Alan Silverstein

Humanitarian aid as a Hamas weapon – Israel’s point of view

Joe Biden’s State of the Union address focused on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Listening to the president, one might believe that Israel alone has caused this suffering and that Israeli actions only are required as a remedy.

“Israel must do its part,” Biden declared. “To the leadership of Israel I say this. Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.”

Unquestionably Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is real; and it does require attention from Israel.

  • Israel is enabling the entry of more than 1,000 aid trucks per week by land, air, and sea.
  • Israel is coordinating air drops of supplies by the United States, Jordan, and France.
  • Israel has agreed to work with the United States in constructing an offshore floating pier to provide a landing space for aid for Gaza.
  • Israel is permitting 150 aid trucks daily to be prepared for entry into Gaza.

What was left unsaid by Joe Biden is the role Hamas plays in augmenting Gazans’ suffering. Hamas is the party most responsible for this human-needs crisis. Hamas uses Gazans as human shields, Hamas embeds terrorist installations in mosques, schools, apartments, hospitals, and UN facilities making a humanitarian crisis unavoidable.

Former IDF soldier and Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren has witnessed half a dozen Hamas battles with the IDF from 2007-2024. Oren insists that he has “learned one thing above all… Hamas wants the Gazans to suffer… Hamas, I learned, cares nothing for the well-being of Palestinian civilians. While Israel is more than willing to facilitate the transfer of all the food and medicine Gaza needs…, Hamas stops the trucks and even blows up the receiving terminals in order to create a humanitarian crisis it can then blame on Israel.”

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas, is public about his strategy:

He bragged to Arab media outlets that “we have the Israelis right where we want them.” He boasts: “High civilian casualties [and increasing humanitarian needs] would add to the worldwide pressure on Israel to stop the war” and allow Hamas to survive and be in control of Gaza.

To better “market” the humanitarian crisis, Hamas has given this humanitarian stage a name — the so-called “Israeli starvation campaign.” Hamas itself assumes no responsibility for the safety and well-being of Gazans. Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook stated, “It is the responsibility of the United Nations to protect them…, and it is the responsibility of the occupation [i.e., Israel] to provide them with…services.” Therefore it is in Hamas’s interest to undermine the arrival of aid utilizing diverse techniques:

Vandalism: In its October 7 rampage, Hamas not only murdered everyone it encountered, it destroyed the IDF’s humanitarian aid home base at the Erez Crossing. The IDF maintains a division — Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) — that is assigned to meet the needs of civilians in enemy territory.

The October 7 rampage also severely damaged infrastructure that was necessary for delivering relief to Gazans, including electrical lines, water pipes, communication networks, and desalination plants. The IDF COGAT website reported that:

  • “On October 7, nine out of the 10 electricity lines from Israel and one [of three] water pipes from Israel were hit by Hamas fire.”
  • “Hamas invaded the Erez Crossing in the north of Gaza (the primary crossing through which personnel from international aid organizations pass from Israel into Gaza).”
  • “Hamas caused significant damage and murdered and abducted personnel… whose role was to give direct support for humanitarian needs…”
  • “Hamas also directed fire at the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south of Gaza [connecting to Egypt].”

Theft and looting: As the COGAT website explains: “Hamas has a documented practice of stealing and diverting aid.”

Journalist Hana Levi Julian noted that “once the aid enters Gaza, the trucks are hijacked by Hamas operatives who then steal the supplies for the terrorist organization…, depriving Gaza civilians of the aid they were intended to receive. What isn’t stolen by Hamas is looted by criminals who then sell the supplies in the marketplace, often for exorbitant amounts, to the civilians who should have been the recipients [for free]….” Videos coming out of Gaza offer proof of Hamas hijacking and looting aid consignments. Aid agencies and civilians appear powerless to stop them. The videos show Hamas operatives stealing humanitarian aid trucks. Masked and armed men sit on top of the supplies as trucks are driven deeper into Gaza.

Hoarding: The COGAT website also asserts “Hamas hoards supplies, such as food and fuel, which it uses to maintain its military operations.”

  • “Phone conversations intercepted and published by the IDF offer evidence that Hamas [having hoarded aid] regulates the amount of fuel hospitals receive.”
  • “Such actions [which] directly deny civilians access to aid, [testify to] the fact that Hamas retains significant capabilities, including firing rocket barrages into Israel and operating its military tunnel infrastructure… [for which] they possess abundant supplies.”

Sabotage: COGAT sources record Hamas’s strategy of causing delays and disruptions to humanitarian efforts:

  • “Hamas has fired rockets from within and near the humanitarian zones and adjacent to essential infrastructure, such as a desalination plant funded by the international community.”
  • “Hamas has attempted to smuggle militants [illegitimately] out of Gaza together with civilians [legitimately] leaving for medical treatment,” thereby impeding their rescue.
  • “Hamas has fired at IDF forces securing humanitarian corridors and fired at aid convoys inside Gaza coordinated by the IDF.”

