The Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Friday, May 24, 2024

Former Assistant Secretary-General Humanitarian Coordinator for Palestine, United Nations; Distinguished Fellow, Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, Fordham University

Vice President for Global Policy and Advocacy, Mercy Corps

Director, Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University; United States Senior Advisor for Middle East Humanitarian Issues


Israel Bureau Chief and Senior Editor, Bloomberg

Panelists review the humanitarian situation in Gaza and discuss U.S. policy options to address the crisis.

BRONNER: Thank you, Dinah. And welcome to everyone. 

This is an especially fraught topic. I’m on my fourth tour as a correspondent based in Israel and—over more than forty years, and in all of the weeks that I have spent in Gaza over those years it has never taken on the kind of iconic significance that it has today as a focus of global concern. And as we’re meeting right now the International Court of Justice is due to hand down a ruling on whether Israel must stop its military offensive in Gaza, and it’s a sign of my dedication to the Council that I’m here and not reporting on it there. 

Gaza is a rarity in the annals of warfare. It’s especially vulnerable for at least three reasons. It’s densely populated. There’s nowhere for anyone to escape to. And it has a long history of being reliant on outside aid, mostly from the U.N. So when it is bombed and attack over months, its residents are trapped. Even in Darfur two decades ago, people could escape to Chad. And here there is also very little internal system for sustenance. So when outside aid is cut off or heavily reduced, things get terrible very quickly. In addition, of course, the targets of the Israeli military are mostly below surface, underneath the buildings, and the destruction created by this war will take generations to rebuild. 

We have three excellent panelists, all with expertise in humanitarian catastrophes generally and in Gaza specifically. And while they have mild differences, they are unanimous and consistent in viewing the situation in Gaza today as cataclysmic for the more than 2 million people living there. 

There is another perspective on what’s going on in Gaza that’s not represented today on this panel. And before we get going, I just want to share it with the members briefly. It belongs to Israeli officials and even some independent Israeli scholars. And that is that things are really not that bad in Gaza, given the war. You can see an example of this on the website today of the Times of Israel, which reports on a study by Israeli nutritionists and public health scholars who say that based on the data they’ve studied the amount of food entering Gaza from January to April was sufficient for the entire population’s needs. Based on data provided them by the Israeli military’s civilian assistant unit, known as COGAT, they found that what entered the strip between those months amounted to more than 3,000 calories per person per day, more than the expected minimum. The article on the study also notes that COGAT says it permits in more than aid agencies are dispatching, and this I can tell you in talking to COGAT officials is what they consistently say. On the other side, of course, is the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, who has sought warrants against Israel’s leaders for a policy that he describes as starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. 

Now let’s get to our panel. They are: James Eugene McGoldrick—Jamie is the firmer U.N. assistant secretary-general humanitarian coordinator for Palestine, and he is now a distinguished fellow at Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs; Kate Phillips-Barrasso, who’s vice president of global policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps; and David Satterfield, who is the United States special advisor for Middle East humanitarian issues and the director of the Baker Institute for Public Affairs (sic; Policy) at Rice University. 

We’re going to talk for another twenty-five or twenty-six minutes, and then at the half-hour mark I’ll—we’ll take questions from the members. 

Jamie, I’d like to start with you because you lived in Gaza for several years before the war, and not just before the war but prior to the war. So if you could for a couple of minutes, I think it would be helpful for people to have a sense of—a description of life in Gaza before this war and then a little bit—I know you spent some months during this war. So if you could do a little of that, too, that would be helpful. Thank you. 

MCGOLDRICK: Yeah. Thanks a lot, Ethan. 

I would say that, you know, Gaza was not a good place to live before. I mean, it was—two-thirds of the population were reliant on outside humanitarian assistance. You had—500 trucks a day were coming in, which was the norm. Most of that was private sector. The humanitarian community served the population through cash vouchers and the use of credit in various stores and warehouses where people picked up their own food. UNRWA, on the other hand, delivered main food to the 1 million refugees there. There was a freedom-of-movement issue because of the blockade that Israel had put in place for sixteen, seventeen years. But at the same time, you had some of the best statistics, I think, out of there in the Middle East. You had mortality rates, maternal and children, a lot better than anywhere else. Their education and literacy levels, very, very high as well. 

