Ulterior motives in Gaza?

Alaa Al-Mashharawi , Thursday 28 Mar 2024

Is delivering aid to Gaza via a temporary seaport genuinely meant to ease the humanitarian catastrophe in the Strip or is it meant to expedite the displacement of the population, asks Alaa Al-Mashharawi in Gaza.

Ulterior motives in Gaza


Gaza is at a perilous juncture: either Israel agrees to a ceasefire and prisoner swap or its army invades Rafah, now the world’s most densely populated city.

Six months into the Israeli aggression against Gaza, survivors have moved south to Rafah, a 50 square km city hosting 1.5 million displaced Palestinians alongside its original residents.

Israel’s invasion of Rafah would be another chapter in the series of appalling massacres it has committed in various parts of the Gaza Strip.

International condemnation of Israel’s actions has been mounting after the spread of famine in Gaza. The US has responded by announcing the dispatch of aid ships to Gaza’s shores following the failure of airdrops.

The move requires the construction of a temporary seaport to facilitate the safe docking and unloading of aid shipments. Fears have arisen about the potential implications of opening a sea route, including the possibility of facilitating the displacement of Gaza residents, with Cyprus being proposed as an initial destination.

The Israeli war on Gaza has led to the displacement of the population of the Gaza Strip, with the repeated issuance of Israeli displacement orders forcing residents to move multiple times until they settled in the last safe haven of Rafah.

In early March, the US contracted security firm Fogbow to ensure the safe transfer of aid from cargo ships to the port on the Gaza coast via a sea corridor. However, numerous logistical and security aspects surrounding the construction of the Gaza port remain unclear, particularly concerning the transportation and distribution of aid.

Israel is considering engaging international security companies to secure the transportation of aid to distribution points and collaborating with Gaza families and factions unaffiliated with Hamas to ensure the smooth distribution of the aid.

Maher Madoukh, appointed by late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat to construct and operate the Gaza port in 1994, questioned the possibility of constructing the new port within 60 days.

“How can the temporary port on the Gaza coast [which US President Joe Biden has ordered] handle military and civilian ships that will unload their cargo and then transport aid to a 500-metre-long pier,” he asked in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.

According to Madoukh, the deal with the US security company is aimed at preventing the direct involvement of US soldiers stationed off the coast of the Gaza Strip. He expressed scepticism about the company’s ability to effectively oversee the coordination of aid movements upon its arrival on the coast.

Madoukh questioned why Israel had swiftly agreed to the US project, especially considering its previous opposition to the reopening of the Gaza port. He pointed to the rapid pace of the US initiative and expressed doubts about the temporary port being able to handle a volume of aid comparable to that at land crossings like the Rafah Crossing with Egypt.

“Would it not have been more efficient for Washington to pressure Tel Aviv to reopen the Rafah Crossing instead of undertaking the extensive efforts needed to construct a temporary port, which will take two months to complete,” he asked.

Nidal Khadra, a political analyst, said that “the main challenge lies not in collecting and transporting the aid to the Gaza coast, but rather in the distribution process, which could result in chaos owing to the starvation among Gazans due to the continuing Israeli aggression.”

The distribution of the aid is dependent on humanitarian organisations, which raises uncertainties given Israeli efforts to marginalize the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and exclude the Hamas government of Gaza, Khadra noted.

He added that delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza is not solely about choosing between sea, land, or air routes. Instead, the focus should be on establishing an effective distribution mechanism to ensure aid reaches those in need.

Sea routes are used to transport large-scale humanitarian aid to areas that are difficult to access by truck, he explained. There are currently seven land crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which are equipped for the daily delivery of thousands of aid trucks.

According to Khadra, there are concerns that the Israeli occupation of Gaza might exploit the establishment of the temporary port as a means to evade accountability for the famine, blockade, and hardships endured by the people of Gaza. This could be done by presenting the port as a solution for providing essential supplies while also creating conditions conducive to sustaining the occupation.

The port could serve as a pretext for closing and controlling the Rafah Crossing and Philadelphia Corridor that separate the Gaza Strip from Egypt, he said.

Adnan Abu Hasna, an UNRWA media adviser, told the Weekly that “while any means of delivering aid to Gaza, whether by land, sea, or air, is to be welcomed, the primary challenge lies in the distribution mechanism. The population of Gaza, particularly in the north, is suffering from famine and a humanitarian crisis.”

“In just one month, the malnutrition rate among children under two years old in the northern Gaza Strip has surged from 15 per cent to an alarming 31 per cent. In southern Gaza, where the aid is anticipated to arrive, the malnutrition rate among children has climbed to 28 per cent.”

He stressed UNRWA’s readiness to facilitate the distribution of the aid through existing land crossings, leveraging qualified and experienced personnel equipped with comprehensive population data and logistical knowledge.

Human rights activist Salah Abdel-Ati, director of the Hashd Foundation for Human Rights, a local NGO, told theWeekly that delivering aid via land routes is more cost-effective and efficient.

Aid can be delivered to Gaza through the Rafah Crossing from Egypt and the Kerem Shalom Crossing from Israel. Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, Gaza relied on the daily entry of 500 supply trucks to meet its essential needs, he said.

Abdel-Ati said airdrops of relief supplies were inefficient, stressing that they fail to adequately address the pressing issues of hunger and malnutrition in Gaza. Instead, they often exacerbate the chaos and do little to stem the tide of famine, leaving children vulnerable to death due to malnutrition.

Without significant changes, famine in Gaza appears inevitable, he said.

“The proposed sea corridor from Cyprus involves parties aligned with the Israeli Occupation in its aggression against Gaza, including Germany, Britain, Italy, and the US. Israel is obliged to provide humanitarian assistance to ensure a minimum level of food for the people of Gaza, as mandated by international law which requires the occupier to provide for the occupied population,” he added.

“If the US administration were genuinely committed to providing humanitarian aid, it could have expedited the process by exerting pressure on Israel to open the Rafah Crossing. This would enable the swift entry of thousands of trucks waiting to deliver aid, offering a faster, larger, and more sustainable solution to addressing the Strip’s needs,” Abdel-Ati stated.

“The Israeli Occupation and its allies are shaping the future of Gaza through military force and attempts to establish control. This includes separating the northern and southern regions of Gaza, as well as utilising aid ships as a means of facilitating the displacement of thousands of starving residents who are fleeing death by starvation and bombardment.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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