The Best Way to Deal With Gaza’s Humanitarian Crisis

When Iran launched drones and missiles at Israel on April 13, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza seemed to move to the back burner. But even if the Israel-Hamas war expands, the world—and Israel—must not lose focus on helping Gazans get healthcare, find shelter, and receive food and water. No Israeli effort to stave off an Iranian threat, much less defeat Hamas for good, can succeed without a strong humanitarian aid component. Israel will need allies if the conflict widens, and the current situation in Gaza—some 1.7 million people are already displaced, and much of the population is believed to be at the risk of famine—continues ​to degrade Israel’s reputation in the Middle East and worldwide. And the inadequate coordination of operations that plagues aid delivery, spotlighted by the tragic April 1 killing of seven staff members of a World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid convoy, is further undermining Israel’s military efforts.

In the days following the WCK incident, Israeli leaders vowed to adjust their approach to aid, announcing that they would reopen a third water pipe to northern Gaza, allow imports through Ashdod, and flood northern Gaza with aid delivered directly through a new crossing. These measures have yet to be fully implemented, but in response to international pressure, Israel has already given access to substantially more aid trucks. These steps, however, do not amount to an adequately coherent strategy. Israel’s approach to securing humanitarian assistance for Gazan civilians has largely been reactive. It has generally increased the amount of aid it lets in only when pressed to do so.

Rather than taking such ad-hoc measures, Israel’s leadership must fully understand that delivering aid to Gaza is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic necessity in its war effort: the scope of the humanitarian crisis is dangerously undercutting any chance Israel has to successfully eradicate Hamas. Beyond merely increasing the number of aid trucks, the international community and Israel must work together to develop a clearer, more comprehensive, and results-oriented strategy that prioritizes assistance and creates a much safer environment inside Gaza to enable aid delivery.

In particular, international actors should push to give the Palestinian Authority a key role in the aid effort and pressure Israel to allow meaningful PA involvement. Ideas for integrating the PA more fully into Gaza relief operations are plentiful, including establishing Palestinian aid facilities in the West Bank, involving the PA’s security forces in aid processing and rubble clearing, and creating a direct aid-delivery route from the West Bank into Gaza. Giving the PA a leading role in relief operations would help accomplish several goals at once: it would bring greater efficiency to aid delivery by leveraging the presence the PA already has in Gaza. It would strengthen the new PA government and support West Bank’s economy. And it would fill in the gaps between the grave, immediate crisis in Gaza and the ultimate vision of a two-state solution by reconnecting Gaza with the West Bank in tangible ways.

In the wake of Hamas’s brutal attack on October 7, traumatized Israelis find contemplating a two-state solution irrelevant. But only a broader, more strategic humanitarian response can pave the way for a sustainable “day after” arrangement in Gaza. And seeing the PA play a constructive role in Gaza could soften Israeli opinion and afford Palestinians more agency, big steps on the long road toward a durable peace.


While the context is different in the aftermath of October 7, many of the challenges of delivering aid to Gaza reflect longstanding problems. First and foremost, since Hamas took over the strip in 2007, Israel’s policy toward Gazan civilians has been conflicted. Israel wishes to disengage from Gaza, but its leaders also want to control its security, a project that entails stringent inspections of goods and vetting of aid workers, complicating access for outside actors. 

Further, aid to Gaza has for the most part been handled by the UN, with much of the logistics controlled specifically by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Israel’s intelligence showing that a dozen UNRWA employees participated in the October 7 attack has worsened relations between Israel and the UN, but the relationship between the two parties has long suffered from a lack of trust. The PA, meanwhile, retained a formal presence in Gaza after 2007, but its involvement on with aid delivery on the ground has been limited. Adding to the general confusion is Israel’s political choice to give preferential treatment to certain partners, especially key Arab countries, letting them send goods into Gaza with minimal bureaucracy.

Two days after October 7, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared that he intended to launch “a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel.” After two weeks, however, Israel allowed trucks carrying food and medicine to cross in from Egypt. In mid-November, under pressure from the United States, Israel permitted the entry of fuel for hospitals, desalination plants and water pumps, wastewater treatment plants, bakeries, and telecommunication services. As part of its stated disengagement policy, Israel initially did not let aid enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza’s main gateway. Yet in December, again as a result of U.S. pressure, Israel reopened that crossing and in January allowed some imports through the deep-water port of Ashdod.