I think what you also had was there were infrastructure problems. You mentioned overcrowding was a big issue there, one of the most densely-populated areas in the world. Not enough space to move and to expand. But at the same time, you know, the specialist medical capacity requirement for cancer patients, for example, who then had to go to East Jerusalem, and they weren’t always allowed out; 60 percent was the average of people who applied to go out got out, and that was according to Gisha. And then you had inside the supply of medical support to hospitals. I had visited children’s cancer wards where the doctor got 50 percent of the chemotherapy drugs and he had to make a choice of what children got the drugs and which didn’t—he had to play God for those children. 

And then you had the population—under 50 percent of the population are under the age of eighteen, so it’s a youthful population, all hopes and aspirations and dreams. They look at their tablets and their mobile phones and they know across the other side of the Mediterranean people have got travel, they’ve got jobs, they’ve got cars, houses, weddings; and they don’t have that. So the dreams they have are basically nightmares. 

So I would say that’s the situation. So it wasn’t a pleasant place to be for anyone. 

BRONNER: So that’s before. 


BRONNER: And maybe just tell us a little bit about—you were there for some months during this war, right, before you left? Yeah. 

MCGOLDRICK: Yeah, yeah. I mean—I mean, right now it’s a situation where you’ve had, like, estimates of a hundred thousand people killed or wounded. You’ve got over 250 aid workers killed. You’ve got—a hundred journalists have been killed as well. It’s the worst place to be a humanitarian. It’s the worst place to be a journalist. It’s the worst place to be a child, in fact, because of the number of children that are being left orphaned and unaccompanied. 

You know, 2 million people requiring effective humanitarian aid not getting it. You have the fact that we need to get more land routes in there and to sustain the possibility, because right now what you’ve got is the crossing points in Kerem Shalom, Zikim, and 96, they’re not working well enough, open enough. There’s not enough goods getting in. You mentioned the nutritional—the study. I would contest that and say that FEWS and IPC have put out studies in the last months to show quite clearly the lack of food that’s going to be supplied there, especially in places in the north. There are pockets of severe malnutrition. I saw it myself in Kamal Adwan Hospital, where a two—a two-day-old child through a nine-month pregnancy weighed 1.2 kilos. That is unacceptable. So that’s the evidence that you can see. There’s twenty-eight, thirty children who have died because of that in the north as well. 

So I think those are the issues. And to get more aid in there is the essential part of what we’re here for. Thanks. 

BRONNER: Great. Thank you, Jamie. We’ll start taking apart some of that as we go forward. 

I want to turn to Kate now. And I know that Mercy Corps has had a great deal of difficulty. I wanted to ask you to talk a little bit about what it’s been like from October 7 or 8 for Mercy Corps. I assume most of them remaining are Palestinians. 

PHILLIPS-BARRASSO: Yeah. Thank you. 

And I just wanted to reflect a little bit on your—on your opening, Ethan, about what makes this crisis really unique and how it got so dire so quickly, right? As you mentioned, no one can get out and there’s nowhere safe to go in Gaza. You know, the first thing people can do in situations like this around the world is just get out of harm’s way and maybe become a refugee, and that’s just not an option here. 

Second is the fact that almost everything that goes into Gaza is, you know, controlled by the outside. And we know that Gaza’s been under a near total siege since October 7, so basically the rug has been pulled out from everyone, and the basics of life that kept things going before have been denied to them. 

Third, as you mentioned, it’s a densely packed area, and there’s been heavy aerial bombardment and ground activity that’s exacted a very high civilian toll and created mass displacement. 

And then, finally—and which I’ll touch on a little bit more—there’s been halting and paltry, frankly, levels of aid that have come in to supplant, you know, things that were lost in the siege and provide for people who have needed to flee, and it just hasn’t nearly been enough to provide for the 2.2 million people who live in Gaza, every single one of which now requires humanitarian assistance. 

So we have had—you know, Mercy Corps has been in Gaza since 1986 actually working on some of these economic challenges and trying to connect young people to the digital economy through a program called Gaza Sky Geeks we did with Google. But we have had to pivot rapidly into a humanitarian posture, and it has been a gauntlet of challenges and barriers to respond to the needs in Gaza over these past seven-and-a-half months. 

