by Ambra Visentin
The ongoing ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which began last Friday (24 October) and is expected to end today, has allowed humanitarian aid to flow more freely into the Gaza Strip, but not enough to meet the needs of the population of the war-torn Palestinian enclave. Before the conflict escalated in early October, 80 per cent of Gazans relied on humanitarian aid to survive. On average, 500 trucks entered Gaza every day. Now, in a land where nowhere is safe, and where every basic necessity is in short supply, aid has been reduced to a minimum. “Israel has given the go-ahead for the entry of 200 trucks a day during the truce”, reports Giovanna Bizzarro, representative of the Italian Red Cross in Palestine, “a figure that represents a significant increase, considering that from 21 October until the first day of the truce, Israel had drastically reduced the entry, limiting it to an average of 47 trucks a day”.
On Friday, the first day of the ceasefire, 196 trucks entered Gaza, 61 of which were destined for the north. On Saturday, 200 trucks reached the Egyptian border at Rafah. By 7pm, 187 had actually entered the enclave. These are the figures for all aid workers. In addition to the goods in the Strip, 129,000 litres of fuel were transported, after a ban on its entry for several days. This fuel is essential for the functioning of the health structures, which are still operating, albeit in a very critical state. Since the beginning of the conflict, Israel has attacked the only power station in the Strip, “forcing hospitals to collapse and to use fuel-powered generators”.
Controlling logistics and incoming goods
The flow of incoming goods is slowed down by rather complex logistics. It takes an average of 12 to 15 hours to check the material. “Trucks are loaded at a large logistics complex in Al-‘Arīsh, the capital of the North Sinai Governorate in Egypt. The goods are then transported to Rafah, where certain goods are given priority over others. The goods that are finally selected are then loaded onto trucks that travel more than 50 kilometres to the Israeli side, to the Nitzana checkpoint, where the goods are checked again. Finally, the trucks return to Rafah (making the 50-kilometre journey in the opposite direction), where they cross the border, assuming that it has not got dark by now, which would mean postponing entry until the next day, and that there is a green light from Israel to cross,” explains Bizzarro. It has been a very long and difficult process since 21 October, when Israel resumed allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza at an average rate of 47 trucks per day.
Among the categories of goods, priority has been given to winterisation items: heavier clothing to cope with the cold, mattresses, blankets, tents and plastic sheeting to insulate the ground. “Seventy percent of the goods that have arrived so far (between Friday and Saturday, ed.) are so-called non-food items,” says the Red Cross representative, “then food items, especially food and water, and ‘nutritional’ items, such as powdered milk for babies. Then there are medical supplies.
The medical emergency
Before the escalation began, there were 36 medical facilities. Now, with the two main hospitals in the north of Gaza, al-Quds and al-Shifa, out of action, and the facilities in the centre and south forced for more than 10 days to “keep only certain rooms, such as intensive care units, operational”, the Palestinian population is facing an extreme health situation with the few forces that remain. If the flow of goods is increasing, the same cannot be said for the workers. “So far, only six operators from the International Committee of the Red Cross have arrived, with different specialisations. They are mostly war surgeons and a few people who are contamination weapons experts, contamination experts because we are talking about phosphorus bombs that were used. The six stayed for a couple of weeks and then left and six more came in,” says Bizzarro. Fortunately, at least some wounded civilians are coming out through the Rafah crossing. The first transfer of casualties took place after the evacuation of al-Shifa hospital. 28 babies were taken out of the country. But every day there are a number of people coming out of the border and hopefully they will be treated in different places in the Middle East anyway, not just in Egypt.
At present, the International Red Cross has only 23 staff in Gaza, divided between surgeons and logistics and management experts. As for the Palestinian staff, particularly the Red Crescent (Prcs), some 1,000 people have been on the ground since the start of hostilities: 251 emergency medical services volunteers, ambulance paramedics and 600 doctors and nurses. At the same time, other units such as those from Médecins Sans Frontières and staff from the Ministry of Health are also working on the ground.
During the first seven weeks of the conflict, 22 rescue teams were attacked and 55 ambulances were put out of action. Health workers have suffered 205 casualties.
Winter and the plight of the displaced
One and a half million people are internally displaced in Gaza. Most of them are citizens who have had to move from the north to the centre or south. “There is also a lot of talk at the moment about the need to reinforce UNRWA’s so-called shelters. Warehouses are being sought everywhere to store the materials that arrive, and precisely in order to enable people to take shelter in the existing warehouses, the materials delivered from Rafah are immediately distributed in order to leave the necessary space in the structures,” the representative explains.
Support, not just in the form of goods, comes from many countries around the world and takes many forms. It ranges from donations to NGOs to the payment of an e-Sim card for communications, which is activated without the need to buy a physical card. Operational assistance is also on the rise. “A number of specialised teams are being set up in the background to provide immediate support as soon as the green light is given for people to enter the strip,” says Bizzarro. Help is also being provided remotely: “There are many who are trying to provide as much support as they can, for example in terms of IdP mapping. A lot of people have lost track of where they are, and it’s also difficult to provide assistance if you don’t know where people are. So there is a series of exercises that are carried out by the operators on the ground, with the support of external specialists who help them to make these maps”.
To learn more, read our Israel/Palestine conflict factsheet
Cover image: Rafah crossing point in the southern Gaza Strip ©Anas-Mohammed/Shutterstock.com