The world may be grappling with a once-in-a-century pandemic, but World Health Organization member-states dedicated four hours of its annual gathering in Geneva on Thursday to discuss and condemn Israel, accusing it of violating the health rights of Palestinians in the disputed territories and Syrians in the Golan Heights.
Israel was the only country among 194 WHO members to attract a critical focus during the WHO’s 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA).
Representatives of autocracies including Iran, Cuba, Turkey, the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and Syria’s Assad regime, appeared on screen in the mostly virtual session to denounce Israel, before a vote – a long and tedious process during which each member was required to appear on screen and indicate their vote.
The resolution passed by 78-14, with 32 abstentions. (The “no” votes came from the United States, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Cameroon, Canada, Czech Republic, Eswatini, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Micronesia, and Slovenia.)
During the discussion, Cuban representative Lester Delgado Sánchez charged that Palestinians are “lacking access to healthcare,” complaining that “violations of the right to health in those territories continue deteriorating and remain unpunished.”
“Palestinian people have been living under occupation for decades…..Despite the hurdle of the COVID-19 pandemic the continuing expansion of illegal settlements by Israel is a source of concern for us.”Turkish Delegate
Hitting back, Israeli Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar said, “Let me tell you what is really happening on the ground.”
“Understanding that epidemics know no borders, Israel has strengthened its cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, in order to prevent, mitigate, and address the spread of the virus in the region.”Meirav Eilon Shahar
“The ongoing cooperation includes consultation, training, information-sharing, cooperation with Palestinian medical teams, and the delivery of COVID-10-related PPE, personal protection equipment,” Eilon Shahar said. “As you well know, this cooperation also extends to Palestinians being treated in Israeli hospitals on a daily basis.”
U.S. Ambassador Andrew Bremberg said the text did not meet a shared objective of a WHA “focused purely on public health, and that refrains from singling out countries on a political basis.”
“Rather, the draft decision before us perpetuates such politicization,” he said.
“The United States cannot let this decision pass without objection……As it stands, this decision falls short in its attempt to improve the health of Palestinians, and does not help advance the cause of a lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”Andrew Bremberg
“We fail in our duty to serve people around the world who are facing vitally important health needs, particularly those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic if we allow the WHO to become politicized,” said British Ambassador Julian Braithwaite, noting that “this decision is the only country-specific resolution at the World Health Assembly.”
‘Four-hour assault on Israel’
U.S. taxpayers account for the largest share of the WHO budget, by far. The Trump administration earlier this year gave the agency notice of its intention to withdraw – a move which Joe Biden has pledged to reverse.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, observed after Thursday’s session that “there was no agenda item or resolution on any other country, conflict, civil war or political impasse – not on Syria, where hospitals and other medical infrastructure are repeatedly and deliberately bombed by Syrian and Russian forces; not on war-torn Yemen, where 14 million are in dire need of health assistance; and not on Venezuela, where the health system is in a state of collapse and seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.”
“Today’s four-hour assault on Israel at the WHO promoted the lie that Israel is harming Palestinian health rights.”Hillel Neuer
Executive Director/NGO UN Watch
[Neuer continued…..]“The opposite is true. Despite the conflict, Israel grants entry to tens of thousands of Palestinians who receive top-level medical care at Israeli hospitals. Even the U.N.’s own Middle East peace envoy [Nickolay Mladenov] hailed Israel’s ‘excellent’ coordination and cooperation with Palestinians amid the coronavirus pandemic.”