After an aid-convoy fiasco in Gaza City on February 29 in which over 100 Palestinians died, Israeli leaders sought to work with international organizations and private contractors to increase humanitarian convoys, including by opening a new, makeshift crossing south of Nahal Oz. They also allowed more airdrops and tripled the number of aid trucks allowed to transit from Jordan through Kerem Shalom. These measures increased the number of daily inspected aid trucks entering Gaza during March to between 200 and 250 daily, except on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. The WCK tragedy and subsequent international uproar also brought about important new Israeli commitments to ensuring that aid enters Gaza, including the extension of operation hours at existing crossings and the establishment of a joint command center between the IDF’s Southern Command and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the government unit that implements Israel’s civilian policy in Gaza and the West Bank.


This gradual loosening of restrictions, however, became unpopular with the Israeli public, given that over 130 Israelis are still hostages in Gaza. According to Israeli sources, between January 24 and April 12, Kerem Shalom and the inspection point at Nitzana were partially or fully closed more than a third of the time due to protests. Israelis have also become frustrated that outside observers have not acknowledged the steps Israel is taking to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Many people abroad see Israel as solely responsible for Gaza’s welfare: David Satterfield, the outgoing U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues, said on April 11 that “it is Israel’s absolute responsibility, in bright letters, to facilitate in every way possible the activities of the international humanitarian community to distribute assistance.”

But safely and effectively delivering aid to Gaza and distributing it after it arrives is a tremendously complex task that depends on smooth coordination between Israel and a wide range of other actors, including Egypt, the UN, other international organizations, the donor community, and facilitators inside Gaza itself. Without denying Israel’s responsibility, Gaza’s humanitarian nightmare represents a collective failure.

Within Gaza, the continued disruptive influence of Hamas—​whose leaders siphon aid—greatly inhibits any successful humanitarian effort, along with an insufficient quantity of trucks and storage facilities, the slow vetting of drivers, rubble, and broken roads. Beyond Gaza’s borders, ties between Egypt and Israel have grown strained as Israel insists on inspecting all convoys from Egypt after years of tolerating arms smuggling. Egypt adamantly maintains that it does not intend to be Israel’s aid-delivery subcontractor.

Gaza’s humanitarian nightmare represents a collective failure.

Until the port of Ashdod resumes large-scale operations, most aid destined for Gaza arrives through Port Said in Egypt and the airport at El Arish, a small Egyptian city 25 miles from Rafah. But disorder on the Egyptian side continues to throttle aid deliveries despite improvements elsewhere in the supply chain. Before aid deliveries can leave Egypt, they are subject to lengthy importation and customs-clearance procedures compounded by bureaucratic inefficiencies within the Egyptian Red Crescent. El Arish itself has extremely limited capacities for processing and storage. Egyptian authorities have denied the UN’s offers of assistance to improve import processing, and trucks are also held up on the route from El Arish to Gaza.

Coordinating aid deliveries is further hampered by internal conflicts within the UN and by tensions between the UN and Israel. The UN has tasked several senior officials from different agencies with similar responsibilities, leading to confusion and internal competition. Conflict between Israel and the UN has soared, with the two parties mired in blame games and fundamentally disagreeing on the nature of the problem.

For example, Israel disputes the UN’s warning that famine is imminent in Gaza, accuses the UN of failing to control the theft of aid supplies, and blames the organization for lacking the capacity to distribute the contents of hundreds of trucks now languishing inside Gaza. The UN, for its part, blames Israel for not opening more border crossings, operating slow inspection and approval processes, freelancing aid deliveries via non-UN players (including armed clans linked to exiled Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan), and failing to create a minimally viable operational environment for aid to be delivered. This infighting extends to the very top of the Israeli and UN leadership.


Changes already in progress after the WCK tragedy could remove some obstacles Gaza faces. The new joint command center could improve coordination of operations. Imports through Ashdod will be more efficient than via El Arish, and delivering aid directly to northern Gaza should avoid the difficulties of transporting goods there from the south.

Additional individual changes must be adopted to ensure the smooth the delivery of aid: the UN and the donor community must embark on a serious reform of UNRWA, and the United States should press Egypt to improve the El Arish-to-Rafah aid-delivery route. The donor community—including the United States and European countries, which contribute to Gaza’s aid though the UN, as well as Arab countries that tend to donate bilaterally—should shift from in-kind donations to cash-equivalent transfers to both stimulate the private sector and lower the risk to aid supplies and staff. The UN must improve its coordination internally as well as with Israel, for instance by embedding one of its Hebrew-speaking staff member within the IDF: during Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon, Israel integrated a UN staff member into the IDF’s Northern Command to streamline humanitarian relief and military operations.