Impeding Distribution: Since starvation among noncombatants is a Hamas propaganda objective; Hamas and its surrogates obstruct alternative forms of aid distribution.

The COGAT website continues:

“Israel does not control the distribution of aid once inside Gaza. It cannot guarantee that aid reaches all those in need once consignments pass through the Rafah crossing.”

In response to Joe Biden’s accusation during his State of the Union speech that Israel is impeding aid distribution, former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett replied: “The problem is not the amount of aid going into Gaza. The problem is that Hamas is hijacking that aid, robbing that aid, taking it for itself and then selling it back in the black market in Gaza at about tenfold the price, and many Gazans can’t afford it.”

International Aid Organizations Limited Capability for Distribution:

COGAT decries that:

  • “International organizations operating in Gaza are limited in their capacity to absorb and distribute aid. This in turn causes backlogs and delays in the entire logistical process and the ultimate receipt of aid by civilians.”
  • “Hundreds of trucks wait to enter Gaza even after having undergone IDF security checks.”
  • A particular challenge is posed by the role played by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — now exposed as a Hamas surrogate — as the key operator in aid distribution. The IDF security establishment has reported the following:
    • “Out of 12,000 UNRWA workers in Gaza, 450 are active in the military arm of Hamas, meaning terrorists currently fighting against the Israel Defense Forces.”
    • “14 UNRWA workers took active part in the October 7 massacres.”
    • “About 2,000 other UNRWA employees are registered Hamas operatives, but not actual members of the military wing… An additional 7,000 UNRWA employees have a first-degree relative who is a Hamas terrorist.”

Intimidation of aid distributors:

“The Jerusalem Post” reports: “A Hamas-linked website has warned Palestinian individuals or groups against cooperating with Israel to provide security for aid convoys… Those who do so will be treated as collaborators and be handled with an iron fist.”

Criminal elements stealing aid:

With the United States ‘flooding the market’ with humanitarian goods, criminal gangs are beginning to “monetize” these valuable commodities to be sold in the black market.

Hamas “disinformation”:

Journalist Ruth Marks Eglash reported in “The Jewish Insider” on January 23, 2024:

“Last week the manager of a hospital in Gaza informed local media that his facility was set to run out of fuel and that the hospital would be forced to close within a few hours.”
“What did the IDF do? The IDF picked up the phone and called Palestinian medical and UN officials and asked them what was happening. We knew that there had been no restrictions on fuel going to that hospital and that there was enough fuel there to last for a few months.”
In other words, “the hospital manager was peddling Hamas propaganda, as part of the terror group’s information war against Israel… We called their bluff…”
“The bottom line is that we are constantly facing false reports, some of which come directly from officials in international agencies.”

Falsehood: Hamas has falsely claimed that Israel cuts off Gaza’s entire water supply.

Israel supplies less than 15% of Gaza’s water supply, directly via two or three water pipes in southern and central Gaza. After Hamas’s October damage to infrastructure, Israel facilitated repairs to damaged pipes. Israeli blogger Joshua Hoffman reported that “amid a myriad of other baseless accusations, people have claimed that Israel cut the water supply to Gaza. In reality, the Israelis simply redirected the water they provide to Gaza…“to the southern part of the Strip because it became more crowded with evacuees…. [plus] a Hamas propaganda video shows the terror group bragging about…cutting water pipes, donated by Europe, out of the ground,” using the pipe materials “to manufacture more rockets.”

Conclusion: A Need for Balance

Hamas embeds itself in residential buildings, schools, mosques, and hospitals. Hamas uses both Gazans and civilian dwellings as shields, exposing the population to harm. Hamas views Palestinian suffering as leverage against Israel, to cause international pressure upon the Jewish State.

The truth about the Gaza war requires balance. It needs measured assessments of a painful battlefield reality.

Press outlets generally omit or under-report the role played by Hamas and its allied aid-distribution surrogates [like UNRWA] in exploiting Palestinian suffering.

Israel accepted a US-Egypt-Qatar plan for a six-week “pause,” in the combat, exchange of Israeli hostages for prisoners, plus enhanced humanitarian aid delivery by land, air, and sea.

But Hamas has yet to say YES. It most probably will refrain from doing so. After all, the Hamas “game plan” requires Gazan fatalities and starvation.

Can Israel do more to assist in the process of humanitarian aid? Sure!

But fairness demands identifying not just Israeli flaws but also Hamas’s theft/hoarding/obstruction of the humanitarian side of the conflict!

About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”
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