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Israeli vaccination programme highlights complexities of the relationship with Palestinians | World News

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Israeli vaccination programme highlights complexities of the relationship with Palestinians | World News

Much has been made of the Israeli success in rolling out its vaccine program. Just as much has been made of the fact that Palestinians do not have access to the Israeli-procured vaccine.

Is this an outrage? Can it be explained? Have the Israelis refused to provide the jab to the Palestinians? Have the Palestinians asked for help? Does Israel have legal and moral obligations to honour?

These are just a few of the questions raised. In seeking to provide some clarity here I will inevitably be criticised by one side or the other, or more likely both. And within the limits of this piece, I am unable to drill down deep into the nuances of the arguments on both sides. But here is, I hope, some context.

First, the simple facts: Israel is pledging to vaccinate its entire population over the age of 16 by the end of March. That includes every Israeli citizen whether they be Jewish, Muslim, Christian or of no faith – Arab Israelis are as eligible as Jewish Israelis (I bring up religion because it’s ever present in the Israel/Palestine debate).

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Israel sets the pace on vaccination

But the Israeli vaccine programme does not extend to the West Bank and in Gaza.

The West Bank is partly administered by the Palestinian Authority (I say “partly” because it’s split into three zones which are to varying degrees under the civil or military control of Israel). Gaza is administered by the Palestinian faction Hamas.

Most states globally, as well as the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, the International Court of Justice and the International Committee of the Red Cross consider Israel to be an ‘occupying power’.

Gaza is not literally occupied by Israel which withdrew, or disengaged, in 2005. However Israel maintains external control over access to the strip and indirect control over life inside. Human Rights organisations and other bodies (the United Nations, International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross) argue that this constitutes an “occupation”.

As an occupying power, according to the 4th Geneva Convention, Israel is responsible for providing healthcare to the population of the occupied area.

But, the Oslo Peace Accords of the 1990s between Israel and the Palestinians gave the Palestinians (the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza) responsibility for healthcare.

There are legal arguments here – do the Oslo Accords override the Geneva Convention? Oslo was only ever meant to be temporary – a roadmap to a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. Yet it’s become permanent. The Palestinian Authority operates under an apparatus it calls the State of Palestine but it is not formally a country.

In this long status quo, the stateless Palestinian people are at a distinct disadvantage, whether it be for the urgent procurement of mass vaccinations, or anything else.

Where does fault for this rest? This the subject of a central and active debate: oppressive Israel versus corrupt and ineffective Palestinian politicians.

There is, without question, a power imbalance which means that Israel’s occupation is more damaging to the Palestinians than anything else. But that fact doesn’t preclude Palestinian corruption, ineptitude and stubbornness exacerbating the situation.

So what about Israel’s moral position vis-à-vis the vaccine? The infection rate is soaring among Palestinians as it is among Israelis. Because Israel is vastly more capable of procuring and delivering the vaccine, shouldn’t they help their neighbours? It’s certainly in their interests given that some Palestinians (those with Israeli-issued work permits) travel in and out of the West Bank.

Well, the Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said to me this week: “I think that we’ve been helping our Palestinian neighbours from the very early stages of this crisis, including medical equipment, including medicine, including advice, including supplies.

“I don’t think that there’s anyone in this country, whatever his or her views might be, that can imagine that I would be taking a vaccine from the Israeli citizen, and it was all the goodwill, give it to our neighbours.

“If, God willing, we will get to the situation where they will be nearly no demand in this country, we will be able to share.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein suggested Israel will only help Palestinians after all its citizens have had the jab
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Health Minister Yuli Edelstein suggested Israel will only help Palestinians after all its citizens have had the jab

There has been outrage from human rights organisations. Amnesty International said: “There could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones.”

It’s unquestionably the case that in so many areas in this long and oft-forgotten conflict, Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones.

I witness it first-hand. It is also the case that Israel could have provided their vaccine to the Palestinians but chose to prioritise its own citizens first.

Legally and morally, like the wider Israel-Palestine debate, it is vigorously argued both ways.

What do the Palestinians themselves think?

When I asked Dr Ali Abed Rabbo, director of preventative health at the Palestinian Ministry of Health if he believes Israel is obliged to provide the vaccine, he said: “As an occupying force, I think, and I believe that Israel had the commitment to procure the vaccine for the Palestinian population because they are the occupying force.”

