Creating new perspectives since 2009

Aiding those we help to kill: US ‘humanitarianism’ in Gaza

March 7, 2024 at 1:58 pm

Protestors rally and march Protesters in Los Angeles, California gathered to demonstrate against Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip and the Biden-Harris Administration’s military support for Israel’s military offensive on 2 March, 2024 [David McNew/Getty Images]

The spectacle, if it did not say it all, said much of it. Military aircraft dropping humanitarian aid to a starving population in Gaza — the UN warns that 576,000 are “one step from famine” — with parachuted pallets veering off course, and some falling into the sea. Military aircraft flying into Israel, with arms, ammunition and other ordnance to kill Palestinians in Gaza on the inflated premise of “self-defence”. Be it humanitarian aid or bullets, Washington is the smorgasbord supplier, ensuring that both victims and oppressors are supplied from its vast commissary.

This jarring picture, discordant and hopelessly at odds, is increasingly running down the low stocks of credibility that US diplomats have in either the Israel-Palestine conflict, or much else in Middle Eastern politics. Comments such as these from US Vice President Kamala Harris on 3 March, when speaking in Selma in Alabama, illustrate the problem: “As I have said many times, too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. And just a few days ago, we saw hungry, desperate people approach aid trucks, simply trying to secure food for their families after weeks of nearly no aid reaching Northern Gaza. And they were met with gunfire and chaos.”

Harris went on to speak of broken hearts for the victims, for the innocents, for those “suffering from what is clearly a humanitarian catastrophe.” A forced, hammed up moral register is struck. “People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act.”

It was an occasion for the Vice President to mention that the US Department of Defence had “carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian assistance, and the United States will continue with these airdrops.” Further work would also be expended on getting “a new route by sea to deliver aid.”

It is only at this point that Harris introduces the lumbering elephant in the room

“And the Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.” Israel has to “open new border crossings… not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid [and] ensure humanitarian personnel, sites and convoys are not targeted.” Basic services had to be restored, and order promoted in the Strip, “so more food, water and fuel can reach those in need.”

In remarks made at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Maryland, US President Joe Biden told reporters that he was “working with them [the Israelis] very hard. We’re going to get more, we must get more aid into Gaza. There are no excuses. None.”

READ: US Democrats question arms to Israel over Gaza concerns

In a New Yorker interview, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby kept to the same script, claiming that discussions with the Israelis “in private are frank and very forthright. I think they understand our concerns.” Kirby proceeded to fantasise, fudging the almost sneering attitude adopted by Israel towards US demands. “Even though there needs to be more aid, and even though there needs to be fewer civilian casualties, the Israelis have, in many ways, been receptive to our messages.”

The other side of this rusted coin of US policy advocates something less than human or even humane. The US “common humanity” is tethered to aiding the very power that is instrumental in creating the catastrophic conditions in Gaza. The right to self-defence is reiterated as a chant, including the war goals of Israel which have artificially drawn a distinction between Hamas military and political operatives, and the Palestinian population being eradicated. No such distinction is visible in the casualty statistics.

Vice President Harris is always careful to couple any reproachful remarks about Israel with an acceptance of its stated policy that Hamas must be eliminated. Hamas, rather than being a protean force running on the fumes of history, resentment and belief, is merely “a brutal terrorist organisation that has vowed to repeat 7 October again and again until Israel is annihilated.” The movement alone had inflicted suffering on the people of Gaza and continues to hold Israeli hostages.

Whatever note of rebuke directed against the Netanyahu government, it is clear that Israel knows how far it can go. It can continue to rely on the US veto in the UN Security Council. It can dictate the amount of humanitarian aid and the conditions of its delivery into Gaza, which is merely seen as succour for an enemy it is trying to crush. While alarm about shooting desperate individuals crowding aid convoys will be noted, little will come of the faux consternation. The very fact that the US Air Force has been brought into the programme of aid delivery suggests an ignominious capitulation, a very public impotence on the part of the Biden administration.

Jeremy Konyndyk, former chief of the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance during the Obama administration, provided an unflattering judgment on this point. “When the US government has to use tactics that it otherwise used to circumvent the Soviets and Berlin and circumvent [Daesh] in Syria and Iraq, that should prompt some really hard questions about the state of US policy.”

In his remarks to the Independent, Konyndyk described the airdrop as “the most expensive and least effective way to get aid to a population. We almost never did it because it is such an in-extremis tool.” Even more disturbing for him was the fact that this woefully imperfect approach was being taken to alleviate the suffering caused by an ally of the United States, one that had made “a policy choice” in not permitting “consistent humanitarian access” and the opening of border crossings.

Even as this “in-extremis tool” is being used, US made military hardware continues to be used at will by the Israel Defence Forces. The point was not missed on Vermont Democratic Senator Peter Welch: “We have a situation where the US is airdropping aid on day one, and Israel is dropping bombs on day two. And the American taxpayer is paying for the aid and the bombs.”

The chroniclers of history can surely only jot down with grim irony instances where desperate, hunger-crazed Palestinians scrounging for US aid are shot and bombed by ammunition stamped “Made in the USA”.

OPINION: More political than effective: How do Gaza airdrops compare to aid via land?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.