March 15 (UPI) -- House Democrats on Monday urged the Biden administration to call on Israel to vaccinate its Palestinian population.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 17 House Democrats, led by Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., called on the State Department to ensure the Israeli government will roll out a vaccine program for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Israel has a legal responsibility, under international law, as the occupying power to provide the Palestinian people with necessary medical care -- including the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines," Pocan said in a statement.
"The United States must stand up for the needs of Palestinian people during this global pandemic and ensure that they receive the same level of care from the Israeli government that we request in our own communities," he continued.
Israel, having administered more than 108 vaccine doses per 100 people, leads the world in inoculating its population with nearly 60% having received at least one shot and nearly 50% having been fully vaccinated, according to statistics curated by Oxford University's Our World in Data project.
However, the Middle Eastern country has come under stark criticism for months as it only recently agreed to vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 236,500 Palestinians have been infected with the virus, and 2,509 of them have died. The virus has also been surging among this population since about mid- to late-January.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said it launched its vaccination campaign on Feb. 24. But it has only received several thousands doses to inoculate its more than 4.5 million Palestinians in occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The United Nations Human Rights Office in January said Israel is required to maintain health services in the occupied territory under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
"Israel is an occupying power and has millions of vaccines. Palestine is the occupied territory and has barely a few thousand," Matthias Kennes, Doctors Without Borders medical adviser for Palestine, said in mid-February. "As a medic, I don't really care who sorts this out. As a medic, I do care deeply that the most vulnerable are prioritized."
The Democrats said in their letter that the Palestinian Authority, working with the WHO's COVAX initiative to ensure equitable access to vaccines, has only secured fewer than 50,000 doses while Israel, which has committed to provide 5,000 vaccines doses to the Palestine Authority in the West Bank, has only given it about 2,000.
Israel has claimed that Palestinians are responsible under the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s for their own health care, but the lawmakers said that the document "does not negate Israeli obligations under international law, nor does it lessen Israel's control over Palestinian movement, access to medical import and other factors, which directly impact vaccination efforts."
The lawmakers said that even if Israel vaccinates the majority of its population spread of the coronavirus in the West Bank and Gaza will continue to be a threat.
"Outside of the legal and moral obligations it should be clear that it is in Israel's self-interest that Palestinians recieve vaccines," the letter said.
When asked about the letter during a regular press briefing on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said she hadn't seen the report and couldn't comment further.