But when I asked him if he had asked the Israelis for help, he said no.

Dr Yasser Bozia, Palestinian Director-General for Public Health went further: “We haven’t asked for any vaccine from Israel. It’s our responsibility to procure and roll-out the COVID vaccine and all other vaccines. That’s been the case going back years,” he told Sky News.

He continued: “We are part of Covax ( the part of the WHO charged with rolling out vaccines to all countries) and all nations who’ve signed up have been informed they will receive their first vaccine in first quarter of 2021.”

The Palestinian Authority is also negotiating with other companies providing the vaccine including Astra Zeneca, Sputnik and Moderna. Officials have said that vaccine delivery should begin by March.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s Negotiation Affairs Department finally released a statement on the issue on Monday: “The State of Palestine has an obligation to provide vaccines as best of its capabilities to its citizens; nonetheless, the State of Palestine remains under prolonged Israeli military occupation.

“Therefore the international community must hold Israel to account and urge Israel as an occupying power to fulfil its obligations under international law and make vaccines available to the protected population as a whole and without discrimination.

“This includes Palestinians in the whole territory of the State of Palestine, which comprise the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, including Palestinians in occupation prisons and Palestinian Refugees.”

Israel's vaccination programme has been a real success story
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Israel’s vaccination programme has been a real success story

A final thought: for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli vaccine success is a gift (to himself) – it diverts attention from his corruption trial and adds to his persona as a ‘magician’; he is seeking re-election yet again – the fourth in a little under two years (Israeli politics is utterly dysfunctional).

It also provides the State of Israel the international recognition it craves and is often denied by those who question its legitimacy.

But all of this neatly reminds us too that a resolution to the Israel-Palestine story is so long overdue.

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COVID-19: Nine police officers who had breakfast together inside cafe fined for breaching lockdown | UK News

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COVID-19: Nine police officers who had breakfast together inside cafe fined for breaching lockdown | UK News

Nine police officers who had breakfast together inside a cafe have been fined for breaching COVID lockdown rules on duty.

The officers, from the Metropolitan Police, were fined £200 each and told to “reflect on their choices.”

They were spotted by IT manager Brian Jennings walking past the cafe near their base beside the River Thames at 9am earlier this month, a week into the latest lockdown.

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Hancock backs police enforcing rules

Mr Jennings, who reported the breach, told MailOnline: “We noticed in the first lockdown and again today that regularly, first thing in the morning, there will be half-a-dozen squad cards outside and every table full of police officers having breakfast in there.

“You read about people getting fined and it seems hypocritical as it looks like there is little social distancing in the cafe.

“I find the regular and continued flouting of social distancing and lockdown regulations by the police hypocritical and foolish at this time when the infection rates in Greenwich borough are among the highest in the UK.”

Photographs of apparent uniformed officers sitting inside the Chef House Kitchen, with several marked police cars parked outside, were published by MailOnline.

Their bosses launched an investigation and chose to fine them without any other disciplinary action.

They may be the first on-duty emergency workers to be given fixed penalty notices since the first pandemic lockdown began in March last year.

Chief Superintendent Rob Atkin, South East Commander, said: “Police officers are tasked with enforcing the legislation that has been introduced to stop the spread of the virus and the public rightly expect that they will set an example through their own actions.

“It is disappointing that on this occasion, these officers have fallen short of that expectation. It is right that they will pay a financial penalty and that they will be asked to reflect on their choices.”

The fines come after the force’s commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, launched a clampdown on COVID rule breakers.

Over the past weekend, the force handed out nearly £40,000 worth of fines for COVID breaches in east London alone.

It is not known if the cafe owner has been fined, which, according to police, is a matter for Greenwich Borough Council.

Sky News has approached the council for comment.

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COVID-19: UK to look ‘very carefully’ at vaccine dosing after concerns raised over level of protection | Politics News

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A member of medical staff prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at The Vaccination Hub at Croydon University Hospital, south London, on the first day of the largest immunisation programme in the UK's history. Care home workers, NHS staff and people aged 80 and over began receiving the jab this morning.

The UK will need to look “very carefully” at the protection provided by the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the government’s chief scientific adviser has told Sky News, amid concerns its effectiveness is significantly lower than had been found in trials.

