE leaders toward the PA leadership for turning back plane loads and millions of dollars of UAE healthcare assistance to fight Covid-19 in 2020, just because the UAE planes landed at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.

One UAE leader, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that the PA leadership “lost them” with their refusal of UAE health assistance.

A senior US official who spoke with me about the Arab frustration with the Palestinian leadership’s snub of Arab countries said that PA leaders turned their backs on their former Arab allies for normalising relations with Israel.”

The US official further told me, “[The UAE] has left the train station together with Israel, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. At the same time, the Palestinian leadership is still sitting on the station’s floor, complaining about and condemning their Jewish neighbours”.

In this sense Hawari also stands isolated from Saudi-led Gulf states and other Arab powers in her steadfast refusal to hold the PA to account for its own failings. Instead, she has again launched into a misguided polemic to undermine Israel — she repeats the erroneous term “military occupation” eight times for emphasis as if repeating it makes it truer — instead of pointing to the gross negligence of the PA and Hamas.

She and the Palestinian cause she purports to support would be better served by demanding PA accountability to its own citizens.  PA Health Minister Dr Mai al-Kaila reportedly confirmed that the PA has not asked Israel for assistance in supplying a vaccine. As an independent pre-state entity the PA turned to various states and international organisations for complimentary vaccines. Hawari’s refusal to accord “agency” to the PA government undermines its legitimate independent calculations.

Harawi missed another important data set. As Said AburishBassem Eid, and other Palestinian human rights critics of PA corruption have documented, the Palestinian government has for years engaged in massive financial corruption. (There are rumours that Suha Arafat has billions of dollars of PA funds deposited in European and other foreign accounts). These funds could have been used to finance immediate acquisition of the Covid-19 vaccine.

It is too little-known in the United Kingdom, South Africa and throughout Europe that the PLO and the PA have paid billions of dollars out of ministry budgets to provide financial support for those they call martyrs of terror attacks against Israeli citizens. Since 2019, the PA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars financing pensions, stipends and salaries provided to incarcerated terror operatives and their families or to those killed while carrying out terror acts against Israeli citizens.

Equally tragic for the Palestinian residents in the West Bank, the Palestinian government boycotted most cooperation with the Jewish state in line with PLO/PA political agenda to delegitimise and isolate the state of Israel internationally. Their boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policy has included their refusal to allow Palestinian residents to be cared for by Israeli hospitals and reimbursed by Palestinian Authority-controlled insurance companies. Until the latest PA boycott of Israel, some 160 000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had been treated yearly in Israeli hospitals by dedicated Arab and Jewish doctors and nurses working side by side.

The alternative conclusion regarding Hawari’s ill-advised commentary is far more troubling. Hawari’s writings and tweets have attributed to Israel Nazi- and apartheid-like behaviour as part of thinly veiled efforts to delegitimise and dismantle the democratic nation state of the Jewish people in its entirety.

She tweeted on 26 November 2020, “The Palestinian demand for justice & liberation has to be internationalised. The forces that oppress us also oppress our comrades across the world. That is why Palestine must not only be an anti-colonial struggle, it must also be a class & feminist struggle”.

Here too, a campaign of delegitimisation of Israel fits neatly into a larger self-declared radical global agenda. One wonders what this “anti-colonial struggle” means for the future of Great Britain, which provided education and residency to this advocate of Marxist agitation?

This fantasy-over-fact approach to the Israeli-Palestinian relationship is an “occupation of the mind”, not a reflection of truth and fact-based reality on the ground.

I write this commentary as one who for the past 25 years has worked with Palestinians in the West Bank and helps provide financial and medical assistance where the Palestinian insurance and medical authorities have fallen short.

Hawari’s meritless charge that the Palestinians have been denied vaccines while Israelis thrive was unexpectedly well-timed. On 11 January, 48 hours before Hawari’s 13 January comment piece was published, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced that the PA had contracted with four separate Covid-19 vaccine producers. The latest Palestinian assessments as of 20 January are that the PA may receive the vaccines by March 2021, reflecting similar timing of Israel’s expected receipt of major vaccine supplies.

Among the vaccines is the Sputnik V, co-developed by Israel’s Hadassah Hospital together with Russia’s health authorities. Had Hawari spent more time on the ground in the Palestinian-governed areas, talking with officials and touring the West Bank, she would likely have been informed that the PA delay in securing vaccines was a result of its internal decisions.

The PA sought to receive an entire Covid-19 vaccine inventory free of charge. International organisations and state powers were unwilling to comply. Israel supplied PA government officials with an initial batch. Some 20% of vaccines are expected to be donated to the PA, accounting for months-long delays in PA acquisition. Had the PA asked Israel for assistance instead of engaging in BDS of Israeli ministries, the PA would be farther along in vaccinating its public.

Hawari’s political agenda for Israel is clear enough. But facts and law still matter when claiming “justice and liberation” for Palestine.

Most people would agree with the principle of justice and freedom for all peoples — Palestinians, Israelis, South Africans, Syrians, Iranians and Brits among them. But there can only be freedom and justice where there is law, and facts underpinning these principles.

In a recent fact-based teachable moment for Hawari and other Palestinian advocates in the West, 66% of Palestinian respondents demanded PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas resign, according to a December 2020 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Instead of engaging in an “occupation of the mind”, Hawari might heed George Orwell’s sage advice to avoid falling victim to the deceptions of radical political agendas. Instead, Hawari might consider joining hands with Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs throughout the Middle East who seek to establish good, normalised, neighbourly relations, instead of advocating the constant and unhealthy diet of the delegitimisation of Israel.