And those have ranged from a lack—a complete lack of safety guarantees for humanitarian workers. Jamie mentioned this is the most dangerous place for humanitarian workers to operate in the world, and indeed 250-plus of them have been killed. 

We have very few crossing points into Gaza through which to provide aid. And the inspections on what has gone in have been slow. We’ve all seen the video footage and images of trucks lined up at the border. We’ve also faced arbitrary rejection of a lot of items based on their perceived dual use and possibly being repurposed or refashioned into weapons, and those include very basic things like tentpoles or sleeping bags with metal zippers. 

So if aid actually does get inside, it then faces a gauntlet of logistical challenges including destroyed infrastructure, lack of warehouses, lack of fuel to get things around, and certainly fewer and fewer trucks and truck drivers that are able to get things from point A to point B. 

So this has, you know, added up to what I would say is an entirely insufficient humanitarian response despite the efforts of Mercy Corps and any number of humanitarian organizations at great risk and against all odds to try to provide this assistance. And it has only gotten worse over the past two weeks, given the incursion in Rafah and what it has meant in terms of completely bringing the humanitarian system to its knees in a matter of, you know, just ten days or so. And I’m happy to go— 

BRONNER: Actually, yeah, I want to talk about Rafah in one second, so that’s a great place for me to ask you to pause and turn to David. 

So, David, you’ve been a key player as part of a U.S. team pressing Israel to focus more on humanitarian issues as it seeks to destroy Hamas. As best you can without, obviously, going into secrets that you might not want to reveal, talk a little bit about those interactions, what went well and what went poorly, and what you think the U.S. was able to accomplish in that. 

SATTERFIELD: Well, Ethan, I’m very happy you uttered a word which had not been previously part of the discussion. That word is, of course, “Hamas.” There is a reason why the terrible destruction, the humanitarian crisis—and that is, in fact, what it is—has taken place. It is the calculated and bestial massacre conducted on October 7 by Hamas; and the sixteen years of preparation which it is now clear to the world Hamas had engaged in with external funding that was to have gone to humanitarian and civil purposes, which Hamas instead invested in this extraordinary terrorist army of 30,000-plus fighters as well as the tunnel network. 

You’re quite right, all of you, in describing this as an unprecedented situation in its gravity and its impact upon civilians, but in the complexity of the campaign. Our initial engagement with the Israelis immediately after October 7 was, in fact, focused on two different strategic objectives. 

One was the elimination of the ability of Hamas to ever again conduct the kind of massacre that it did on October 7; and to ensure that Hamas was not able to continue to govern, to dictate terms of life—if that’s what the correct phrase is—to the 2.2 million civilians in Gaza, or to deny any other party—whether Palestinian Authority, Palestinians from Gaza, or other regional states—from having a role in the further development of Gaza. That was one objective. 

But to see that objective secured—because it would take time and space to do; this was a complex fight which clearly was even more complex than assessed on October 8—to do that, a humanitarian campaign needed to be initiated and needed to be vigorously pursued. You could not pursue Hamas effectively over time without pursuing humanitarian assistance. That was the message of President Biden on October 18 and October 19 during his visit to Gaza (sic; Israel). 

Now, as we outlined in the NSM-20 report submitted to the Congress just a short while ago, there were many, many deficiencies. We outlined the harm to humanitarian workers, the failures of deconfliction and coordination mechanisms, the delays in facilitation of assistance—which is, indeed, an Israeli responsibility, not just to get aid physically into Gaza—an issue which Jamie is very familiar with; you can bring it across the border at Kerem Shalom or Rafah—it’s getting it distributed to populations in need that’s the challenge. And the north was a major area of challenge to all of us for quite a long while. 

Those deficiencies were there, but we had seen, particularly in the six weeks that preceded the incursion in Rafah—the operation in Rafah, a very dramatic improvement: Two major ground/land crossings were opened, Zikim or Erez West and the old Erez Crossing, Erez East, in addition to the so-called Gate 96 central corridor crossing; increases in capacity and processing at Nitzana and Kerem Shalom, the two major inspection points. We were flooding the north. Indeed, the north was beginning to demonetize critical commodities. Prices of sugar and flour were dropping rapidly, and goods were appearing in the marketplace. This was all positive. The Rafah operation, though, has, indeed, created major logistics complications for the delivery of classic international assistance, as well as the ability to distribute the now-increasing volume of commercial assistance coming in from the West Bank and Israel. 

