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More Aid Was Going to Gaza BEFORE the Aid Pier Was Built

What has Biden's $320M Gaza aid pier accomplished?

The U.S. military’s third-of-a-billion dollar aid pier in Gaza is now finished but are the Palestinian civilians caught in the warzone any better off? This weekend, I set out to answer this seemingly basic question and quickly got lost in a blizzard of context-free facts and figures advanced by governments, aid agencies and news outlets.

“More than 569 tons of aid delivered across floating pier into Gaza, says US CENTCOM,” a Reuters headline blared last Tuesday, dutifully repeating the Pentagon’s talking point. So many tons sounds like a lot of aid, but absent from the article was any context for the figure: how much of the aid passing through the pier ultimately reached Gazans, how much aid Gazans require, what was the nature of the aid (food, water, medicine, tents, etc.), and what was the timeframe. 

One of the few attempts to contextualize this figure that I could find came, from all places, the U.S. government. During a press conference on humanitarian aid to Gaza last Thursday, USAID made a startling admission: less aid is reaching Gaza since the pier was constructed than before.

“In terms of how that compares to what had been getting in prior to the recent military activities in Rafah governate [sic]” the Director of USAID's Levant Response Management Team, Daniel Dieckhaus, said, “the amount of assistance that had been getting in was higher in April than it is now,” noting that the amount that the U.N. agencies have been able to collect from border points was down, especially as the access points have declined in number.

So, broadly speaking, the aid situation has actually worsened despite the existence of the pier. Dieckhaus called the decline “logical” due to “recent military activities” — a tactful allusion to Israel’s slowing of aid deliveries into Gaza and the increasingly complex concentration in Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are crammed into a small area while fighting goes on all around them. 

Is Israel responsible for the drop in aid, as many believe? And how much of the overall supply does it control? And what role has the United States played in supplementing the amount of aid that is not going into Gaza through Israel and Egypt? The simple answer is that it seems impossible to tell. We know that Palestinian civilians are not getting enough, but whatever the reason, the situation is a far cry from the “massive increase” in aid President Biden promised in his State of the Union speech in March, when he announced he’d directed the military to construct the pier.

Dieckhaus’s admission that the situation is worse today does not appear to have been reported on by any major media outlet. The media instead seems fixated on the pier’s comedy of slapstick mishaps reminiscent of a Three Stooges episode: the months of effort, the non combat injuries caused to three U.S. soldiers assigned to the pier (one for a sprained ankle); the two supporting vessels becoming unmoored and washing up on the beach; and the pier itself breaking apart from rough seas, resulting in the suspension of aid deliveries today. 

How about the $300M Stooges?

Despite the leverage Washington might possess in being Israel's largest arms and financial supporter, the Biden administration has actually extracted very little from Israel in terms of improving the lives of Palestinian civilians. Airdropping humanitarian aid and building the Gaza pier isn’t just symbolic, it’s ineffective (or worse: in one case, an aid airdrop killed five people after its parachute failed.) To those in Washington who run such programs though, it is doing something rather than nothing. And the drama of the pier diverts attention from how little the U.S. is doing overall, maybe not intentionally, but certainly in effect.

That drama has become almost the exclusive focus of major media institutions that alone have the resources to answer the complex question of what aid specifically the pier has provided and what aid is still needed. Answers to these questions would put pressure on the White House far more intensely than a blow-by-blow recap of each specific pratfall, and one which might result in better policies. 

Instead our small-minded news media is content to act as a traffic cop issuing citations for each little infraction.

The Pentagon pats itself on the back, saying it’s fulfilled its mission, the State Department crows about the pressure being put on Israel, USAID promotes its role, the Biden administration says it is doing this and directing that, the UN trumpets the humanitarian disaster and begs for more money, Palestinian officials blame Israel, and Israel claims it is doing more than any other military in history to safeguard civilian life. 

I couldn’t tell you how much aid is getting to the Palestinians through the pier, but there’s one thing I can say: everyone is selling something.


(c) 2024, Ken Klippenstein



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