Gaza: a Humanitarian Emergency

28 mars 2024
Le point de vue de Jean-François Corty

While Israeli bombardments have killed more than 30,000 people in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian population is also having to cope with the heavy humanitarian consequences of the conflict. Numerous lorries are positioned on the Egyptian side, waiting to be allowed in to provide humanitarian assistance. Also faced with a sea and air blockade, the fear of widespread famine throughout the Palestinian territory persists. What is the need for humanitarian aid and what difficulties are being encountered? How is the international community reacting to this predicted disaster? Interview with Jean-François Corty, associate researcher at IRIS and vice-president of Médecins du Monde.

How has the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip evolved since the Israeli offensive and bombings following the Hamas attacks?

The human and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip today is catastrophic, because the effects of the Israeli army’s almost total sea, air and land blockade since the day after 7 October are really making themselves felt. Before the Israeli military operations in October, 600 to 700 lorries a day were entering Gaza to transport the goods needed to support the population, as the territory is not self-sufficient enough to meet the various needs. The blockade allows only a small amount of aid to enter, particularly in the south of the Gaza Strip, and the bombardments have destroyed more than half the infrastructure and caused more than 30,000 deaths and 70,000 injuries.

All these factors have led to a dramatic humanitarian situation, with a health system that is virtually flat and cannot meet needs, and with nutritional aid and medicines that are not coming in proportionately. Of the thirty or so hospitals, a few are functioning, but only partially, and many are saturated: the latest, Al-Shifa in Gaza, is under attack from military operations, and in the south, at Rafah, the few functional health facilities are overloaded and operating at 300% capacity. In reality, there is virtually a siege within a siege, meaning that the northern and central parts of the Gaza Strip are being squeezed even harder and almost no aid is getting through to these areas. It is estimated that 300,000 to 500,000 people are living in extreme poverty, with malnutrition rates in the red and getting worse every day. According to the latest IPC reports, famine is setting in. It could spread to the whole of the north and centre by April-May and to the whole of the Gaza Strip, including Rafah, by July if the situation remains unchanged.

There is also a high mortality rate due to the bombardments, the lack of healthcare and problems of access to water and food. In the south, there is a high level of nutritional tension, with indicators also in the red, but with insufficient human aid coming in. Even if there is some food on the market stalls, people don’t necessarily have the means to buy it, as prices are exorbitant. Around 1.5 million people in Rafah are living in extremely precarious conditions, mostly in tents, in camps of some kind, on the beach or in their cars.

With a large proportion of the Palestinian population now concentrated in the southern city of Rafah, how is aid being delivered there? What difficulties is humanitarian aid encountering?

Under these conditions, the aid is not proportionate and the humanitarian aid workers are not able to do their job properly, whether they are national or international teams, and this applies to a very large part of the Gaza Strip. However, aid is largely pre-positioned, particularly on the Egyptian side, where NGOs, humanitarian organisations, the United Nations and certain governments have been stockpiling water, food, fuel, medicines, etc. for the past four months. Aid is being transported overland, the best way to cover the immense needs of more than 2 million people in the north, centre and south.

Mobilising aid is not a real problem, as it is already there. The difficulty today lies in getting it in with teams to distribute it. Because of the nutritional pressure, improvised distribution attempts, whether by the Israeli army or other actors, have resulted in dozens or even hundreds of deaths from stampedes or gunfire. In this context, it’s a job to organise distributions.

But if you don’t have professional teams capable of entering with large quantities of goods, if you don’t have secure stocks, if you can’t organise the flow of beneficiaries in good conditions, then humanitarian aid is ineffective and even dangerous.

A few days ago, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the edge of the Gaza Strip in Egypt and spoke of « putting an end to the nightmare ». What role does the international community play in providing humanitarian aid? Which countries are most involved?

In fact, there is a cynicism about state humanitarianism: it is used as an instrument by most European countries and the Americans. Ten days ago, Washington announced the deployment of a humanitarian corridor, notably by sea, with boats arriving from Cyprus and due to dock at a pier within 60 days. We don’t know what stage this operation has reached. However, given the death toll from the bombardments and blockade, 60 days represents at least 10,000 to 15,000 additional deaths. The quantities sent by the two or three boats that have arrived in the Gaza Strip (i.e. 200 tonnes per boat) are equivalent to those sent by five to ten lorries. These lorries are pre-positioned by the hundreds and ready to enter by land on the Egyptian side. So the challenge is not logistical, because the aid is there. It is a political one, involving the imposition of a ceasefire to ensure that it is brought in en masse.

Furthermore, a few weeks ago, the United States vetoed a request for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to flow in on a massive scale. They are also continuing to supply the Israeli army with the weapons it needs to continue the war.

In this way, the Europeans and the Americans are using humanitarianism to depoliticise the context and avoid getting into the thick of things, even if there has been a shift in diplomatic thinking. They are appropriating the humanitarian rationale by pretending to be interested in inadequate sea routes and imprecise and dangerous airdrops – which does not hide the need for supplies by land. The West, which has real power to influence Israel, is hiding behind this humanitarian alms so as not to denounce more directly the factors behind the more than 30,000 dead and more than 70,000 injured, many of them children. These factors include the Israeli army’s air, sea and land blockade, which is intended to kill on a massive scale, the repeated bombardments that are wiping out entire neighbourhoods and towns, and the fact that it is impossible for humanitarian aid workers to work in good conditions. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), a major humanitarian player and the backbone of assistance in this context, is also under intense pressure. Regularly attacking the United Nations and UNRWA is a very strong Israeli choice. These attacks are not just diplomatic, since more than 150 of their staff have been killed in Gaza.

Within the international community, the Americans are the only ones with any influence over Israel, and most Europeans today have failed to rise to the challenge by maintaining minimal humanitarian aid that in no way resolves the problem of the Palestinians’ survival and the ongoing annihilation of civilians. An attempt at a resolution was proposed last weekend by the United States. The text, which was vetoed by China and Russia, did not call for an immediate resolution, but suggested that a ceasefire should be considered soon. A non-binding resolution was passed on 25 March 2024 calling for a truce during the Ramadan period in order to pave the way for a longer truce with the release of hostages and other prisoners on the Palestinian side. The Americans abstained. Clearly, the Israeli Prime Minister does not want to take this into account, and even today the bombardments on Gaza continue, but we can still see a certain inflection in the discourse of the Westerners, who spoke of « unconditional support ».

In the current context, there is an objective risk of genocide, as highlighted by the International Court of Justice. The Court has stated that if aid is not forthcoming on a massive scale, the hypothesis of genocide could be confirmed. In fact, on the ground, aid does not always come in on a massive scale. This may explain the change in diplomatic rhetoric, particularly from Washington, even though military support for the State of Israel continues. A ceasefire is undeniably essential if the mass killings are to stop and aid is to get into the Gaza Strip, because the situation is deteriorating daily for Palestinian civilians. In the West Bank, the work of NGOs is just as difficult, with many civilians dying, and very active settlement activity, as well as administrative and security constraints, complicating the work of humanitarians.


Translated by Deepl
Sur la même thématique