The Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Catastrophic
Any resumption of fighting will be a disaster and a death sentence for a huge number of Palestinian civilians.
The Israeli government is vowing to resume the war in Gaza:
“In recent days I’ve heard a question: Will Israel return to fighting after this stage of returning our hostages is over? My response is an unequivocal yes,” the premier [Netanyahu] says. “There is no way we won’t return to fighting until the end.”
The Biden administration is reportedly asking the Israeli government to fight the war in a “more targeted” way in the future, but there is no reason to expect that Netanyahu and his coalition allies will pay any attention to this. The U.S. isn’t trying to use any leverage to pressure them, and the Israeli government knows that it will face no consequences if it ignores this request. A few senators are finally entertaining the idea of putting conditions on U.S. assistance to Israel, but it is hard to imagine that this administration would ever do that. Regardless, the people of Gaza need an end to the war and not just a “more targeted” continuation of it.
Any resumption of fighting will be a disaster and a death sentence for a huge number of Palestinian civilians. The current pause in fighting must not be allowed to end. Humanitarian conditions in Gaza are extraordinarily bad and getting worse. According to the U.N. relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, the conditions there are the worst he has ever seen in his career. The Guardian reported yesterday that U.N. officials are warning that the death toll from disease may soon exceed the death toll from bombing:
“It is not just the hospitals, everybody everywhere has dire health needs now, because they are starving, because they lack clean water, they are crowded together, they are in terror so they have massive mental health needs. And there is a continuing rise in outbreaks of infections disease,” [WHO spokesperson] Harris said.
“Eventually, we will see more people dying from disease than we are even seeing from the bombardment, if we are not able to put back this health system and provide the basics of life. Food, water, medicines and of course fuel to operate hospitals.”
Diarrhoea increased by 45 times compared with the same period last year, and other communicable diseases, from respiratory infections to hygiene issues such as lice, have risen, she said, but people had little hope of getting treatment.
The Palestinians of Gaza are suffering a second Nakba (i.e., catastrophe). In terms of the number of people being killed and displaced, it is already even worse than the original Nakba. Spencer Ackerman writes:
The 1948 nakba killed 15,000 people and displaced 750,000. But it looks like now the death toll has crossed 15,000, and the number of displaced people – people who have no home to return to – is estimated at 1.7 million. The prospect that Palestinian suffering now numerically surpasses the nakba is simply unbearable. So is the realization that the U.S.-led international order facilitates that suffering instead of preventing it.
The truce over the last week has permitted some aid to get through, but that can’t address the needs of the population. What little aid that has been allowed in is woefully inadequate given the scale of the crisis. From The Guardian article:
The World Health Organization also said that only a “trickle” of aid was reaching Gaza, even during the pause in fighting. “It’s barely registering,” said Margaret Harris, spokesperson for the organisation. The scale of displacement meant needs were growing daily, even when there were no new war injuries.
The UN estimates 1.8 million people in Gaza have fled their homes, nearly four in five residents, with children making up half of those crowded into shelters, given shelter by relatives, or living in tents or cars.
If the bombing and ground campaign resume, it won’t be possible to deliver even this paltry level of aid. The mass displacement of almost the entire population exposes millions of people to malnutrition, sickness, and death. If there is not an urgent relief effort to meet their basic needs, we will be looking at large-scale loss of life on par with the worst conflicts of this century.
Our government is actively supporting the government that is causing this catastrophe. The U.S. is acting as an accomplice to a massive crime, and the victims are millions of innocent people. There is still time to avert a worst-case scenario of hundreds of thousands killed by starvation, disease, and bombs, but doing that will require a major change in our government’s policy and an intense pressure campaign to bring the war to an end.