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Israel pushes forward with successful vaccine program, but Palestinians feel left behind

With the world's highest COVID-19 vaccination rate, Israel recently has begun employing a vaccine passport program that allows immunized people access to a normality that's denied people who've not had the shots. But as special correspondent Martin Himel reports, the program's success in Israel is not mirrored in the Palestinian territories, where the virus runs rampant.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    With the world's highest COVID-19 vaccination rate, Israel recently has begun employing a vaccine passport program.

    It's meant to give immunized people access to some degree of normality, one that's not available for those who haven't had shots.

    But, as special correspondent Martin Himel reports, the program's success in Israel is not mirrored in the Palestinian territories, where the virus runs rampant.

  • Martin Himel:

    For the Schreibman family, this is the real victory over the pandemic. Last Passover holiday, they conducted this feast virtually via Zoom.

    The vaccine has significantly reduced COVID in Israel. It's a special occasion for Hilla and her daughter Yardin.

  • Hilla Schreibman:

    Are you happy the corona is not here anymore?

  • Child:


  • Hilla Schreibman:

    And that everything s open and all the family can be here together? Are you happy about that?

  • Child:


  • Hilla Schreibman:

    This is our first gathering for — in 13 months, and it is all because of the vaccine, which brought our life back together.

  • Martin Himel:

    Israel has the highest per capita COVID vaccination rate in the world. Almost 60 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. Another 10 percent have antibodies after recovering from COVID.

    Yuli Edelstein is Israel's health minister.

  • Yuli Edelstein:

    We do have fans in stadiums. We do have people praying in synagogues. We do have people in — sitting in restaurants and cafes. And the numbers are still low. It is definitely a vaccine success story.

  • Martin Himel:

    Along with the success, there are conflicts and challenges here, which Americans will probably encounter this summer as the immunization progresses.

    Israel is the first country to actually implement a vaccine passport, Bar 51 is one of the coolest night spots in Tel Aviv. But if you want to get in, you have to show a green passport.

    Moshiko Gamlieli is the owner.

  • Moshiko Gamlieli:

    It's a huge story about the vaccination, because, for me, we are open.

    But now we have a problem that, at the door, I need to say, did you do the vaccine? If yes, you can come in. If not, you need to stay out. I hate the fact that I need to say to people, you are not allowed to get in. It is the opposite of what I do.

  • Martin Himel:

    For those who decided not to vaccinate, they can only dine outside.

  • Yuli Edelstein:

    Any country can issue a green passport only after offering a sufficient amount of the vaccines to the whole population.

    From the very beginning of the vaccination campaign, I said loud and clear there will be no mandatory vaccination in Israel.

  • Martin Himel:

    The vaccine rollout has not been easy. Ultra Orthodox Jews rioted against lockdowns and initially refused to take the vaccine.

    Vaccination among Israel's Arab citizens is still low. They experience higher levels of infection and illness. Young people largely avoided taking the vaccine. They did not feel threatened by COVID. The green passport provided an incentive for the young to vaccinate. If you want to have an active social life, you need the document.

    Holmes Place is a popular Tel Aviv gym. In order to work out, you must have your green passport.

  • Gabi Morodo:

    We met a lot of young people that took the vaccine only so they would be able to come to work out in the gym.

    So, we are like the candy of the vaccine, because people will take it and then they can come and work out. They want to go to nightclub. They want to go to celebration, to places that are closed, only for people that got vaccine. So, I think it helps.

  • Martin Himel:

    Nadav Lev believes the green passport is denying his civil rights. He is a musician, and, like 12 percent of the population, he refuses to take the vaccine.

  • Nadav Lev:

    The vaccination is not safe enough for me. It has not been checked enough. Many of my musician friends, all the sound people, they got a text message saying that, if they're not going to get their vaccine, they can't get back to work. That's breaking civil rights.

  • Yuli Edelstein:

    The basic right of a person is to be healthy and to stay alive. And so we are all the time managing this crisis, taking into consideration the fact that we have to stick to basic democratic rules and to fight the pandemic.

    Never easy. Always a challenge. No textbook to answer to any of these questions, I think we did OK.

  • Martin Himel:

    Israel's high-tech economy has reopened. People are resuming their lives.

    But just 30 miles east of here is the Palestinian West Bank. Social distancing is still enforced. The economy is at a standstill, and there's only a trickle of vaccines for the Palestinian population.

    Millions of Palestinians feel their rights are being violated by not being offered the vaccine from Israel. The Palestine Authority governs the semi autonomous West Bank, while Islamic Hamas rules the Gaza Strip.

    There is a 21 percent COVID infection rate in the West Bank. Intensive care units are overflowing in what is now a third COVID wave.

    In Gaza, infections have spiked to over 1,000 new cases daily out of a Palestinian population of two million. There is also a severe vaccine shortage in Gaza.

    Omar Najar is a senior official in the Palestinian Health Ministry.

  • OMAR NAJAR, Palestinian Health Ministry:

    The situation is still very difficult, due to that there is no immunization for our people. We are immunizing less than 3 percent of our people, due to the shortage of the vaccinations.

    The occupation, according to international law, Israel is responsible for vaccination and to have the vaccines from them, according to these rules.

  • Martin Himel:

    The Israeli government claims that, according to the 1993 Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for West Bank and Gaza public health.

  • Yuli Edelstein:

    Palestinians have their health ministry and health ministry, and they should have been thinking of vaccinating half-a-year ago and eight months ago. Nothing prevented them from doing that.

    A lot of Palestinians are alive today and survived the coronavirus because Israel was there with equipment, with medicine.

  • Martin Himel:

    Israel is vaccinating over 125,000 Palestinians who work in Israel or in the West Bank Jewish settlements. The World Health Organization has arranged for 100,000 doses to inoculate Palestinian front-line workers.

    Dentist Ghassan Toubasi was lucky enough to receive the Pfizer two-shot vaccine.

  • Ghassan Toubasi:

    We lost two dentists in Ramallah from the pandemic, two of my friends. After taking the second dose of the vaccine, I feel more comfortable. I have self-confidence in my job dealing with patients.

  • Martin Himel:

    With continuous on-and-off lockdowns, thousands of Palestinians illegally cross into Israeli daily in search of work. They also bring with them COVID variants spreading into the West Bank. That could one day hamper the efficacy of the COVID vaccine in Israel.

  • Omar Najar:

    Disease will not stop in Israel if it does not stop in Palestine. And Israel is trying to escape from this responsibility.

  • Yuli Edelstein:

    I am not sure we will ever be in a position to vaccinate the whole Palestinian population. I think it is their moral obligation towards their people to try to get the vaccines.

    We will help. We will help with whatever we can.

  • Martin Himel:

    The vaccine has proven its worth, but it's not powerful enough to heal the political wounds between Palestinians and Israelis.

    For "PBS NewsHour," this is Martin Himel in Tel Aviv.

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