International aid organizations are largely unwilling to deviate from a principled approach, while Israel is unwilling to assume any risks. Both sides need to demonstrate more flexibility. UN agencies, for instance, need to agree to distribute critical supplies via the new U.S.-planned maritime corridor—even if they are concerned that the IDF’s role in offloading the aid would make them appear complicit with Israel’s military campaign. The IDF, meanwhile, must better align its civilian and military efforts in Gaza and adopt a mechanism that competently coordinates operations, and Israeli leaders must speak publicly about the IDF’s efforts to protect civilians.

The Israeli leadership’s fundamental refusal, however, to officially endorse a coherent, detailed, and realistic day-after plan for Gaza will complicate the implementation of any of these much-needed changes. Ad hoc solutions to aid distribution, while useful in the short term, can easily lead to chaos on the ground if they are not linked to any clear long-term strategy for how humanitarian issues will be addressed after the fighting stops. And the reactive approach that Israel’s leadership has taken up to now could hinder the necessary shift from immediate relief toward medium- and long-term recovery and reconstruction.


Because many of the defects in Israel’s approach after October 7 reflect a long-failed policy, the country’s strategy needs a more substantial shift. Bringing more emphasis to a humanitarian effort could help lower anti-Israeli sentiment among Gazan civilians and assist in Israel’s planned de-radicalization efforts. In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared he would appoint a senior official as a humanitarian-aid coordinator. 

But he has not followed through. Israel urgently needs to internalize the importance of the humanitarian dimension of the war. Even beyond its moral implications, Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is distracting Israel’s military planners from their efforts to conduct the war successfully, particularly as Hamas remains in control of Rafah and is regrouping elsewhere. And it is driving a rapid increase in disruptive tensions between Israel and key partners: as of mid-April, Belgium, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain had halted their weapons sales to Israel, and more countries are under pressure to follow suit.

Most important, Israel needs to come to terms with the idea that encouraging the PA to take a more formal role in Gaza represents the least bad future. The PA remains the Palestinian people’s internationally legitimate representative, and it is the second-largest employer in Gaza after Hamas. It is integrated into local ministries critical for civilian functions. The new Palestinian cabinet includes six ministers from Gaza.

Many of the defects in Israel’s approach after October 7 reflect a long-failed policy.

Assisting the PA in shouldering a much larger role in delivering and overseeing humanitarian aid can make an aid-relief effort more durable—and strengthen the links between Gaza and the West Bank, a necessity for the establishment of any well-functioning Palestinian state in the future. West Bank–based medical teams could support international field hospitals in Gaza, and the PA could be better integrated into water-testing campaigns, vaccination efforts, and blood drives. Pilot programs could incorporate PA border and customs police into the management of maritime and land crossings, and the PA civil defense, a force of some 1,500 that works closely with Israel, could join a campaign to clear rubble and unexploded explosives under the auspices of NATO. The establishment of aid facilities in the West Bank and a direct aid-delivery route from the West Bank, with Israeli inspections handled there, could be efficient, help the area’s economy, and improve the PA’s credibility with the Palestinian people. The West Bank’s new PA prime minister, Muhammad Mustafa, has his own ambitious plan for Gaza that includes establishing a quasi-independent reconstruction authority that would be audited regularly by respected international bodies.

Involving the PA formally in Gaza’s aid will not be easy. Hamas will oppose being sidelined, and this opposition would have to be resisted by other leaders in Gaza and by regional patrons, especially Egypt and Qatar. The PA must also prove to the Palestinian people, international partners, and Israel its peaceful intentions and switch to an unfamiliar proactive mode. But it must simultaneously make its efforts politically palatable to Palestinians by demonstrating that it is also advancing the Palestinian national political project. The current Israeli government may view empowering the PA with distaste, as it opposes the PA adopting a formal role in Gaza or a push for a two-state solution. But this would be a shortsighted mistake. Absent a formal PA role in Gaza, no regional or international player is likely to agree to shoulder any serious long-term commitment to Gaza’s stabilization. 

The United States and Europe, together with regional players—primarily Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia—must also help the PA establish its legitimacy by signaling a clear commitment to advancing a two-state solution. Israeli leaders, for their part, need to see evidence that the sky does not fall when they let the PA work in Gaza. Starting small and putting some of the onus on the PA can slowly decrease Israeli opposition. But starting small does not mean thinking small. Beyond just addressing the immediate problem of improving humanitarian assistance, working to enable the PA and, in due time, advancing a meaningful peace process can prevent Gaza from again presenting the threat to Israel that it did under Hamas.


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