Israel Is Responsible For Vaccinating Palestinians Under Occupation. Even The Oslo Accords Say So

Mitchell Plitnick
6 min readFeb 23, 2021
Photo by Libertinus, used under a Creative Commons license

Well, Michael Che certainly stirred things up, didn’t he? With one little joke, really a throwaway line in Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” sketch, Che set social media abuzz and sent pro-Israel activists into a tizzy.

The joke? “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population,” said Che, the show’s co-head writer, “and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”

Always on the lookout for anything that can possibly be interpreted as antisemitic, especially when the alleged antisemite is not white nor from the right wing, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and others pounced on Che.

The accusation is absurd on its face and helps to lay bare the agenda of using antisemitism to deflect criticism of Israel, especially when that criticism is legitimate and is focused on an incident of particular cruelty to innocent civilians, as this one is. Israeli news sources from the left-wing Ha’aretz to the right-wing Jerusalem Post called out this “overreaction,” although the latter only did so in service of cynically collapsing anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

But this issue has been roiling for weeks now, and it demands some clarity. Defenders of Israel say that the Israeli government is not responsible for vaccinating Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. They point to the Oslo Accords, which they say transfers all responsibility for health care to the Palestinians.

By every measure, they are wrong, and it’s time to set the record straight.

First, no one debates the fact that the Geneva Convention places responsibility for the well-being of a population under occupation squarely in the hands of the occupying power. Some argue that the West Bank and Gaza are not occupied, but either disputed (the West Bank) or areas of conflict (Gaza).

Those arguments are demonstrably wrong, but even if we grant, for the sake of this argument, that they have validity, it is indisputable that the West Bank is not an independent state, but under the control of Israel, which controls entrance and egress, much of the infrastructure, the roads, the currency…in short, all the means of Palestinian…

Mitchell Plitnick

Author of "Except for Palestine," with Marc Lamont Hill. President of ReThinking Foreign Policy. Policy analyst for 20 years.