Are Palestinians becoming Israel’s ‘untouchables’?

Photograph: two Palestinian girls stand next to a pile of rubbish in Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip


Hugh Lanning

Israel’s claims to be a democracy only have any validity if you turn a ‘Nelson’s eye’ to the Palestinians it rules over without rights or votes. British Labour Party members must not be silent on this injustice, writes HUGH LANNING

WHEN interviewed on British TV by Andrew Marr, Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein likened Israel making the vaccine available to Palestinians to the Palestinians looking after dolphins — in essence equating Palestinians to animals, not disguised by the choice of animal.

This is not an isolated instance of Israelis talking about Palestinians as lesser people, not just an occupied people, but in some way a caste that doesn’t need to be treated in the same way as other human beings — as “untouchables.”

Israel believes it to be perfectly acceptable not only to withhold the vaccine, but also to dig up Palestinian lands, rip out their trees, maim and kill their youth because they are not entitled to be treated with the same respect as you would expect to be treated yourself.

Behind Israel’s decision you have to think that there was an attitude which felt it did not matter or was not a problem if Covid-19 took root and let rip among Palestinians.

This dehumanising of Palestinians makes it easier for Israelis to justify their actions and behaviour.

Currently, the global rich countries are spending billions in the fight to control Covid-19 — through testing, lockdowns and now vaccines.

Covid-19 is a virus that is hitting Western countries and economies, it is not a disease in some remote, low-income country.

So no effort is being spared by the drug companies in the race to develop a vaccine, not least because they anticipate making huge profits if they are successful — an outcome guaranteed by massive preorders for untested drugs.

The latest squabble between the EU and Britain over vaccines is but a symptom of the rich rushing to buy up stocks to protect their own.

This has resulted in one form of medical apartheid — an indirect, but predictable and avoidable consequence of rich countries buying and stockpiling vaccines, so far four billion doses.

Canada will be able vaccinate its population five times over. The result is that the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that only 25 people in Africa — out of a population of 1.3 billion — have been vaccinated.

In Palestine, the situation is different. Israel has the vaccine; it is rapidly giving the jab to its own citizens within Israel and those living in the illegal settlements.

As the occupying power — under the Geneva convention — Israel is responsible for the health of the occupied Palestinian population.

It has washed its hands of this responsibility — a direct, conscious, political decision not to make the vaccine available. A decision not made on medical need, but racial prejudice.

Edelstein tried to hide behind the Oslo accord agreements, claiming that health was the responsibility of the Palestinian authorities.

This claim would ring truer if Israel had not been in breach of the Oslo accords — the alleged roadmap to a two-state solution — since the day they were signed.

Ignored with every settlement that is built, with every piece of land that is stolen and ethnically cleansed.

It is an opinion not shared by the WHO, but a decision which better exemplifies the prejudice and hatred that is the basis of Israel’s attitude to the Palestinian population over which it rules militarily.

Israel dreads being likened to and compared with apartheid in South Africa — claiming to be a modern, Western-style democracy surrounded by a sea of undemocratic states.

However, a recent report by B’Tselem — a leading Israeli human rights organisation — sets out that you have to look at the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

It argues that the Israeli government “implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one race over another.”

It goes on to explain how the regime of “divide, separate and rule” is implemented through land, rights, immigration, restriction of movement and political participation.

It ends simply by saying “this is apartheid.” Israel’s claims to be a democracy only have any validity if you turn a “Nelson’s eye” to the Palestinians it rules over without rights or votes.

At a time when there is a new administration in the US, the Labour Party — as a traditional ally and supporter of the Democratic Party — needs to be making clear that a real shift in US policy is required.

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Keir Starmer cannot claim to support human rights and international law while ignoring Israel’s continuing blatant breaches and transgressions of that law based on Israel’s contempt for not just Palestinian rights but for the Palestinians as people, as human beings.

Biden and Harris have committed to resume funding to UNWRA — the body responsible for Palestinian refugees since the Nakba in 1948, when Palestinians were forcibly driven out of their homes and villages.

The British, who were ruling Palestine at the time, stood by, while privately aiding the arming of the paramilitary organisations driving the Palestinians out.

They, Biden and Harris, have also said that they want to resume relations with the PLO and still want to progress towards a two-state solution.

General secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouti (pic: Aude/Creative Commons)

The transition to a Palestinian state when the Oslo Accords were signed in the 1990s was a difficult ask in what was meant to be a five-year transition period.

Now, nearly 30 years later, Israel has not so much moved the goalposts as kicked the Palestinians off the pitch and — to probably overstretch the analogy — built settlements in the Palestinian goalmouth.

So how does the new administration plan to bring this about, when it hasn’t even reversed what the Israelis regard as the key Trump concession to them — namely the recognition of Jerusalem as its capital and the movement of the US embassy there.

This was one of the major outstanding negotiating issues, along with the border and refugees.

Israel was only brought to the Oslo negotiating table when an emboldened Jimmy Carter, no longer facing election, threatened military aid to Israel.

The US, Britain and the EU still maintain, after decades of being ignored, that they can bring a peaceful solution about without resort to sanctions, while decrying boycott and divestment campaigns.

The resumption of relations also assumes a Palestinian naivety, that they haven’t noticed the stealing of their lands, the settlements, the wall and the settler-only roads that have been built since Israel allegedly signed up to the Oslo Accords.

There is only an issue still to be resolved because of Palestinian resistance.

Despite everything that Israel has done, its biggest problem remains that the Palestinians are still there.

Israel has moved them around, encircled them, hidden them behind walls, but they are still there determined as ever, asserting their right to exist and to self-determination.

Israel’s other big problem, aided and abetted by the global solidarity movements — is that it continually loses in the court of global public opinion.

Despite all the sympathy and guilt, the support of Western governments and, now, some Arab states, the massive provision of financial and military aid — it is losing public support with every passing generation. Not because of anti-semitism, but because it is being judged by its actions today.

That is why Labour & Palestine has recently circulated a draft motion to over 10,000 Labour Party members urging them to submit the motion for discussion at CLP meetings — where these are taking place.

Covid-19 has led to a political void, an absence of political debate. Covid should not be used as an excuse for the Labour Party to absolve itself of its international responsibilities.

The hope is that debate will build pressure for Labour to stand up for equality and not remain silent while Israel tramples all over international law and Palestinian rights.

Labour & Palestine is a platform to help build support for Palestinian rights in the Labour Party. Please follow them at and

Hugh Lanning

Hugh Lanning lived in Whitstable for about 10 years. Apart from being the Labour Candidate for Canterbury constituency in 2015, he was the Deputy General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) until he retired in 2013. He chaired the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for 10 years, and was famously the first person to be barred from entering Israel to go to Palestine under a then new law to block entry to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) supporters.

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