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Effectiveness of Humanitarian Interventions in Gaza within the Context of the Siege Framework

Abstract 


The Gaza Strip has long been subjected to a complicated geopolitical environment, aggravated by a lengthy siege framework that severely limits the flow of products, people, and humanitarian supplies. Within this situation, humanitarian initiatives are crucial to meeting the population's immediate needs. This article studies the effectiveness of humanitarian operations in Gaza under the siege framework to determine their influence on alleviating the siege's negative effects on the civilian population. This study explores the types of treatments deployed, their implementation obstacles, and their effects using a complete literature review, conceptual framework creation, and empirical analysis. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative data, including stakeholder viewpoints and contextual analysis, the study examines the extent to which humanitarian efforts have succeeded. The paper shows both triumphs and difficulties in intervention delivery and impact, pinpointing critical elements that influence efficacy such as access barriers, financing limitations, and political dynamics. Finally, this study adds to a better understanding of the dynamics of humanitarian action during long-term wars and informs policy and practice targeted at improving the well-being of communities under siege.


Introduction

 

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” (Farhat, Ibrahim, Satar, & Abiu-Sittah, 2023) is perhaps the closest one can come to describing the response to humanitarian aid in Gaza. 

The Gaza Strip, located between Israel's southern and Egypt's northern borders, has access to the Mediterranean Sea. In 2005, the Israeli army withdrew from the Gaza Strip as part of a disengagement plan, resulting in a change in its international legal standing (Benvenisti, 2021). The Gaza Strip, which currently has two million Palestinians, is regarded as "the world's largest open-air prison" and a "laboratory" for Israel to try and perfect control and management systems (Asi, Hammoudeh, Mills, Tanous, & Wispelwey, 2022). The Gaza Strip's status as a geopolitical entity stems from Israeli settler colonial expansion and Palestine's fragmentation. The Gaza Strip represents the settler colonial fantasy of Palestinian nonexistence (Saleh, 2020). Israel's handling of the Gaza Strip, including the continuous siege and military onslaughts, reveals the settler's resolve to crush any political act or philosophy that recognises the presence of the indigenous population. The people of Gaza are imprisoned under the unrelenting framework of a siege, and they face daily struggles that put the human spirit to the test (Saleh, 2020). Against this backdrop of hardship, humanitarian operations stand out as beacons of hope, attempting to alleviate the severe suffering caused by the siege and provide a lifeline to people in dire need.


Gaza and the Siege


Since 2007, Israel has established a land, air, and sea embargo on Gaza, which has had and continues to have a disastrous impact on daily life in the Strip. The first war in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the larger Arab-Israeli conflict, began in 1948. Palestinians refer to this event as Al Nakba, the Arabic phrase for "the catastrophe," and a marker of a day when many Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes and became refugees in the neighbouring Arab nations, commencing what is now a permanent displacement from their homeland (DAMEN, 2015). The Nakba represents settler colonial invasion, in which a group of settlers asserts authority over indigenous land while killing and displacing the local population (Asi, Hammoudeh, Mills, Tanous, & Wispelwey, 2022). Since that time, Palestine, particularly the Gaza Strip, has seen recurrent conflicts, air attacks, and invasions, resulting in thousands of fatalities, injuries, and displacements, as well as damage of health facilities and infrastructure (Mosleh, Dalal, Aljeesh, & Svanstrom, 2018). The Nakba and its ongoing repercussions continue to define Palestinian national identity and shape all Palestinians' everyday lives (Ibish, 2018). Currently, nearly 75% of Gaza's population is listed as refugees, the majority of whom rely on humanitarian aid.


According to researchers speaking on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 'siege' is described as 'encircling an enemy site, blocking off individuals within from any contact in order to bring about their surrender' (Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, 2020). Today, the terms 'siege' and 'starvation' conjure up pictures of ancient and medieval combat, with residents behind stone city walls facing a long campaign by invading forces. However, these approaches are not wholly missing from modern combat, as we may learn about comparable concerns in news stories about ongoing hostilities. The recent and ongoing humanitarian disasters in non-international and internationalized wars in Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan highlight the need to examine and reinforce appropriate IHL implementation (Mendis, 2021). As a result, the legality of siege and blockade must be discussed in light of present IHL principles and duties, which have evolved in response to the ban on starvation as a strategy of warfare.


