JERUSALEM - Ministers in Israel’s war cabinet are reportedly considering limiting the amount of aid reaching Gaza, as rightwing protesters disrupt the entry of trucks carrying desperately needed humanitarian supplies to the besieged Palestinian territory.
Benny Gantz, the centrist retired army general who joined an emergency wartime government formed by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, after 7 October, and Gadi Eisenkot, a former chief of staff of the Israeli army and war cabinet observer, have suggested temporarily limiting aid to weaken the Hamas, Israel’s Channel 12 reported late on Wednesday.
The two National Unity party politicians put the proposal forward in meetings this week, the station said, after receiving a report from Israel’s internal security service that estimated up to 66% of aid entering Gaza was being hijacked by Hamas. That figure cannot be independently verified, but reports of desperate people or armed men seizing aid deliveries have become common in the strip.
“We can consider reducing the scope of supplies as part of the pressure to build a different mechanism in the Gaza Strip and as part of the efforts to free the hostages,” the politicians reportedly said.
No final decision has been made on the issue, Channel 12 said. Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.
Humanitarian groups including the UN estimate that 500 lorries carrying aid are required daily to provide the minimum help required to the people of Gaza, but the number able to cross through Egyptian and Israeli checkpoints is often below 100. Kerem Shalom crossing, which before the war was where commercial goods entered Gaza, was reopened by Israeli officials in mid-December at the request of the US, in order to increase and speed up deliveries.
The Channel 12 report comes a week after the international court of justice ruled that Israel must “take all measures within its power” to avoid a genocide in its war with Hamas, as well as to immediately “enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” to address the devastating humanitarian crisis facing Gaza’s 2.3 million people.
About 27,000 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 85% of the population have been forced from their homes in the nearly four-month-old war sparked by Hamas’s attack on Israeli communities, in which 1,200 people were killed about 250 abducted.
Revelations last week that 12 members of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which employs 13,000 people in the Gaza Strip and provides essential public services, had been accused of taking part in the 7 October attack have put a spotlight on humanitarian agencies working in the territory. Several western countries have suspended funding in response to the allegations. Palestinians and aid workers have urged donor countries to reconsider, saying that the funding freeze amounts to collective punishment and will lead to famine.
According to Marwan al-Hams, the director of al-Najjar hospital in Rafah, much of the medical aid that is entering the strip is “largely random”. Deliveries have included special refrigerators for storing Covid-19 vaccinations, Covid testing devices, and personal protective equipment. Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town, has been inundated with people displaced from elsewhere in the territory.
While there are no statistics on what is sent or whether it is used, Hams said, a list of needs is compiled by the Palestinian ministry of health and distributed to all parties. Representatives for UNRWA and the World Health Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“Much needed items like sterile surgical gauze often do not reach Gaza, and anaesthetics enter at a very small rate. Medications for kidney failure and cancer are nonexistent, and those for chronic diseases are very scarce,” he said. “Many essential devices, such as drills used in orthopaedic surgery, are not available because the existing ones are broken, and hospital beds are in acute shortage.”
The reported proposal to limit aid comes after protests by Israel’s far right at the Kerem Shalom and Nitzana crossings with Gaza and Egypt respectively, aimed at halting the flow of aid into the territory.
The demonstrations, now in their second week, managed initially to severely slow the movement of aid lorries. Several relatives of the remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza attended the first handful of protests. Four drivers were reportedly assaulted during protests last Sunday.
The demonstrations have been somewhat curtailed after an army decision on Monday to declare the two crossings as closed military zones and set up checkpoints. A few dozen people still managed to make it to the crossings on Wednesday, some walking for several hours across fields after cars and buses were turned back.
About 30 people were arrested in scuffles with police on Wednesday.
“Not one bit of aid goes into Gaza until the last hostage is released,” one of the leaders of the campaign, Sefi Ben Chaim, told about 200 demonstrators on Sunday. “Every drop of aid goes to a Hamas fighter who is shooting at our soldiers … No country in the world aids its enemies in such a way.”
Rivka, 38, from Rehavot, said she had taken a day off work to be at the protest on Wednesday. Blocking aid to Gaza was an initiative that “transcends left and right”, she said.
“I don’t believe there are innocent people in the Gaza Strip any more,” she said. “If it comes down to my children, or their children, there is no contest. I don’t want to take my traumatised three-year-old into the bomb shelter any more.”
The Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh travelled to Cairo on Wednesday to discuss a ceasefire proposal that would reportedly involve the staged release of Israeli hostages.
The plan emerged from talks in Paris involving intelligence officials from Israel, the US and Egypt, and the prime minister of Qatar. Efforts to broker a ceasefire have been under way since a seven-day truce in November, in which about 100 Israeli hostages were exchanged for 240 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails.