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Dangers of delivering aid in Gaza as law and order collapses

Delivering aid in Gaza becomes dangerous as law and order collapses
6 min read
22 February, 2024
A disintegration of law and order in the besieged strip, alongside overwhelming humanitarian needs, has left aid agencies struggling to operate.
Widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure has made operating in Gaza highly challenging for aid agencies [Getty]

Humanitarian agencies have been reporting serious challenges in delivering and distributing aid within Gaza, as civilian needs surge amid a collapse of law and order in the war-battered strip.

Since the start of Israel’s offensive, civil and political administration by the governing Palestinian movement Hamas has fractured alongside the destruction of Gaza City’s municipality buildings by Israeli forces early on in the war.

In addition, Israel has conducted widespread arrests of civil leaders such as doctors, and academics, as well as undermined UNRWA, the UN agency long established in Gaza to support the population. 

On top of a breakdown of basic services, aid groups are struggling to operate within the enclave.

Too dangerous to deliver aid

With Gaza’s population more desperate and Israel’s threat to invade Rafah, where over a million civilians are living in tents and shelters and reliant on handouts for meals and severe sanitation concerns, aid organisations are facing an overwhelming demand.

On Monday, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it had made the hard decision to halt all aid deliveries to northern Gaza after its trucks faced "complete chaos and violence" on its passage north amid "the collapse of civil order".

A driver was beaten and aid trucks looted by gangs of desperate people, the agency said, adding that the decision to halt supplies had not been taken lightly considering the extreme hunger of people stranded in the north. 

WFP added that "Gaza was hanging by a thread".

The New Arab has spoken to UN officials who said that the organisation is urgently assessing what can be done to improve conditions, with humanitarians not just facing threats from Israeli strikes but now from "gangs and looters".

Jamie McGoldrick, ad interim UN Humanitarian Coordinator of the occupied Palestinian Territories told The New Arab they are coordinating with all authorities to establish how law and order can be restored to ensure the efficient delivery of resources to vulnerable pockets in the north.

"When you cross Wadi Gaza [to the north] there are groups of young men there trying to steal food because they’re desperate," McGoldrick said, following a two-day trip to Gaza earlier this week.

"They haven’t had food or any supplies for weeks…it’s a very challenging environment."

North Gaza has been cut off from aid deliveries for weeks with Israeli forces encroaching on the area since October, leaving an estimated 300,000 civilians there at increasing risk of famine

Israeli forces now control access to that part of the Strip and as a result have denied half of the requests made by UN agencies to deliver aid there between 1 January and 12 February, according to OCHA’s daily data reports.

McGoldrick said that it had become too violent for both the truck drivers and the recipients of the aid. He said that there had been incidents involving gunfire and described an "organised approach to stealing".

Opening northern border crossing and recruiting community

One idea being considered to restart deliveries, McGoldrick said, is reopening the al-Muntar (Karni) border crossing in the north-eastern end of the enclave, which was closed by Israel in 2011.

There were reports on Wednesday that this border crossing could re-open for humanitarian aid soon.

"Ultimately what we might need to do is get entry points in the north, rather than try to bring material from the south in Rafah," he said.

McGoldrick also suggested the recruitment of community members to help protect supplies stored in warehouses in Rafah, which have been looted in recent days. 

This was previously carried out by the civil police in Gaza but after several were killed by Israeli strikes while guarding aid convoys, officers have become reluctant to take the risk. 

Gaza has been described as a humanitarian disaster with 75 percent of the population displaced and over 300,000 damaged or destroyed housing units according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) daily reports. 

Streets have been blocked by debris from buildings now in ruins while the winter weather has turned roads into mud and water. In addition, unexploded ordnance is adding a further danger for both civilians and aid workers.

This means that aid convoys are limited to one road through the territory, the beachside Al-Rashid Road, after the central Saleh al-Din became too dangerous.

'No mystery' as to where UN operates inside Gaza

An integral part of the aid delivery process in the Strip is coordinating with the warring parties to share route coordinates and avoid active fighting zones as well as to ensure that international humanitarian law on the safety of civilians and aid workers is upheld.

Jonathan Fowler, senior communications manager at UNRWA, told The New Arab they are in constant liaison with "many different Israeli authorities at different levels - that is how we operate as an agency in situations of conflict".

Despite this, there have been serious incidents involving apparent direct attacks on UN facilities and convoys.

Earlier this month, Thomas White, director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza, posted on social media site X that a UN lorry was hit by the Israeli navy on its way up Al-Rashid road north

The image White shared showed a lorry with a hole blown out of its side and ripped cardboard boxes spewing out.

An investigation by CNN published this week found that the lorry was targeted by an Israeli naval ship in the early morning of 5 February even though the route had been agreed with the Israeli military in advance and coordinates shared.

Fowler said it was "fortunate" that nobody was killed or injured but admitted that the incident was "a sign of the kind of things that shouldn’t happen".

An Israeli army internal investigation is said to be underway, though it is not the first time UN operations or facilities have been attacked during the war. 

Despite being protected under international law, over 180 UNRWA facilities have been hit by Israeli forces which have killed at least 300 civilians sheltering inside.

Fowler said an independent commission of inquiry should take place to investigate breaches of neutrality related to these incidents.

"We don’t have the capacity to investigate ourselves," Fowler said.

While Israel has insisted that its military is operating within the realms of international humanitarian law on conflict, it has regularly come under fire from human rights groups as well as the UN.

The high civilian death toll in Gaza, now well over 29,000, and the apparent 'collective punishment' of the population from the protracted blockade of entry and exit have prompted widespread calls for international independent investigations into Israel's conduct.