by Tamar Sternthal
(CAMERA) — “Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate,” observed former Associated Press correspondent Matti Friedman in a scathing 2014 critique of international coverage of Israel and the Palestinians. “The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.”
An article published last week by his former employer perfectly illustrates this old formulation, rehashed as the world at large confronts a profound new challenge, with poorer nations at a distinct disadvantage: the procurement of the coronavirus vaccine. The Dec. 17 Associated Press headline, “Palestinians left waiting as Israel is set to deploy vaccine,” effectively captures the false notion that Palestinians are a passively waiting party with no agency, while it is Israel that holds responsibility for the Palestinians’ access to vaccines, or lack thereof.
AP’s Joseph Krauss further cements this baseless notion with the following opening:
Israel will begin rolling out a major coronavirus vaccination campaign next week after the prime minister reached out personally to the head of a major drug company. Millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control will have to wait much longer.
Further down, AP repeats: “Israel’s vaccination campaign will include Jewish settlers living deep inside the West Bank, who are Israeli citizens, but not the territory’s 2.5 million Palestinians.”
According to the Oslo Accords, Palestinian authorities — not Israel — are responsible for the health care, including vaccines, of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a key fact completely concealed by the grossly misleading claim that “millions of Palestinians” are “living under Israeli control.” Palestinians in the Gaza Strip live under the Palestinian government ruled by Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. The vast majority of West Bank Palestinians live under the civilian and security control of the Palestinian Authority. (Despite the fact that Israel is not obligated to provide Palestinians with vaccines, Israeli officials have indicated that they will consider transferring any surplus doses to the Palestinians, a fact which AP did report.)
Searches in the Lexis-Nexis news database did turn up another instance in recent years in which the Associated Press used the inaccurate language that “millions of Palestinians liv[e] under Israeli control.” This misleading formulation in the context of an article on the availability of vaccines for Palestinians wrongly implies that Israel is responsible for providing the vaccines.
Buried several paragraphs into the article AP’s Krauss eventually notes that West Bank Palestinians “will have to wait for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank in accordance with interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s.” (Emphasis added.) But even this obscured acknowledgment of Palestinian self-rule does not make clear that it is the Palestinian Authority which is responsible for providing vaccines for its own citizens. In the West Bank, it is the Palestinian Authority which decides whether it prioritizes investment in medical care or grants for imprisoned terrorists and the families of deceased terrorists. It is Hamas in the Gaza Strip which decides whether it invests in rockets and tunnels or hospitals and vaccines.
Reuters, in contrast, uses more appropriately uses active language to signal Palestinian Authority responsibility and efforts to obtain the vaccine. The Reuters story (“Palestinians scramble for COVID-19 vaccines as Israel prepares rollout”) begins: “Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza are scrambling to secure their own doses”) (emphasis added.)
Indeed, the difference between the language in the two wire service articles is striking. Reuters writes of Palestinians “scrambling,” “cast[ing] a wide net in their search, contacting international organisations,” and says the Palestinian government “has yet to finalise.” In contrast, according to AP, Palestinians are “left waiting,” “will have to wait” and the “PA hopes” (appears twice). (Emphases added.)
Besides Palestinian Authority and Hamas decisions to invest in terrorism at the expense of health care, other Palestinian-generated factors have been detrimental to procuring the vaccine. Earlier this month, Times of Israel reported that efforts to coordinate Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on procuring vaccines for Palestinians was stymied by the Palestinian decision to cut off all coordination with the Israelis:
An Israeli security official indicated during a briefing with reporters last week that coordination on vaccines had been delayed due to a prolonged crisis between the PA and Israel. In May, Abbas announced that he was severing ties with Israel in protest of an Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank in accordance with US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan.
The annexation plan was officially shelved in mid-August due to Israel’s normalization accord with the United Arab Emirates, but Ramallah did not officially renew ties until U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November elections.
“First we need to create a dialogue, and this is something which hasn’t happened,” the Israeli official told reporters last week, later adding: “We are still waiting for the Palestinian Authority to engage us in this matter. When they will engage us, we will start any process that will assist them.”
In a 2014 follow up piece in The Atlantic, Friedman, the former AP reporter, described the “informal alliance” between NGO workers, foreign journalists, and UN staffers. “In my time in the press corps, I learned that our relationship with these groups was not journalistic. My colleagues and I did not, that is, seek to analyze or criticize them,” he averred. He continued:
In these circles, in my experience, a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry. I don’t mean a critical approach to Israeli policies or to the ham-fisted government currently in charge in this country, but a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills, particularly those connected to nationalism, militarism, colonialism, and racism… In this social group, this sentiment is translated into editorial decisions made by individual reporters and editors covering Israel, and this, in turn, gives such thinking the means of mass self-replication.
Indeed, the standard formulation that Friedman describes fit like a glove on Krauss’ article. Krauss quotes, but does not analyze, criticize or challenge, a foreign-funded Israeli NGO, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, despite the fact that the organization has supplied the media with false claims in the past:
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a group that advocates for more equitable health care, says Israel has a legal obligation as an occupying power to purchase and distribute vaccines to the Palestinians. It says Israel must also ensure that vaccines that don’t meet its own safety guidelines — like the Russian shot — are not distributed in areas under its control.
“Israel still maintains control over many aspects of the Palestinians’ lives, whether checkpoints, importing goods and medication, and controlling the movement of people,” said Ghada Majadle, the director of the group’s activities in the Palestinian territories.
“The Palestinian health system, whether in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, is in dire condition, mainly (because of) restrictions imposed by Israel.”
There is no shortage of Israeli legal or health authorities to rebut the unfounded claim that Israel has legal responsibility to purchase and distribute vaccines for Palestinians, but AP did not cite any. The Washington Post, in contrast, which also reported PHR-I’s argument, included a rebuttal from Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein:
In an interview, Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein rejected that argument. But he acknowledged that it was in Israel’s self-interest to expand vaccinations into an adjacent population that sends thousands of workers into Israel on a daily basis.
“There is no responsibility, but it is in our interest to help as far as the coronavirus is concerned,” said Edelstein, who was among Israeli leaders scheduled to be publicly vaccinated on Dec. 19. “We’ve been doing it for the last year, with equipment and with medicine.”
In the latest iteration of the phenomenon described by Friedman — “a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills” — Israel is to be blamed for the Palestinians’ delay in obtaining the vaccine, a shortage afflicting poor countries around the world, including those that don’t pour hundreds of millions of dollars into terrorism every year.
(Image: Creative Commons)