During the late 1980s Palestinian uprising or intifada, Israel imposed restrictions on Palestinians, such as needing difficult-to-obtain licenses for employment and travel in occupied Palestine (Jazeera, 2021). Following these limitations, closure techniques were implemented in 1993, which confined Palestinians to certain neighbourhoods for months at a time (Jazeera, 2021). The situation worsened during the second intifada in 2000, resulting in the cancellation and decrease of travel and work permits (Jazeera, 2021). Israel's acts are examples of structural violence, leading to the disparities and sufferings experienced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (Tanous, 2022).


Effects of the Siege


The most visible example of structural violence is the 15-year-old embargo enforced on the Gaza Strip from 2007. This barrier has cut off Palestinians' access to critical services in Jerusalem, including specialised hospitals, banking, and educational facilities. The embargo has had a disastrous impact on the populace, with growing unemployment, greater poverty, and a strong dependency on foreign humanitarian aid for survival (Abuhabib, Abu-Aita, Procter, & Al-Smeri) (OCHA, Suffocation and Isolation: 15 Years of Israeli Blockade on Gaza [EN/AR], 2021). According to reports, the Gaza Strip has the world's highest unemployment rate, which has doubled from 23.6% in 2005 (pre-blockade) to 49% in 2020 (OCHA, Suffocation and Isolation: 15 Years of Israeli Blockade on Gaza [EN/AR], 2021). Furthermore, the poverty rate rose from 40% in 2005 to 56% in 2020, while the poverty gap widened from 14% to 20%. In reality, 80% of Gaza's population depends on foreign humanitarian help to survive (International, n.d.). Nutrition has also been weaponized as a result of the siege; Israel tightly restricts food imports (Urquharthttps, 2006) and only permits a "minimal subsistence basket" that is adequate for sustenance without causing malnutrition (Hass, 2012). As a result, over two-thirds of Gaza's population is currently food insecure (Abu-Sittah, 2020).


The same strategy applies to other basic necessities for Palestinians in Gaza, including as power, gasoline, water, and cement, all of which are in low supply (Abu-Sittah, 2020). The siege also commits structural violence by restricting the entry of medicine and medical materials, as well as equipment required for the maintenance and growth of health systems, forcing hospitals and primary care centres to function at reduced capacity (OCHA, Suffocation and Isolation: 15 Years of Israeli Blockade on Gaza [EN/AR], 2021). Furthermore, the damage of Gaza's infrastructure, as well as the direct targeting of civilians via recurrent air attacks, invasions, and wars, intensify the fundamental grievances caused by the siege. All of this adds up to a larger weight strained past the point of collapse.


The siege has also harmed food security and contributed to malnutrition. Import restrictions caused food shortages and price increases, making it difficult for many residents to obtain enough nutrition. This condition led to increased incidence of malnutrition, particularly among youngsters. In 2008, the Israeli military, in consultation with several Israeli universities, estimated the Gaza population's daily calorie demands and permitted only the bare minimum required for survival (Alijla, 2023). The siege also had an influence on the healthcare system, specifically access to healthcare. Shortages of medical supplies, equipment, and necessary pharmaceuticals, as well as movement restrictions and destroyed infrastructure, hampered Gazans' access to proper treatment. In September 2023, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that "the central warehouses are completely empty of medical consumables needed for dialysis services, including blood filters, cannulas, and blood tubes” (Ibish, 2018). The siege has increased water scarcity and sanitation issues. With inadequate access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities, the populace was at higher risk of contracting waterborne infections (Alijla, 2023).


“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger” (Winter, 2015), said Dov Weisglass, a senior advisor to the Israeli cabinet in 2006. The Gaza siege has resulted in both military and nutritional warfare, creating a paradoxical situation. Data from international organisations and non-governmental organisations indicate that Israel respected humanitarian norms and did not use hunger as a siege technique. The humanitarian limitations make the siege a biopolitical method of conflict. Unlike previous sieges, this humanitarian siege prioritises protecting the lives and bodies of the besieged. The siege's zone of involvement aims to diminish the lives and well-being of the besieged people, rather than killing or allowing them to survive. The siege focuses on a population's well-being, reserves, and prosperity, rather than its biological existence. Israeli officials intend to keep Gaza's economy "on the brink of collapse" (Reuters, 2011). The siege uses welfare, nourishment, health, and security as tools for punishment and compulsion, rather than annihilating the people entirely.


Humanitarian Aid


As mentioned before, Israeli officials' assessment of "vital" products for Gazan survival has fluctuated over time, from week to week and even day to day. An article from 2016 by Ywes Winter provides insight into the capricious nature of Israel’s imposition of restrictions on the goods entering Gaza. It explains Israel's strict supervision over products entering Gaza, which includes both vital and seemingly insignificant items (Winter, 2015). This regulatory framework, motivated by a biopolitical purpose, seeks to keep Gaza's population just above hunger levels while maintaining a state of precarity. Israel controls the flow of products into Gaza using sophisticated monitoring and allocation processes driven by statistical studies and nutritional calculations, enforcing "red lines" to decide whether humanitarian intervention is required (Winter, 2015). Historical analogies, such as the Morgenthau Plan, highlight purposeful techniques for decreasing living standards. Declassified documents reveal the complicated procedures used, giving light on the complex dynamics of power and humanitarian governance during the Gaza crisis. Furthermore, these documents expose particular data points, such as the daily requirement for humanitarian goods, including flour, rice, oil, medical equipment, and powdered milk, based on a calculated per capita diet of 2,279 calories (Winter, 2015), which exceeds UN criteria.


Even humanitarian efforts in Gaza, such as those carried out by international organisations and aid agencies, are part of the blockade framework enforced by both Israel and Egypt (Alashqar, 2019). It is critical to evaluate the role of humanitarian organisations and projects, as many take a "caring for the poor" attitude rather than aggressively fighting the siege and arguing for its prosecution as a war crime (Hunt, 2008). Importantly, while these organisations give assistance, they frequently work within the framework established by Israel, as their actions require Israel's sanction, essentially sustaining the status quo of the ongoing siege. Israel's orchestration of humanitarian help highlights these organisations' predicament, as they are forced to choose between becoming instrumentalized by the siege by delivering conditional relief and inflicting catastrophic consequences by ceasing assistance. This was visible even before to the Nakba. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was founded to meet the urgent needs of refugees until a long-term solution was found. It has gradually become more linked to the long-standing Palestinian refugee dilemma. More recently, this was obvious when international humanitarian teams were not allowed to bring any aid or services to Gaza for a period of time, before the conflict in 2014 (Alashqar, 2019). Humanitarian organisations are caught between doing something and not doing something. The paradoxical condition of humanitarian organisations and their involvement in perpetuating the status quo for Palestinians dates back to the Nakba, with examples including UNRWA, refugee assistance foundations, and numerous agencies. Israel also has a responsibility to maintain law and order, or "normal life," in the territory it occupies. According to international law, particularly Occupation Law, which specifies Israel's obligations as an occupying power, this commitment includes ensuring the safety and well-being of the occupied population (Erakat, 2014).


An "operational environment that allows humanitarian actors to provide assistance and services according to humanitarian principles and in line with international humanitarian law" is referred to as humanitarian space (OCHA, United Nations Office for the Coordination of the Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 2019). According to UN assessments, Gaza (also known as the Gaza Strip) is suffering an unparalleled humanitarian crisis and will not be liveable by 2020 if existing services and humanitarian conditions do not improve significantly (Nations, 2017).


Israel not only prevents the entry of humanitarian relief and medical supplies, but it also prohibits the entry of hundreds of different types of emergency equipment. This embargo has severely limited the ability of Palestinian organisations, especially local governments, to respond effectively to conflict or natural disasters. The recent attacks on Gaza have highlighted this issue since thousands of people remain buried under rubble with no means of rescue.


In recent decades, humanitarian interventions have developed as an important component in resolving crises and wars. They frequently dominate Western countries' worldwide engagement, serving to display solidarity, use soft power, or achieve political goals. In the context of hostilities and wars, humanitarian corridors, support, and, to a lesser extent, interventions are nearly universal. Numerous international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), in addition to UN agencies, have established themselves as institutions offering humanitarian assistance under a worldwide mandate, with humanitarian visions, missions, and goals to safeguard civilians during tough times. These organisations are either mandated by governments or function as faith-based or solidarity organisations.


“Humanitarianism is not a political issue and should remain separate from political maneuvering,” stated the former President of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Alijla, 2023). He tried to distinguish between politics and humanitarianism by drawing a parallel to the situation in Gaza. Hamas has faced boycotts from western countries and as a consequence, para-governmental organisations have stepped in to provide humanitarian aid. However, the violence in Gaza and the subsequent siege demonstrate how humanitarianism and politics may either coexist or be dominated by political goals. In this context, governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental humanitarian organisations, including various UN agencies, cannot carry out or offer assistance without the political will of their respective countries/member states or approval from the Israeli government.


