gaza children
A street kitchen distributes free food handouts to displaced Palestinian children in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Of all the horrific things that Israel’s war on Gaza has delivered is the sight of thousands of Palestinians scrambling to get their hands on sacks of flour and other essential supplies being airdropped from the air or laden on aid trucks that were allowed to pass safely through Israeli controlled checkpoints.

This is the worst humanitarian crisis ever witnessed by international relief organisations in decades. Gaza has become ground zero for millions of starving people, including babies and children dying from dehydration, malnutrition, and disease.

More than five months of systemic devastation of the most crowded enclave in the world have led to this. More than 80 per cent of Gaza’s 2.2 million people are now displaced. The death toll from Israeli bombing has now surpassed the chilling 30,000 mark, with more than 60,000 injured and thousands unaccounted for under the rubble. Israeli strikes have left more than 70 per cent of the infrastructure in ruins.

And yet Israeli leaders vow to continue with their ground, air, and sea offensive, brushing off warnings and pleas from the White House, Western leaders, and international organisations.

Read more by Osama Al Sharif

Sea bridge between Cyprus and Gaza

Israel has denied accusations that it is deliberately hindering the delivery of aid to Gaza, especially in the north. But the UN and other organisations have provided evidence that Israel is putting obstacles and changing the rules so that tens of thousands of tons of aid that is ready to enter through Rafah or Israeli-controlled crossings do not reach civilians who are in dire need of the most basic of life-saving food, medicine, and equipment.

Israeli ministers have openly called on the government not to allow aid trucks to enter Gaza. Israeli soldiers have opened fire at thousands of Gazans trying to reach aid trucks, killing hundreds and, in a few instances, destroying these trucks.

Israel has weaponised humanitarian aid and is using famine as collective punishment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored multiple demands by President Joe Biden that Israel allow the unfettered flow of aid into Gaza. But on the ground, the situation is getting worse.

Jordan has led the way in carrying out several air drops of emergency aid. It was followed by other countries, including the UAE, Egypt, the UK, France, and, more recently, the United States. However, such airdrops were adopted as a desperate measure. They were meant to put pressure on Israel, which, as an occupying power, has a legal responsibility to provide essential services to the people under its occupation.

Now, President Biden has decided to operate a sea bridge between Cyprus and Gaza, where ships would deliver tons of aid through a pier that the United States would build in a few weeks. Some countries have stepped in to collaborate in this endeavour. Netanyahu has come out to say that the pier was his idea.

Dehumanising and humiliating Palestinians

But while this plan may, in the end, alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, provided that Israel would not interrupt the distribution of such aid within the stricken enclave, it also relieves Israel of its responsibility for creating the humanitarian catastrophe in the first place. Israel has destroyed hospitals, schools, warehouses, bakeries, and UNRWA distribution centres precisely to create such a crisis. This is part of its objective to dehumanise and humiliate the Palestinians. Its record in that regard speaks for itself.

But more importantly, the sudden shift in the Western government’s attitude towards the war on Gaza in the past few weeks, especially as the world saw the horrific pictures of starving Palestinian children and dying malnourished babies, is also worrying. It presents the situation in Gaza as a purely humanitarian emergency and turns the Palestinian suffering under occupation into a charity case.

One has to remember that the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is not a natural disaster but a man-made one. It is deliberate and premeditated, and it is a crime against humanity and a war crime.

Yes, Gazans need sustainable and safe access to basic needs that do not expose them to humiliation and suffering. But the focus on delivering aid now should not deflect attention from the fact that the core issue is and has always been Israeli occupation. That is a political matter, and it is the crux of everything related to the decades-old suffering of the Palestinians.

The US and its Western partners should have forced Israel to comply with international law and to honour its obligations as an occupying power towards the civilians whose lives it has destroyed. Turning Palestinians into a charity case is an insult to proud people who are being driven out of their land.

The Palestinian crisis is one of unending, cruel, and barbaric occupation. Ending it is what the international community should have done long ago.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.