The Knesset held an explosive debate Monday on the question of whether the transfer of Covid vaccines to Gaza should be contingent on the release of the remains of two IDF soldiers and two Israel citizens in Hamas captivity.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) argued that at the very least there should be a demand for information regarding the fate of the two Israelis believed to be in the hands of Hamas, Hisham Al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu. Hamas has refused to divulge any information about them, and have not permitted the Red Cross to visit them, Hauser said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Maximally, he said, the demand should be both for their release from captivity, and the return of the remains of the two IDF soldiers believed killed during the 2014 Gaza war, Hadar Goldin Hy”d and Oron Shaul Hy”d.
To date, “no vaccines have been transferred to Gaza,” officials clarified for the FADC, while the matter is still being debated.
The issue at hand, they explained, is not whether to give away any of the vaccine stocks to the Palestinians, because the vaccines Israel has are reserved for its citizens.
The sole exception has been that of 5,000 dozes of the Pfizer vaccine that had been set aside for the Palestinian Authority for its health-care workers, of which only 2,000 have been transferred so far, according to Col. Eyal Zeevi, who heads the operations department for the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
Dr. Asher Salmon, head of the Health Ministry’s International Department, told the committee that the Pfizer vaccine must be kept in extremely cold storage, and so it cannot be sent to Gaza, which does not have the necessary facilities.
Israel’s focus has been on helping facilitate PA purchase of the vaccine for Palestinians in Yehuda and Shomron and Gaza.
Zeevi said that 10,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine has been transferred to the PA, which requested that 1,000 be transferred to Gaza for health-care workers there. But, he said, that has been delayed pending resolution of the captives issue.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) railed against the idea of withholding vaccines from Gaza, that anyone who did so would be responsible for their illness and death.
Twenty years from now “your children will be ashamed,” Tibi said. “It would have been better for you not to hold this hearing, and people should not be prevented from getting vaccinated.”
MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White) responded that “Gaza is ruled by a murderous terrorist organization, which holds two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two soldiers.”
“Hamas doesn’t want to be accountable to international law, it just wants to benefit from it,” she said. “A system without reciprocity collapses. There cannot be a one-way system.”
The National Security Council is expected to gives its opinion on Tuesday.