There is another factor, though, which is Egypt has refused to allow any assistance of any type—international, U.N., Arab, or Egyptian, including fuel—to move—not one ounce, not one drop—into Gaza until the Rafah crossing is reopened. Israel has agreed to the reopening for goods and for people, but the mechanism under which Rafah terminal will operate, by whom, how IDF will position itself not at but outside the terminal, all of that is under discussion and will be the subject of talks in the coming week. So you have many complicating factors which have in many ways mitigated the progress that all of us had seen over the period that preceded the Rafah operation. 

I’ll leave on just one slightly positive note or hopeful note. We have in the last several days seen—belatedly, but seen nevertheless—the beginning of significant efforts by Israel to find alternate routes, to find ways to facilitate delivery of assistance in a fashion that begins to take us back to the place that we were before. 

BRONNER: Super helpful. 

You know, I want to ask you all—I know, Kate, this isn’t specifically your thing, the health and hospital situation, but maybe Jamie can talk a little about it. And I wouldn’t mind, David, if you would address it as well, because it seems to me that most of the hospitals have been very, very badly damaged, if not destroyed. And it sort of goes to the heart of the two goals, the two issues that you’ve been trying delicately, David, to help the Israelis deal with. One is to sort of—you’ve accepted that they have a right to go after Hamas, and that Hamas is penetrated in all sorts of civilian places—hospitals, mosques, schools, homes—and there’s no way to destroy them without affecting—getting into those places. But there is a cost-benefit analysis. There is some kind of proportionality question. Do we think that Israel has mishandled this terribly? David, you want to start, and then Jamie? 

SATTERFIELD: We, of course, are concerned and have been throughout this conflict with the diminution, if not the massive degradation of the ability of the health-care system to provide both in-hospital but also outside hospitals the type of assistance necessary to the population—necessary under normal circumstances, much less under the kinds of trauma brought about by this conflict. 

But when it comes to the issue of proportionality, Ethan, when you have Hamas not just in a legacy sense utilizing hospitals, shelters, schools as a means of harboring their fighters under or in, but gathering, collecting as an active dynamic here and now event fighters into those places, on I think one of two assumptions—either Israel will be dissuaded from striking those terrorists because of the damage done to the facility; or, equally good from Hamas’ perspective, maybe better, Israel will strike and will generate international opprobrium for what it has done. Sinwar has a long game here. The long game is to survive in the tunnels and then to see international pressure, fragile relations between Israel and other countries—including the U.S., in his view—begin to fray, and he will emerge the victor. That would be a terrible consequence. 

But do we see in Israeli actions a proportionality question? What we see is an unprecedentedly difficult fight against not a terrorist gang, but a terrorist army using humanitarian facilities, almost inviting Israel to come in. If Israel does not come in, what would then be done with the hundreds or thousands of fighters harboring in those places? That’s a dilemma not just for Israel in this conflict, but for all of us in the international community as we look at the possibility of apposite conflicts like this. 

BRONNER: So, Jamie, I wonder if you could address this a little bit. I mean, I know, you know, your job and your role is humanitarian aid. You’re not worried about, necessarily, ending Hamas. But you lived there. And did October 7 force you to rethink your attitude toward Hamas? 

MCGOLDRICK: No. I mean, I think what we’ve got to recognize—and Hamas is more than just a military. It’s political. It’s ideological. It’s hidden as well. And I think that what’s happening now is the war against Hamas—and it’s not something that’s being seen to be easily done. As we’ve seen, the north was cleared, supposedly, of that, and then all of a sudden they’re back again, there’s some serious fighting in the north, and evacuation orders have been given for a hundred thousand people to leave because the situation is so kinetic. So I think that’s one thing. And moving or getting rid of or extinguishing Hamas is going to be a very, very difficult job, I would say. 

