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Israelis and Palestinians See Starkly Different Coronavirus Vaccination Numbers

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

When it comes to vaccinations in the Middle East, two starkly different pictures have emerged. In Israel, 50% of people have received at least one shot. In the occupied territories where Israel wields control, very few Palestinians have been vaccinated at all. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem to talk about that. Good morning.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with Israel. It is so far along in vaccinations. How is it affecting life there? Take us there.

ESTRIN: Well, Israel is slowly reopening, and it's really a whole new world because you have gyms, pools, hotels, theaters, all reopening but only for people who are vaccinated or people who have recovered from the virus. And I saw how this works. I went to a gym, and you have to show a government-issued green pass at the entrance. And Israelis I met there were just relieved to be back at the gym and felt that this was a safe way to do it. Listen to Ophir Aniel.

OPHIR ANIEL: After a year that I didn't come to the gym, I feel this is a miracle. Like a miracle, really.

ESTRIN: Israel is leading the world on vaccinations per capita, and it's managed to do that because it has universal health care system, but also because Israel made a deal with Pfizer for a quick vaccine rollout to offer early data on how the vaccine works. And we are seeing promising trends, drops in infections and drops in severe cases. So now the main issue in Israel is just convincing the hesitant people to get vaccinated.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, now, you've been doing some reporting in the West Bank. What is that like for Palestinians there and the Gaza Strip?

ESTRIN: Oh, it could not be any more different. I mean, there's no public vaccination drive yet. The Palestinian Authority bought vaccines, but the shipments keep getting delayed. And in the meantime, infections are on the rise. Hospitalizations are at a record high. There's a new lockdown now for the next two weeks in the West Bank. Palestinians did receive some vaccines as donations from Russia, the UAE and Israel. Those vaccines were supposed to go primarily to medical workers. But I've spoken to a few Palestinians who just said they managed to get vaccines, you know, through personal connections with officials.

And then I saw this really frenzied scene the other day. I was at a West Bank military checkpoint, and Israel was vaccinating Palestinians there but only certain privileged categories of Palestinians. And then others were just coming, lining up and then being turned away. I spoke to one lucky father and daughter, Nahed and Leen Qudsi. They did get vaccinated, but they said they had mixed feelings.

NAHED QUDSI: To be equal, this is what I'm looking for, I mean. To have the chance for other, I mean, Palestinian people to take the vaccine as soon as possible to get rid of this virus in our region.

LEEN QUDSI: Because at the end of the day, we are not living alone. We are living all together. And so if someone has the coronavirus, then other people might get infected, as well.

ESTRIN: You know, I've heard from Palestinian officials that they believe the Palestinian president secretly got vaccinated, which just, you know, adds to that feeling people have here, which is that the vaccine distribution is unfair.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Has Israel been under pressure to do more for the Palestinians? And why haven't they?

ESTRIN: Yes, Israel's been under pressure from international aid groups, as well as from Secretary of State Blinken. He urged Israel to help Palestinians with vaccines. And today, Israel announced a big step in that direction. It's going to be vaccinating about 110,000 Palestinians who live in the West Bank but who work in Israel and who work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. So that's not all Palestinians in the West Bank, but it is a large amount. It comes after an uproar last week where Israel was going to send vaccines to allies around the world. That's been suspended for now. But you do hear voices in Israel, politicians and health officials who recognize the importance of helping Palestinians get vaccinated. This is a small piece of land. Israelis and Palestinians are together.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin talking to us from Jerusalem. Thank you very much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.