Israeli politicians angered as vaccine shipment wends its way to Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified the decision by explaining that regional proximity means a shared fate.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israel facilitated the transfer of 1,000 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, marking the first commercial shipment of coronavirus vaccines into the Hamas-controlled territory.

The transfer came after a two-day delay, as the shipment arrived in Israel on Monday without the proper paperwork. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem called the delay “a real crime and a violation of all international laws and humanitarian standards” in a public statement on Monday.

Another 1,000 doses are expected to be transferred into the Strip in the coming days.

“The 2,000 doses will be distributed to kidney and organ transplant patients,” Hamas health official Majdi Dahir said in a statement. “We have no information about additional shipments.”

But MK Tzvi Hauser said he doubted that the vaccines will reach Gaza’s most vulnerable residents. “I assume that [the first] vaccines that are brought to Gaza will go to Hamas leaders first and foremost…let’s not be naive,” he said on Monday.

“I don’t see [Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar giving his vaccine to a kind nurse in Gaza.”

Hauser, who heads the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, added that it would be “certainly possible” to construct temporary IDF-supervised vaccination sites as the border crossings “so that Israel will know and verify exactly who received the vaccine.”

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He wasn’t the only Israeli politician unhappy with the arrangement. MK Michal Cotler-Wunsch suggested that Israel use the vaccines as a bargaining chip and demand that Hamas return the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul in exchange for the transfer. Hamas has held the bodies since 2014.

“Israel is going beyond the letter of the law in providing humanitarian aid. We will give humanitarian aid, yes, in exchange for humanitarianism,” said Cotler-Wunsch on Monday.

Goldin’s family has been outspoken about their belief that the Israeli government has not done enough to repatriate the bodies. They slammed the vaccine transfer as “a knife in the heart of Israeli soldiers.”

“This government is losing control and abandoning the boys. The most basic obligation it has is to bring back Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin,” said the Goldin family in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified the decision by explaining that regional proximity means a shared fate.

In an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday evening, he said that Israel, Gaza, and PA-controlled areas in Judea and Samaria are “one epidemiological unit.”

Last week, Israel transferred 2,000 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority in an act of goodwill.