World Food Program: Let us into Gaza now

Trucks of a humanitarian aid convoy are parked at the border gate between Egypt and Gaza on Thursday. (Khaled Elfiqi/EPA-EFE-Shutterstock)
Trucks of a humanitarian aid convoy are parked at the border gate between Egypt and Gaza on Thursday. (Khaled Elfiqi/EPA-EFE-Shutterstock)

If there’s one thing people on all sides of the Israel-Gaza crisis should agree on, it is that Palestinians must not starve. There are mountains of food and other critical humanitarian supplies sitting idle on the Egyptian side of the border, as the situation inside Gaza deteriorates fast. Israel, Egypt, Hamas and the United States all must help to get this aid into Gaza immediately.

“We have supplies at the border with Gaza and are ready to move them in, but we need the access to do so”, World Food Program Executive Director Cindy McCain told me. She is headed to the region today. “I cannot say it enough — we need access, and need it now”.

There are many aid groups waiting to get into Gaza. WFP, a U.N. organization funded by member countries, including the United States, is the largest. It alone has 951 metric tons of food ready to go near the Gaza border in Egypt, enough to feed 488,000 people for one week, according to an emergency response situation report the group issued on Wednesday.

Speaking in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, President Biden said Israel had pledged to allow food, water and medicine to cross the Egypt-Gaza border without issue. Biden also said Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi had promised to allow “up to 20 trucks” of humanitarian aid to cross in an initial tranche, as soon as Friday.

“The people of Gaza need food, water, medicine and shelter”, Biden said.

On Thursday, some reports emerged that a U.N.-brokered deal to have international observers inspect aid trucks had been reached. But there are few details about how and when such arrangements can be put in place safely. Dozens of civilians have been killed near the Rafah crossing amid Israeli airstrikes, as recently as Tuesday. Security concerns remain despite Israeli assurances.

Further complicating the situation, Biden said the aid effort can only progress if Hamas refrains from stealing or diverting the aid. Meanwhile, Hamas won’t let foreign citizens leave Gaza until aid is delivered, according to U.S. officials.

As the Israeli blockade of Gaza stretches into its second week, 20 trucks of aid is a drop in the ocean of need. More than 1 million people in Gaza have been internally displaced since the fighting began and more than 600,000 have moved to central or southern regions following Israel’s order for Gazans to evacuate the northern part of the enclave, according to WFP.

Making matters even worse, the conflict has rapidly disrupted Gaza’s internal humanitarian aid system as well. Although WFP has been able to provide more than 200,000 Gazans with bread in 92 U.N. shelters inside Gaza over the past two weeks, their partner bakeries are running out of supplies and fuel — or are too damaged to function. When the current violence started, there were 23 WFP partnered bakeries operational in Gaza. Today, there are two.

“So far, we’ve reached hundreds of thousands of people with emergency food aid. But stocks are running out, and it is becoming harder to operate by the day”, McCain told me.

WFP also has huge stockpiles of food in the West Bank and Jerusalem that could be used to feed hungry Palestinians in Gaza. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared no aid will flow from Israel to Gaza until Hamas releases all the hostages it is holding.

WFP also estimates it will need $74 million in emergency response funding related to the crisis. The organization was already forced to reduce its food aid to Gaza and many other countries this year due to an unprecedented 60 percent overall funding shortfall. Rations and food deliveries have been scaled down in places such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and West Africa.

In Israel, Biden announced that the United States would provide $100 million to support humanitarian aid efforts. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president, criticized Biden for it. “Biden wants to send aid into Gaza that will further support terrorist activity”, DeSantis said in a post on X. “As President, I wouldn’t send a single dollar into Gaza”.

Shame on DeSantis for equating starving civilians with terrorists and shame on Netanyahu for using food as a weapon of war. Deploying hunger against vulnerable civilians in a war zone is exactly what Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned Russia against repeatedly.

“The bottom line is it’s unconscionable. It should not happen”, Blinken said in July about Russian efforts to deny food to people who desperately need it.

Ultimately, this is not about blame. All sides have a responsibility to stop using food for political purposes and work together to establish safe corridors for humanitarian access into Gaza, and provide safety for humanitarian facilities inside Gaza and the civilians who want to visit them. Every day that passes without action, more innocent people suffer needlessly.

“The situation unfolding is extremely concerning”, McCain told me. “And civilians are living through a literal hell on earth”.

Josh Rogin is a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post. He writes about foreign policy and national security. Rogin is also a political analyst for CNN. He is the author of the book Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the 21st Century.

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