Gaza aid: What is happening and why are there delays?

Gaza aid: What is happening and why are there delays?
Despite the overwhelming needs of Gaza's population, aid delivery has been tangled up in Israeli red tape and deliveries to the war-torn enclave have fallen.
7 min read
01 March, 2024
There have been conflicting reports emerging from Israel and UN agencies responsible for why there are delays to aid distribution [GETTY]

As Israel's months-long onslaught in Gaza pushes the Palestinian population into the hands of international aid agencies for daily survival, the delivery of aid has come under intense scrutiny.

Humanitarian agencies have not only struggled to get food and medical supplies into the enclave due to Israel’s inspection demands, but once inside, deliveries have been jeopardised by major safety concerns amid gunfire and looting.

It culminated in a massacre of at least 112 Palestinians at an aid point at Al-Rasheed Street on Thursday morning, many due to shooting by Israeli soldiers.

Long detours to meet Israel's requirements of screening have delayed supplies from getting into Gaza from Egypt, where goods are sourced or have arrived through Al-Arish international airport.

Despite the humanitarian emergency - where hunger and disease outbreaks are endemic - there is a severe shortage of aid supplies inside the territory to meet the shelter, food, water, and medical needs of the population.

But humanitarian workers have insisted there is enough aid to support Gaza's population and said it is just stuck outside the border in a backlog of deliveries tied up in Israeli bureaucracy.

Why are there delays?

Aid deliveries coming into Gaza go through Rafah or Kerem Shalom crossing, but before this they are forced to go through a lengthy process starting in Egypt, where goods are sourced internally or arrive at Al-Arish airport.

From there, most of the aid-filled trucks move to Nitzana in Israel where they go through rigorous screening by Israeli authorities. Drivers then return to Rafah and wait again before entering Gaza and offloading the goods.




The whole process can take weeks. Action for Humanity, a UK-registered non-governmental organisation which operated in Gaza prior to the war, has been trying to get aid trucks into the enclave for nearly a month.

Twenty-six days after travelling 350 km from Cairo, eight trucks filled with tons of flour, rice, cooking oil, pasta, as well as sanitary pads, remain on the Egyptian side of the border, Action for Humanity’s communications officer Jacob Marais told The New Arab.

"We have our own teams on the ground in Rafah who will be able to distribute this once it gets in," Marais said.

"A delivery of this size has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands, but as you know this just isn't enough."

Action for Humanity’s trucks are among hundreds sitting idle on the Egyptian side of the border. Satellite images have shown rows of aid-filled trucks idle waiting to be filtered through the Rafah crossing.

Israel or UN agency holdups?

There have been conflicting reports emerging from Israel and the UN agencies, responsible for aid distribution, over why the food, medical, and shelter supplies are not reaching those in need.

Earlier in February, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli unit under the defence ministry, accused the UN of failing to pick up and distribute aid. 

COGAT posted images on X which showed the content of 500 trucks waiting to be distributed. "The UN needs to scale up their operations," it said.

But Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for the Middle East, told The New Arab that it was "unfair and undue" criticism from COGAT.

He said that Israel has "created the conditions of insecurity" in Gaza which has left the population struggling to survive and as a result, a climate of lawlessness has taken over.

The security issues are holding up distribution, he explained: "Israel has a responsibility on that front where they have created the conditions of insecurity, and unless we can put more material inside the Gaza Strip then the law-and-order issue is only going to become more problematic."

Israel’s obligations as occupying power over Gaza

As set out in the Geneva Convention, Israel has obligations to not only 'restore and ensure public order and safety' but also to ensure the sufficient provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.

Israel, however, argues that regarding Gaza, the level of occupation is different from the West Bank because they withdrew militarily in 2005 in what it called its 'Disengagement Plan'.

But crucially, Israel still imposes a blockade over access to and from Gaza, whether goods or people.

Gisha, an Israeli NGO which advocates for the freedom of movement of Palestinians, notes how Israel has maintained a 'remote control' system whereby it still monitors land crossings - apart from those run by Egyptian authorities. 

Miriam Marmur, director of public advocacy at Gisha, explained to The New Arab that prior to the war, only a small portion of what was entering Gaza was considered aid and as a result agencies have had scrambled to rework previous systems.

"The aid agencies that were working inside Gaza were purchasing most of the goods that were needed for them from the private sector within the strip," she said.

"[These agencies] weren’t working via Egypt prior to October 7, so they’ve had to make this huge adjustment to sourcing goods in Egypt or importing them via Egypt, and all that has impacted the flow of aid into Gaza."

Israel's responsibility was put under the spotlight in January, when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague ruled that Israel must take all measures to ensure aid reaches Palestinians in Gaza.

However, Israel has since been accused of ignoring the court's rulings.

Indeed since then, the number of deliveries entering Gaza has fallen, according to data collected by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Between February 9 and 15, only 47 trucks on average entered Gaza each day, a sharp fall in comparison to the week prior which had an average of 133 trucks each day.

What can and can’t enter Gaza?

There has been no official list published by COGAT to guide organisations and many have reported undergoing a ‘trial and error’ process to work out what items are allowed.

Items including insulin pens, stone fruit, certain types of tent poles, generators, crutches, field hospital kits, inflatable water tanks, oxygen tanks, wooden children’s toys, have all been rejected by Israeli authorities.

Some of the supplies from the UK government’s aid package to Gaza in December were denied by Israeli authorities, including solar lamps and water filter systems, according to a report from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

These seemingly arbitrary decisions are rooted in COGAT’s ‘dual-use’ list which has been imposed since 2007, and names certain items that Israel says could be allegedly exploited for secondary use from entering the Strip.

COGAT's website states that "The State of Israel holds the authority to grant final approval… of dual-use equipment and construction materials entering from Israel or imported from elsewhere".

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Gisha has been monitoring Israel's blockade on the strip for nearly 20 years, and through a three-year-long investigation exposed an alarming system whereby Israel's health ministry was using a calorific minimum to manage the entry of food into Gaza.

"Israel was trying to understand what would stop people starving but also stop people thriving," Marmur said, describing it as "a really dark chapter in Israeli policy".

Amid concerns about the current aid process, the organisation submitted a Freedom of Information request in February to enquire about the entry of goods into Gaza and the approval process.

A 'politicised' aid process

Ever since Israel lifted the gate on humanitarian aid into Gaza through Rafah, after a two-week blockade at the start of the war, the entry of resources has been "heavily politicised", according to some international aid organisations who work alongside UN agencies in the strip.

Nicola Banks, advocacy lead at Action For Humanity, described an "arbitrary" vetting system of supplies by Israeli authorities.

"Operating in a conflict setting has lots of different challenges; the first one being obviously that it is under attack; our colleagues are navigating to continue doing jobs and distributing under attack," Banks told The New Arab.

Banks explained that Israel restricts certain items but "it is not clear and arbitrary".

"We’ve seen some organisations get certain supplies in, where others are not able to," she said, adding that there are "hoops" aid agencies must jump into to fit the inspections by Israeli authorities.

Yet until Israel lifts its blockade on Gaza or acts on humanitarians' calls to open crossings in the north and improve security conditions, hundreds of aid trucks will remain out of reach of the hundreds of thousands in need, just kilometres away.