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World News

British priest in Jerusalem calls on Israel to vaccinate Palestinians

by Premier Journalist

The Dean of St George's College in Jerusalem says the pandemic has highlighted the stark inequalities between Israel and Palestine.

The Very Reverend Richard Sewell told Premier that while Israel is opening up as a result of its successful vaccination programme, many in Palestine are still struggling with desperate poverty and little hope of access to the vaccine.

He says his own college, which is a centre for pilgrims from across the world, has also found the last year difficult :

"In a normal year, we would have maybe 400 or so people throughout the year on pilgrimage. But we have not received a single pilgrim visitor since the first week of March last year. And so all our income completely dried up. We were thrown into an immediate financial crisis. We had to repay all those people who'd paid in advance for their courses. And we spent well over hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay those people back. And it nearly caused the total closure of the college."

The Dean says that thanks to its historic reserves and making temporary cuts, the college has been able to survive and is set to open once again to visitors in June.
But he says the pandemic has highlighted the stark inequalities of the region :

"Unfortunately, although Israel has advanced very well with their vaccination programme, there is no such provision in the Palestinian territories. So right next to this successful flagship for vaccinations is a country that has had only several thousand vaccines and so they are still in the grip of the pandemic - right next door to where we are and it's a tragedy and a scandal."

There are also fears that pilgrims returning to the Holy Land this year won't be able to visit some of the most important places in Christianity :

"When the pilgrims start to come back, they will not be allowed to go into the West Bank. So they will not go to Bethlehem, they will not go to Jericho, they will not go to Nablus or to Hebron, because it is still in the grip of the pandemic. And that will be a shock to people."

And the Dean is calling on Israel to support a vaccination programme across the region:

"I really hope that Israel is put under pressure to take its responsibilities seriously. And that it will realise that actually, their Israeli citizens are not safe until the Palestinians are vaccinated because actually, more than 100,000 people come into work in Israel from the West Bank."

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