How to Get More Aid Into Gaza

The world has failed to halt a downward spiral in humanitarian conditions for civilians in the Gaza Strip since the Israel-Hamas war began last October. The airdropping of humanitarian aid and the U.S. plan to construct a temporary port off the coast of northern Gaza to deliver assistance, both in coordination with Israel, will not adequately relieve the crisis or eliminate its root cause. In addition to being financially unfeasible, neither approach can be sustained amid continued armed conflict and Israel’s blocking of aid entering the strip via land borders.

The only feasible and sustainable way to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is through an emergency mechanism that removes Israel’s total control over the security inspection and entry of aid via land borders into the besieged territory. This proposed plan, limited to the duration of the war and the resulting humanitarian crisis, should include an international security task force with the limited mandate of overseeing and implementing an independent inspection and transport process for aid through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

This emergency mechanism is not far-fetched and could be immediately applied if world powers were willing to utilize all means necessary to rescue Palestinians in Gaza from famine, a devastated health system, and harrowing levels of deprivation. Such an intervention would boost efforts to stop the mounting threat of a regional conflict as well as bring progress toward negotiations to reach a cease-fire. Now is the time to do so.

In the Sinai Peninsula, just across the border from Gaza, tens of thousands of tons of humanitarian aid are waiting for Israel’s permission to enter the strip. Images show hundreds of flatbed trucks loaded with aid and blocked by Israel’s security inspection system at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, including some parked for weeks. In wartime, it is imperative that aid shipments undergo strict security checks, but such a system must not be manipulated by any warring parties for military gain—in this case, either Israel or Hamas.

Instead, a joint task force, comprising security personnel from different governments and an international security body, could oversee the system. Egypt, Qatar, the United States, and France, in partnership with the United Nations, are the top parties—but not the only ones—capable of operating this limited-mandate force. All have consistently engaged both Hamas and Israel, along with local authorities and humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza, on hostages, aid and rescue, policies to protect civilians, and negotiations toward a cease-fire.

Egypt is a fitting and capable host: It not only maintains the sole land border and entry point into Gaza that is not under Israeli military control, the Rafah border crossing, but it also has become the destination of most humanitarian aid dispatched for Gaza. Since the beginning of the war, shipments have continuously landed in El-Arish Airport in North Sinai, some 31 miles from the Rafah crossing—which is just south of the town of Rafah in Gaza, where an estimated 1.5 million people are sheltered.

In the last decade, the Egyptian military and security forces have turned this part of North Sinai into the country’s most militarized zone. It is so secure that it has received heads of government, top U.N. officials, members of parliament, and other officials since the war in Gaza began. At El-Arish, French and Italian navy hospital ships have docked for weeks to provide medical aid to Palestinians, while other vessels have unloaded aid shipments.

Egypt could immediately designate a site to host a security inspection effort and the joint task force needed to implement it. In fact, Cairo has already said it is building a logistics hub to host aid efforts near the Rafah crossing terminal.

Since the war began, senior U.S. officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director Bill Burns have conducted multiple visits and engaged in talks with regional governments involved with efforts to contain the conflict. After the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden appointed David Satterfield as special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues. Satterfield is no stranger to the region’s volatile security; he served as director-general of the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Peninsula from 2009 to 2017.

Qatar and France are as active as Egypt and the United States in all levels of engagement with the warring parties. Qatar’s capital, Doha, hosts the Hamas leadership outside of Gaza. Qatari efforts have led to the release of Israeli civilians held hostage by Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack. Qatar and France also secured a deal to allow delivery of lifesaving medicines to Gaza’s hospitals as well as to Hamas-held hostages. Qatar also constructed and operates a field hospital inside the strip and has dispatched aid to North Sinai since the start of the war.

Finally, the United Nations has powerful reach and ability, especially through on-the-ground humanitarian operations in Gaza. Its various bodies, including the Secretariat, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, are in constant communication and coordination with all parties involved. Despite the level of destruction in Gaza, they operate a broad network of employees and facilities dedicated to humanitarian aid.

With a force as small as 100 well-equipped security personnel and a site secured and serviced by Egypt’s military and local authorities at the Sinai-Gaza border, the joint security task force could theoretically inspect up to 50 trucks per hour, delivering the required minimum of 500 trucks per day within 10 hours. Cargo planes could not airdrop a fraction of that aid over Gaza every day for an extended period. And according to the United States, its port plan will take around two months, as many as 1,000 troops, and millions of dollars to provide just 2 million meals per day.

The emergency mechanism’s mandate would stop at the delivery of aid across Egypt’s Rafah terminal into Gaza. It would not encroach on the jurisdiction of local authorities and organizations or replace them. Within this strictly limited mandate, the aid mechanism and its task force wouldn’t pose a threat to any warring parties or provide political or military gain. It would operate impartially for the protection and rescue of civilians, most of whom are women and children.

An alternative mechanism to deliver humanitarian aid would not only save civilian lives, but it would also create a path toward a lasting solution that averts further crisis. Delivering the minimum required aid to Gaza could satisfy the basic needs of the 1.5 million people sheltering in Rafah within days. It would help reinforce Gaza’s devastated health care system and mitigate the risk of infectious diseases and chronic illnesses caused by malnutrition and medical shortages.

With an emergency mechanism in place that guarantees delivery without manipulation, donor countries and organizations would increase their efforts to send humanitarian aid to Gaza to satisfy the unprecedented level of need. Such guarantees could also contain panic across Gaza, creating a safer environment for organizations to transport and distribute aid throughout the strip. A continued flow of aid would gradually end the overwhelming of convoys by desperate civilians and undercut war profiteers and organized gangs seeking to commandeer shipments.

By hosting such an effort, Egypt would avoid its looming nightmare: a sudden influx of refugees crossing its borders in pursuit of safety and sustenance that would possibly deal a blow to the Camp David Accords, which maintains peace between Egypt and Israel. On a domestic level, the joint aid effort would address popular anger with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for failing to open the Rafah border crossing and unilaterally deliver aid to Gaza—with practical measures rather than ineffective statements and oppression of Egypt’s political opposition.

An alternative aid mechanism would also have far-reaching effects on growing regional conflict in the Middle East. While international powers and mediators are scrambling to contain hostilities between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel and the Houthi threat in the Red Sea, a practical approach to enforce a solution to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza could advance potential negotiations. Both Hezbollah and the Houthis have repeatedly pointed to the siege on Gaza’s people in official statements; although both have other calculations behind their attacks against Israel and its interests, containing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza would serve as a step toward reaching a settlement on both fronts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government will most certainly oppose any such efforts. But it is in the immediate power of the international community, and especially the Biden administration, to confront Israel and enforce solutions that will save lives. In this case, any Israeli opposition to the mechanism, whether by attempting to block its inception or by targeting aid after it enters Gaza, would be directed at a consortium of international and regional powers.

It would also contravene the provisional measures laid out by the International Court of Justice: that Israel “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

As Israel’s top provider of arms and aid, and in light of the potential threat that Biden’s policies toward the war in Gaza pose to his electoral prospects in November, it is in the administration’s interest to use its leverage to compel Israel not to block such an extraordinary measure. Failing to endorse and partner in such an effort would deepen the growing gap between the United States and the Middle East, leaving a vacuum that will inevitably be filled by other world powers.

Six months into the Israel-Hamas war, it would be naive to assume that any progress could be accomplished without an immediate and collaborative intervention by regional and international powers to remedy the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Only then will hindered talks toward a cease-fire agreement and a settlement of the war stand a chance.

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