Sir Patrick Vallance said the government would “just need to keep measuring the numbers” as the vaccine is rolled out across the UK.

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Answering questions from Sky News viewers, Sir Patrick was asked about an analysis from Israel, where the Pfizer jab has been rolled out the fastest.

That study suggested the effectiveness of the vaccine after a single dose was as low as 33% – rather than the 89% that had initially been thought.

The 89% figure – pointing to high short-term protection – was used to help justify the UK’s decision to delay giving a second vaccine dose to people for up to 12 weeks, as part of a push to get as many people as possible in the UK vaccinated with an initial first dose.

Sir Patrick said: “We need to look at this very carefully, we just need to keep measuring the numbers.”

He admitted that “in practice” the protection provided by one dose of a Pfizer vaccine probably won’t be as high as 89%, but he pushed back against the suggestion it could be as low as 33%.

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The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first to be approved for use in the UK

“What we know from a clinical study is… if you take everything from day zero, the moment you get the vaccine, to day 28 then the overall figure is something like 50% protection,” Sir Patrick said.

“But, of course, you don’t expect to get any protection in the first 10 days, because it hasn’t had a chance for the immune system to build up.

“And some people may have been infected before they had the vaccine.

“So, if you take from day 10 up towards day 21 and beyond, then it looks much more like the 89% figure that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said.

“That’s the clinical trial data and we also know that when you get into real world practice, things are seldom quite as good as clinical trial.

“So I think the 89% or so is the figure you see post-10 days, so that’s the basis of the recommendation.

“It probably won’t be as high as that in practice, but I don’t think it will be as low as the figures you’ve just given.”

Sir Patrick said the UK would get more “real world” data from both Israel’s and the UK’s vaccination programme over the coming weeks to “get a better handle on exactly how effective this is in the real world, rather than in the conditions of a clinical trial”.

But he stressed it was “quite important not to assume this protects in the first 10 days, because it doesn’t”.

Scientists in Israel studied preliminary data from 200,000 vaccinated people.

Professor Ran Balicer, who works for the largest health care provider in Israel and who is an adviser to the World Health Organisation, told Sky News there was “no difference” between infections of vaccinated and unvaccinated people until 14 days after a Pfizer jab.

But he added that, on day 14 after vaccination, “a drop of 33% in positivity was witnessed in the vaccinated group and not in the unvaccinated”.

Prof Balicer said the data did not show an 89% reduction in positivity rates, but said further data and analysis would be provided after being peer-reviewed.

Israel is providing a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at three weeks, which Prof Balicer said means it is “impossible” for them to analyse the impact of not providing a second dose for a longer period of time.

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Donald Trump issues flurry of pardons as he leaves office | US News

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Donald Trump issues flurry of pardons as he leaves office | US News

Former White House adviser Steve Bannon and rapper Lil Wayne are among the people being pardoned or granted clemency by Donald Trump in the final hours of his presidency.

The outgoing president granted clemency to 143 people on Wednesday.

Wayne pleaded guilty last month to possessing a loaded, gold-plated handgun on a private flight in 2019. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison at a hearing next week.

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The president met the rapper during his election campaign last year, with the artist later praising some of Mr Trump’s policies such as proposed justice reforms.

Controversial former White House adviser Bannon, who was fired by Mr Trump, has also been granted clemency.

“Bannon has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen,” the White House said in a statement.

He was charged last year with swindling Trump supporters over an effort to raise private funds to build the US-Mexico border wall, and pleaded not guilty.

Bannon was appointed chief executive of Mr Trump’s successful presidential campaign in 2016, leaving his role at conservative website Breitbart News.

Lil Wayne
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Lil Wayne is also among a raft of 11th-hour pardons and commutations

He became chief strategist for Mr Trump after his inauguration, but clashed with others in the White House and was pushed out in August 2017.

Bannon was recently banned from Twitter after he called for the beheading of top government doctor Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray.

Others reportedly among the dozens of people being pardoned are Kodak Black – a rapper also sentenced over weapons charges, and former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who is seven years into a 28-year sentence for corruption and racketeering.

Mr Trump has previously pardoned several of his closest confidantes such as Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who lied to the FBI, and commuted the prison term for Roger Stone – who was convicted of lying to Congress during its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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