Denying The Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

As I wrote yesterday, and as Ben Armbruster writes today, Israeli officials and their various American mouthpieces have been hard at work over the last couple weeks, and especially in the wake of yesterday’s disastrous attack on the Gaza aid flotilla, to deny that there is actually a humanitarian crisis going on in Gaza.

In a statement the day before the raid, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said flatly “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza… We will not allow the flotilla to enter Gaza, as this is an infringement of Israel’s sovereignty.” (This was, of course, a tacit admission that Israel still occupies Gaza, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment.)

Echoing Ayalon Fox News yesterday, Charles Krauthammer asked “What exactly is the humanitarian crisis that the flotilla was actually addressing? There is none. No one is starving in Gaza. The Gazans have been supplied with food and social services by the U.N. for 60 years in part with American tax money.”

Speaking from remarkably similar talking points, Newt Gingrich told Politico “The U.S., through the United Nations relief organization, has been funding food and shelter for the people of Gaza for 60 years now. There was no humanitarian crisis; this was a deliberate political effort on the part of people who want to try to undermine the survival of Israel.”


On a conference call today arranged by the pro-settlement Israel Project, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev insisted that “The whole idea that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is overstated.”

In 2008, a coalition of eight British-based human rights organizations on released a scathing report “claiming that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip was at its worst point since Israel captured the territory in 1967”:

The report said that more than 1.1 million people, about 80 percent of Gaza’s residents, are now dependent on food aid, as opposed to 63 percent in 2006, unemployment is close to 40 percent and close to 70 percent of the 110,000 workers employed in the private sector have lost their jobs.

It also said that hospitals are suffering from power cuts of up to 12 hours a day, and the water and sewage systems were close to collapse, with 40–50 million liters of sewage pouring into the sea daily.

Al Jazeera’s Gregg Carlstrom recently wrote that “It’s true that Israel allows basic necessities — which Israeli officials often term ‘humanitarian aid’ — to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip. But it tightly controls both the type and quantity of goods allowed into the territory”:

Israel usually allows 81 items into Gaza, a list which is subject to revision on a near-daily basis. It is riddled with contradictions: Zaatar, a mix of dried spices, is allowed into the territory; coriander and cumin are not. Chick peas are allowed, while tahini was barred until March 2010.

“Luxury goods,” things like chocolate, are prohibited altogether. […]

And those products allowed to enter Gaza are permitted only in modest quantities. In January 2007, Gaza received more than 10,000 truckloads of goods each month; by January 2009, that number was down to roughly 3,000.

A 2008 report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found that 70 per cent of Gaza’s population suffered from “food insecurity.” As Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reported last week, the Israeli authorities allow little meat and fresh produce into Gaza, leading to widespread malnutrition in the territory.

Medical goods, too, are in short supply. The World Health Organisation says dozens of basic medicines are unavailable in Gaza because of the blockade.

Carlstrom also notes that “Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ human rights chief, called the blockade devastating in an August 2009 report. Pillay said it constituted collective punishment, illegal under international law.”


Peter Beinart writes in the Daily Beast today that the Israeli officials in charge of the blockade “adhere to what they call a policy of ‘no prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis.’”

In other words, the embargo must be tight enough to keep the people of Gaza miserable, but not so tight that they starve.

…and not so tight that Israeli flacks can’t continue to deny that Gaza is experiencing a humanitarian crisis.