Abbas vetoes Israeli offer of vaccination unit on Temple Mount: ‘They’re trying to get a foothold’

Every Friday, some 15,000 Arabs converge on the Temple Mount against Covid regulations.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Palestinian Authority (PA) vetoed an Israeli offer last week to set up a vaccination clinic on the Temple Mount even though weekly prayers attract thousands of Arabs in potential super-spreader events and against health regulations.

Channel 11 reported Wednesday that PA President Mahmoud Abbas opposed the initiative, saying it would give Israel a “foothold” in the Al Aqsa compound. (Jerusalem had suggested the idea of putting a discreet vaccination unit inside a pharmacy on the Temple Mount.)

Israel also tried to soften the Palestinian rejection by proposing that only Arabs would administer the immunizations, and that they would be dressed in regular clothes, with nothing identifying them as coming from Israeli health organizations. The PA remained adamantly against the idea.

When lockdown restrictions were eased almost two weeks ago, some 15,000 Moslems came for Friday prayers on the Mount. Israeli police did nothing to stop them entering Al Aqsa even though it was a gross violation of Health Ministry guidelines, which state that outdoor gatherings are limited to 20 people.

Television reports showed men crowded in long lines as they bowed and prayed, which violated social distancing rules as well. In at least one clip, practically no one was wearing a mask.

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This is not a new phenomenon. In December, before the most recent lockdown, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash called the Temple Mount a “hole” in terms of Israel’s lack of enforcement of health regulations.

At the time, with the same high number of Arabs coming each week to pray, the infection rates in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods were staggering. In Issawiya, 17.5% of Covid tests came back positive. In Kafr Aqab, 23%, and in Shuafat, a whopping 50%.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly urged immunizations in the Arab sector and has visited health clinics in Arab towns to encourage vaccination. He took a picture with the one-millionth person to get the jab, an Arab in Umm al-Fahm.

The Health Ministry has staff dedicated to publicizing the need for inoculation among the Arab public, along with explanatory videos on its website about Covid-19 and vaccines in Arabic.

However, the morbidity rate from the coronavirus in the Israeli Arab sector still remains high in comparison to the rest of the population, and the vaccine rate is low. For example, among the most vulnerable over-60 age group, over 90% of the general public received a first shot, while that number is only 60% among Arab Israelis.

According to Palestinian news agency Wafa, on Thursday the Palestinian Ministry of Health called for a two-week full lockdown in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem due to a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

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According to the Corona-tracker Worldometer site, while the three-day moving average at the beginning of the week in the “state of Palestine” was 596, by Wednesday it had jumped to 1,377.