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Delayed aid: Action from Biden long overdue

Mar 08,2024 - Last updated at Mar 08,2024

Starvation has come to northern Gaza, which has not received food aid in sufficient quantities to fend off famine. More than a dozen children and one elderly mam have died of malnutrition and dehydration over the past ten days. Nevertheless, it took US President Joe Biden many weeks to follow Jordan’s example by dropping food parcels to Gaza last Saturday.

He only dared initiate airdrops after more than 100 Palestinians were killed and 750 wounded, the majority by Israeli live fire, when they stormed a 30-lorry convoy carrying food and other essential supplies to the southern edge of Gaza City in the north, where famine is taking place. 

On Friday, Jordan carried out three parachute drops into northern Gaza, while the mighty US got its act together. On Saturday, Jordan’s two C-13os parachuted food parcels into the north while Biden’s three 3-130s carried out their drop of 38,000 meals-ready-to-eat in the south where two million Gazans are concentrated. Although it is marginally better served by foreign humanitarian aid deliveries, during February, they had been reduced by half from the January number of about 200 a day.

It is hardly surprising that Biden should be criticised for carefully choreographing a “theatre” production of aerial food deliveries to starving people while Israel bombed northern, central and southern Gaza with US bombs and shot Palestinian civilians with US bullets. Biden must somehow erase his war-time nickname of “genocide Joe”. He and his wife Jill have both been accosted during election campaign events by protesters calling for an “immediate ceasefire in Gaza” and an end to Israeli obstruction of humanitarian aid to starving Gazans.

At time of writing this article, the Jordanian army reported it had conducted 25 air-drops into Gaza since Israel attacked Gaza on October 7th in response to Hamas raid into southern Israel during which 1,139 were

killed

and

240 abducted. Jordan opened the air bridge to Gaza to provide food and medicine for its field hospital in the south and subsequently began delivering food parcels for hungry Palestinians because Israel was limiting the flow of food and other supplies into Gaza and blocking convoys for the north from January 23rd.

Aware of the food emergency, Jordan has been joined in air-drop missions by Holland, Britain, France, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and, finally, the US. There is, however, a major difference between the nine which took part before the US joined. The nine do not have serious leverage over Israel to exercise pressure to compel Israel to cease its limitation of existential aid supplies and halt its interference with humanitarian deliveries. Biden does. He can simply withhold the bombs and ammunition Israel is using to kill Gazans and condition financial aid on Israeli observance of the laws of war which ban mistreatment of civilians. Action from Biden is long overdue.

While Jordan has successfully pioneered the air-bridge which can temporarily ease the hunger of lucky Gazans who collect food parcels, Cyprus has tried and failed to open a direct maritime corridor between the island’s port of Larnaca and Gaza. Israel initially encouraged Cyprus President Nicos Christodoulides who suggested this effort and thought he had Israel’s agreement. A consignment of aid was inspected by Israeli agents at Larnaca and loaded onto a British naval vessel with the capability to off-load onshore rather than at a proper port as Gaza has only a small fishing harbour. The ship stood off the coast of Gaza for some days but Israel denied it permission to land its cargo. The ship sailed to Malta where it remained until it was allowed to berth at Suez and the aid was put on lorries which made the trip to the Egyptian side of Rafah where the cargo was again inspected by Israel and permitted to join the long queue of lorries waiting to enter Gaza. This can take several weeks, a month or more.

Denying Gazans food, medical, and other supplies has long been an Israeli policy which has not been challenged by the US and scrapped. After Israel withdrew its colonists from Gaza in 2005 and the strip came under Hamas’ rule in 2007, Israel imposed a siege, blockade and economic and financial sanctions aimed at undermining and overthrowing Hamas. Before the blockade, 400 lorry loads of supplies entered Gaza daily, this was reduced to 106 and Israeli nutritionists worked out that the equivalent of 2,279 calories per person a day would be allowed into Gaza to prevent starvation. Banned items initially included pasta but after this was rescinded at the request of the US, honey, coffee, tea, semolina, milk and baking products remained on the banned list.

The blockade led to the construction of hundreds of tunnels under the Egyptian border at or near Rafah which had been divided between Egypt and Gaza by Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The tunnels multiplied and brought in all manner of goods. At the height of the “tunnel economy” it was estimated there were 1,500 tunnels transiting fuel, cement, food, livestock, spare parts, fertiliser and seeds for agriculture, people, and weapons. The “tunnel economy” did billions of dollars in business benefitting Gazan consumers, Egyptian and Gazan merchants, Sinai Bedouin, and Hamas which collected tariffs to fund its administration. The tunnels were destroyed between 2013-2015, leaving Gazans, once again, at the mercy of Israeli restrictions on goods and lorry permits. Before the October war, 500 loaded lorries carrying essential and commercial goods were allowed into Gaza after being rigorously inspected and crossing through the sole Kerem Shalom transit centre.

Zvi Barel writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz said that humanitarian aid has been turned into a “strategic tool” by Israel. “Israel understands that the food and medicine convoys, and the supplies of water and fuel are what allow it to continue the war.” Barel stated, “The paradox is that aid intended to save human life is critical for Israel to continue to kill people, enemies and ‘non-combatants’.” Today’s starvation and looming famine would have compelled the US and Western powers to force Israel to end the conflict earlier.

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