Rots Outside Gaza
By Erin Cunningham | IPS
15 February 2009
AL-ARISH, Egypt, Apr 15 (IPS) - Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of
aid intended for the Gaza Strip is piling up in cities across
Egypt's North Sinai region, despite recent calls from the United
Nations to ease aid flow restrictions to the embattled territory in
the wake of Operation Cast Lead.
Food, medicine, blankets, infant food and other supplies for Gaza's
1.5 million people, coming from governments and non-governmental
agencies around the world, are being stored in warehouses, parking
lots, stadiums and on airport runways across Egypt's North Sinai
Egypt shares a 14-kilometre border with Gaza that has been closed
more or less permanently since the Islamist movement Hamas took
control of the territory in June 2007.
Flour, pasta, sugar, coffee, chocolate, tomato sauce, lentils, date
bars, juice, chickpeas, blankets, hospital beds, catheter tubes and
other humanitarian- based items are all sitting in at least eight
storage points in and around Al- Arish, a city in North Sinai
approximately 50 kilometres from Gaza's border.
Three months after the end of the war, much of the aid has either
rotted or been irreparably damaged as a result of both rain and
sunshine, and Egypt's refusal to open the Rafah crossing.
"To be honest, most of this aid will never make it to Gaza," a
local government official told IPS on condition of anonymity. "A
lot of the food here will have to be thrown away."
The Gaza Strip was the target of Israel's three-week Operation Cast
Lead, where both the enclave's civilian population and an already
decrepit infrastructure were pummelled by powerful Israeli
weaponry, leaving some 1,400 dead and over 5,000 injured by the
time a unilateral ceasefire was called by Israel Jan. 18.
The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) head in Gaza, John
Ging, told IPS last week that the stranglehold on relief efforts in
the post-war period was having devastating consequences, both
physical and emotional, on the strip's population.
The last Situation Report released by the United Nations Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Mar. 30 stated that
the "amounts and types of deliveries reaching Gaza continue being
subject to random restrictions and unpredictable clearance
procedures, creating major logistical problems for humanitarian
Food aid and other essential humanitarian supplies for Gaza began
pouring into Egypt at the outset of the war, and medical supplies
were routed through Rafah - Gaza's only crossing that bypasses
Israel - throughout the assault, while food aid was directed
All aid meant for Gaza via Egypt must currently pass through either
Al-Auja or Kerem Abu Sellem, Egypt's commercial crossings with
Israel, and is subject to both Israeli-Egyptian trade
specifications and Israeli import law.
Much of what is being stored in North Sinai - including food items
like lentils, pasta, chickpeas, and juice - has been deemed by
Israel to be "non- essential" to life in the Gaza Strip.
Two thousand "family boxes" - containing essential supplies for
Palestinian families and donated by the Italian NGO Music for Peace
- were recently rejected at the Al-Auja crossing by Israeli
authorities because they each contained a jar of honey, the NGO's
President, Stefano Robera, told IPS in Al- Arish.
Representatives from international NGOs currently in both Al-Arish
and Rafah say not even a sliver of the aid donated is going through
any of Egypt's transit points, despite assurances by the Egyptian
government that the Rafah crossing remains open for "humanitarian
OCHA says Rafah was closed to all cargo for the month of March, and
was opened for just two days to send blankets and mattresses into
the Gaza Strip.
Since Dec. 27, 2008, the day Israel launched its war, just 43
trucks of what OCHA calls "human food products" were sent into the
Gaza Strip via Rafah. The first truckload was sent in Jan. 10,
2009, more than two weeks after the war began.
Some organisations coordinating their aid through Egypt say North
Sinai governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha asked them to simply
donate the goods to local NGOs. Other witnesses told IPS that
Egyptian security forces tasked with guarding aid supplies have
been giving it away to residents of Al-Arish.
The Rafah border crossing opened in November 2005 when Israel and
the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed an Agreement on Movement and
Access as part of Israel's "disengagement" from the Gaza
In coordination with the PA, Egypt allowed passengers, cargo and
humanitarian aid to pass under the supervision of both EU monitors
and Israeli security. When Hamas, the Islamist movement
democratically elected in 2006, seized control of the Gaza Strip in
June 2007, Egypt closed its border with the coastal enclave.
The Egyptian government has since refused to open the Rafah
crossing to any cargo or non-medical humanitarian aid, leaving the
supplies in a state of political limbo and Gaza's population
grappling with the after-effects of both deadly war and continued
Human rights organisations have recently said that not only Israel
but Egypt, the EU and the U.S. could be in violation of
international law for failing to adhere to the 2005 Agreement on
Movement and Access, and consequently violating the basic human
rights of Gaza's 1.5 million people - particularly in the post-war