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  • Reverend James Squire

The Underserved and the Vaccine

Vicki and I traveled to Jerusalem to attend a course in the Life of Jesus at St. George’s College. The course made the life of Jesus real by taking us to important places where he walked including such as the Sea of Galilee and the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows, traveling the same route that Jesus traveled on his way to the cross. The course was both informative and emotionally moving.

There was another very important opportunity to learn that was unexpected. St. George’s College looks like a smaller version of Oxford and sits between the Jewish and Palestinian sections of the city. When we arrived, we were asked to give up our residence within the walls of the college because of an overbooking problem on the college’s part. The person running the course assured us that living in the Palestinian section at the Holy Land Hotel would be a safe place to take our meals and lodging. I took him at his word although I wondered why the top of walls of the college were covered with barbed wire and why there was a steel automatic gate at the entrance. The place looked like a fortress. What happened outside of those walls was as important as what we learned inside of them. We learned first-hand what created the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.

Simply put if you live in the Israeli section of the city, you live in an area that is middle to upper class. If you live in the Palestinian Section, you live in an area that would be similar to an underserved poor area in the U.S. The Holy Land Hotel reflected the underserved area as well. In the Israeli section you feel safe. The Palestinian section is filled with people who struggle and are angry. I went running one afternoon and was attacked by young boys who were throwing bottles and rocks at me. I could run faster and further than they could so I arrived safely at the lobby of the hotel. We could hear the call to worship sounding throughout the day.

When we traveled by bus to Bethlehem, the bus was boarded by police who carried Uzis to check us out. We learned that those who lived in Bethlehem but worked in Jerusalem had to leave early in the morning through a check point and return by a given time in the evening or they would be put in prison.

One word will guide the rest of this post. That word is underserved. Israel has gotten kudos worldwide for their vaccinations of their people. Josef Federman of the Associated Press writes, “The gap between Israel and the Palestinians has illustrated the global inequity between rich and poor nations in terms of access to vaccines. U.N. officials and human rights groups have expressed concerns over the disparity, saying Israel is an occupying power that is responsible for the well-being of the Palestinians.”

Israel disagrees. Israel has given vaccines to Palestinians who work in Israel as they know that you can’t expect a healthy population if you don’t vaccinate all in your country. To add insult to injury, however, Netanyahu has given their excess vaccine doses to Israel’s foreign allies. Bernie Sanders calls this “outrageous.”

One would think that the history of the Jewish people would make them incredibly sensitive to the needs of those who are under their care. The world still has not put sufficient pressure on Israel to do the right thing such as speaking out against their setting up settlements in the Palestine.

One part of the answer as to why Israel takes this unethical action, symbolically seen in its failure to provide vaccines to the Palestinians, came to me in a surprising way. One evening we had a high-ranking Israeli official in Jerusalem describe the history of how things got to be the way that they are. He gave his history of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. On another night a spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization was asked to do the same. It was like watching two different movies about the same request for understanding the history. Common ground of understanding that difference in perspective is necessary.

But there is something else. What would have happened in both Israel and Palestine if the Israelis made sure that their vaccine distribution was to both countries. Vaccines are the symbol of life and death, hopes and fears, respect for those who are underserved (in our nation as well), and the possibility of a new relationship with those in need going forward. That is what is at stake in our nation as well as and Israel.

One of the truths that we have learned in history is that when there is a wide discrepancy between those who have and those who do not, and this discrepancy can be seen by those with little hope, there is little possibility of uniting a country and bringing peace and social justice.

We need to learn in our country what Israel failed to learn in their country regarding the symbol of the vaccine. The vaccine distribution can point out the need for a different way forward. The vaccine is first and foremost about care for all humanity.

A democracy is different from the “greatest good for the greatest number of my group”. That is a Utilitarian perspective. A democracy has the moral mandate for the majority to take care of the minority. That is how a true democracy is measured.

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