The total “siege” imposed by Israel on Gaza on October 9 amid its extensive, ongoing military attack on the Strip has created acute life-threatening shortages in basic supplies. Since October 21, Israel has permitted aid to enter the Strip via Rafah Crossing, subject to limitations on where the aid can be distributed, how much can come in per day, and an ongoing ban on entry of fuel. What is coming in represents a fraction of the need.
Israel bears obligations, stemming both from its role as a side to hostilities to, at the very least, facilitate passage of aid, and as the occupying power, to supply it. Deliberate obstruction of life-saving humanitarian aid is a war crime, as is collective punishment.
Goods that enter Gaza from Egypt are first screened by Israel at Nitzana Crossing, on the border between Israel and Egypt, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Rafah Crossing. According to reports, Israel is only allowing some food, water, medical supplies, hygiene products, and tents into the Strip via Rafah.
Full and unobstructed access to vital goods, including fuel, water, medical supplies and food must be facilitated immediately via both Israel and Egypt in order to prevent an already catastrophic humanitarian situation from getting even worse, and to prevent further loss of life.
There are reports that Israel would allow more to cross but the international community ‘isn’t sending more aid.’ These are some of the reasons:
+ International Organizations: None of the aid agencies operating in the Strip were delivering aid from Egypt before October 7. The adjustment to sourcing supplies in Egypt and coordinating its transport through Rafah will take time and significantly hinder access to urgently-needed supplies. Every day in which the full, unimpeded entry of supplies to Gaza is obstructed means further harm to and death of civilians in Gaza.
+ Capacity: The infrastructure and facilities at Kerem Shalom are more extensive than those at Nitzana and Rafah, allowing more truckloads of goods to be screened and processed in a shorter amount of time. If aid delivery were to be scaled, the capacity at Rafah Crossing, Salah a-Din Gate and Nitzana can’t meet Gaza’s immediate needs.
+ Conditions in Egypt: Conditions in the northern Sinai Peninsula aren’t conducive to massive, international aid operations. Transport through Sinai is slower and less secure than transport through Israel. Most of the aid arriving in Egypt is being flown into Al Arish airport. Port Said, the nearest deep seaport on the Egyptian side, is some 225 kilometers (140 miles) away from Rafah Crossing, while the distance from Ashdod port in Israel to Kerem Shalom about 131 kilometers (82 miles). This too would mean that transport of large quantities of aid shipped in via Egypt would incur additional transportation costs.
As an interim step, Israel could at least allow supply of aid through Israel and the West Bank to enter Gaza via Nitzana and Rafah. But there’s much more at play than just a technical discussion of where aid will flow. In a briefing on November 13, Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that “there will be no more contact between Israel and Gaza,” echoing previous statements by Israeli officials that have threatened to keep Israel’s crossings with Gaza (the pedestrian crossing, Erez, and Kerem Shalom, Gaza’s main commercial crossing) closed indefinitely.
These statements are, among other things, a reflection of a political choice not a security imperative. We maintain that barring any direct, concrete threats to security at Kerem Shalom, Israel is obligated to operate the crossing and enable passage of humanitarian supply to Gaza immediately, including fuel. Given the vast destruction already caused and the severity of the humanitarian crisis, a massive effort must be made to meet the needs of the civilian population. Going forward, people in Gaza will need to be reconnected to their social, familial, cultural, and political counterparts, and Gaza’s economy and economic recovery will also depend on access to its natural markets, which are in Israel and the West Bank.