Yesterday, in response to EU pressure for a “humanitarian truce,” Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said that “there is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.” During today’s White House press conference, White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe was asked by a reporter if the White House agreed with Livni’s claim.
Johndroe, while not immediately saying whether or not the Bush administration “agreed” with Livni, seemed to suggest that reports of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza are overblown:
Q: Recently, foreign minister Livni told the French foreign minister…that there is no humanitarian crisis. Is that a characterization the administration agrees with?
JOHNDROE: We want to make sure there is no humanitarian crisis. … The Israelis are reporting that Hamas hordes the humanitarian supplies and doesn’t allow them to reach the people of Gaza to create the idea of a humanitarian crisis. I can’t speak to the exact situation on the ground.
Despite the Bush administrator’s refusal to recognize it and Israel’s halting efforts to avoid it, a humanitarian crisis does exist and is getting worse in the Gaza Strip. As numerous international bodies and non-governmental organizations have documented, civilians in the Strip are short on food, water, and medical supplies:
International Red Cross: “There is almost no electricity in Gaza city and cooking gas has run out. The water supply is extremely limited.”
OxFam: “The water authority has only a couple of days’ stock of fuel and chlorine. Water supplies are being restricted in many areas to a few hours a week. Food and fuel are also becoming ever more scarce.”
United Nations Relief and Works Agency: “How can one carry out proper relief work in these conditions of violence? The people of Gaza have already suffered the most stringent economic sanctions. … [A]s things stand now, we have only a few days supply left.”
Amnesty International: Israeli forces must bear in mind that there are no ‘safe’ places in Gaza for civilians to seek shelter. … Strikes are virtually sure to kill and injure civilians.
Human Rights Watch: “Israel’s severe limitations on the movement of non-military goods and people into and out of Gaza, including fuel and medical supplies, constitutes collective punishment, also in violation of the laws of war.”
The director of the World Food Programme operation in Gaza was “furious” when she learned that Livni was denying the humanitarian crisis, telling the Telegraph that the Programme’s “stocks in Gaza showed a 30 percent shortfall of dry goods such as flour and a much greater shortfall of ‘ready-to-eat’ goods.” A spokesperson for the United Nations said similarly, “When you look at the Israeli assertions about the humanitarian situation it is very hard to square this with the extraordinarily dire situation on the ground in Gaza.”
Despite the fact that both Hamas and Israel both share responsibility for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, as British Prime Minster Gordon Brown put it: “It is vital that moderation must now prevail — there’s a humanitarian crisis.”