Aid to Gaza is frequently subject to rigorous conditions, such as the requirement that aid organisations not collaborate with specific local parties or governments that do not support Western policy. This conditionality might hinder the effectiveness of humanitarian initiatives since it prevents aid from reaching specific groups or places. The assertion that these limitations are designed to prevent aid from being diverted from its humanitarian purpose is typically directed at Hamas-suspected groups or organisations. The OECD estimates that between 1994 and 2017, Palestinians received around $37.2 billion in development aid (in constant currencies). This includes both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These funds were channelled to the Palestinian Authority and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of the peace process, including democratisation and human rights programmes, as well as UN organisations like UNDP. Given the 13-year timescale, these monies did not fulfil the population's demands; instead, they were top-down and partially conditioned.


The convoluted nature of humanitarian help in Gaza incorporates consideration of both the population's acute needs and the political processes that govern relief distribution. Political agendas have a huge impact on assistance allocation and delivery, especially given Israel's siege and restrictions. This dynamic essentially generates a "parallel cold war" in Gaza, aggravating the situation for its population. Furthermore, the politicisation of aid, which is predominantly directed at Palestinians, damages the civilian population, highlighting the complexities and difficulty of providing effective humanitarian assistance in conflict-affected areas like Gaza.


Reform


The situation in Gaza has deteriorated dramatically as a result of the prolonged conflict and the threat of starvation, with over a million people displaced and thousands of houses damaged. The destruction of infrastructure has affected almost everyone in the city, blurring the line between native Gazans and refugees, resulting in widespread loss of money, housing, and even family breadwinners. To properly handle this catastrophe, UN organisations such as UNRWA, WFP, and UNHCR must execute a long-term strategic plan that seamlessly ties emergency humanitarian assistance to comprehensive and lasting social protection measures. However, the current status of humanitarian help is constricted, with the UN continuing to distribute aid using archaic methods, such as giving children toys simulating meals rather than actual food.


The situation in Gaza necessitates a strategic plan that goes beyond traditional methods to humanitarian help. It must not only address acute needs like as starvation and illness, but also provide short and long-term employment prospects for Gazans. However, the political deadlock and Israel's ambiguous intentions towards Gaza complicate issues, rendering traditional relief approaches ineffective. Unlike traditional humanitarian procedures that prioritise efficiency, Gaza's circumstances necessitate a move towards universal and comprehensive coverage for all populations, given the scarcity of resources and significant needs.


With its objectives in mind, the UN should build a network or coordinating consortium that includes international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Palestinian Authority, and local NGOs and groups. This collaboration is critical given the widespread destruction of Gaza's health, education, and social infrastructure. Humanitarian help should be delivered fairly throughout the region. Emphasizing local control of enterprises is critical for reducing long-term harm. This includes providing funds to local grassroots organisations and developing spaces for both formal and informal philanthropy and social activities. Furthermore, locally owned and maintained social development centres and health facilities should be built to assist those in need.


Addressing the psychological impact of the conflict, particularly on children and young people, requires including mental health and psychosocial support services into the humanitarian structure. Physical infrastructure reconstruction must prioritize sustainability and resilience, while also engaging the local population to ensure alignment with community needs and values. A comprehensive national strategy for reform, rebuilding, rehabilitation, and reconstruction is required. Aside from immediate relief, promoting conversation and seeking a long-term resolution to the war is critical for true healing in Gaza. This comprehensive approach necessitates the international community's political will and support, respect to international law and human rights standards, and local government engagement.


Conclusion

In a nutshell, the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza necessitates a strategic paradigm shift that goes beyond routine help and targets the larger political plans undermining Palestinian rights. This transformation necessitates integrating humanitarian aid to a comprehensive social protection structure coordinated with UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority. The current complex catastrophe, exacerbated by infrastructure destruction and a lack of basic essentials, requires immediate and long-term aid with food, water, shelter, health, education, and psychological support. Any divergence from this goal risks exacerbating the long-term predicament and diminishing Gaza's human capital. Coordinated efforts between UN agencies and INGOs are critical for avoiding duplication and ensuring a strategic approach. Finally, integrating humanitarian assistance to a social protection concept is both a humanitarian imperative and a political strategy for alleviating Palestinian suffering in the face of prolonged occupation and political gridlock.

 

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