But in the medical facilities, I think that if you look at Shifa, there was—they were expecting to see evidence of that being as a command-control center. It never quite emerged. However, at the same time we saw the level of destruction at the hospital itself, al-Shifa. I visited many times and it was a well-functioning, best hospital in the north. And similarly, in the south in Nasser Hospital, I visited that many times, too, providing both medical support and facilities for even IDPs who were sheltering there because they thought themselves that was a place of safety. It turned out not to be the case because Hamas fighters were inside, and they were hiding and using it. But I don’t think the doctors can be prevented—prevent that from happening, so it’s a big ask for WHO or for doctors living in hospitals to kick out armed men. It’s not something that happens very easily. And I think as an occupying power it’s Israel’s responsibility to make sure that food and medical supplies and services are available, and I think at the same time some of the actions they took outside hospitals where they surrounded hospitals—and we saw the evidence in some of the yards after they had left of the bodies that were found there—so that there was activity beyond military, I would say. 

And I would say that the medical services, very few hospitals are functioning now. And what you have now is organizations like the NGO world who’ve put up massive numbers of emergency medical tent cities all the way up the strip because the actual hospitals themselves no longer function. And I think that’s a tragedy because you can’t do the full range of health requirements, medical responses through a medical—these, what would you call them, field clinics and field hospitals just doesn’t work. 

BRONNER: Field hospitals. 


BRONNER: They’re effectively large emergency rooms is what you’re saying. 

MCGOLDRICK: Yes. Yeah, yeah. 

BRONNER: All sorts of other stuff doesn’t get dealt with. 

Kate, can we talk a little bit about water and sanitation? There was a report out this week—I think it was—I can’t remember—Medicine for Palestine (sic; Medical Aid for Palestinians), I forget; MAP is what it’s called—anyway, saying that there is—in many cases people in Gaza are using only 3 percent of water—normal needed water for an ordinary person, and that hundreds of people are sharing a latrine as they rush away from Rafah back to Deir al-Balah or back to Mawasi and to these places. I mean, tell us a little bit about the issue of fresh water and of sanitation, please. 

PHILLIPS-BARRASSO: Sure. And this is—this is a major challenge. You know, I think the conversation, understandably, has focused on food because we have seen those IPC numbers that have showed the catastrophic hunger that has been unleashed, particularly in the north. But this all combines in the space, as well, with clean water and sanitation services to sort of present sort of a mortality picture that is deeply concerning, particularly for children. 

So as I mentioned before, you know, a lot of the utilities in Gaza came from the outside and have been cut off in the siege, including the three major water lines into Gaza, which now, I think, as part of the pressure on the Israeli government have been turned back on to some extent. But a lot of the sort of water spigots and distribution points within Gaza are destroyed and need to be repaired. 

In addition to that, you know, fuel is used to run not only generators for hospitals, but actually pump clean water, run desalinization plants, et cetera, and none of that is available. So what it—what it means, functionally, is that people are either bathing or using salt water, if they’re in areas like al-Mawasi, for personal purposes; drinking dirty water out of, you know, shallow wells; and really, that, obviously, leads to a lot of waterborne disease. And I might add, and the way that these things combine, you know, when people are starving and in deep food insecurity, they oftentimes are in a very weakened state. So something like a basic waterborne disease—diarrhea, you know, things like this, not to mention cholera, which is a whole separate thing we’re concerned about—you know, that’s what people really succumb to, is really these basic medical ailments that their bodies cannot handle because of their weakened state. And as Jamie just outlined, with the decimation of the medical system and basic medical care, nobody can treat these very basic things. 

So just anecdotally from our staff members, you know, who remain—they’re all Palestinian that remain in Gaza—they have reported to us that this is a major challenge, that pretty much everybody is suffering from some level of gastrointestinal dysfunction, particularly over the past few weeks; as they’ve moved north from Rafah to al-Mawasi and what remains of Khan Younis, where there’s absolutely no functioning infrastructure, that they see this being explosive. It was a problem before, but there is waste out in the open. You know, people are, you know, in open situations with their own human waste, and that can, obviously, lead to a lot of disease. So we worry, particularly as we head into these really warm summer months, that in addition to not having the amount of water people need, it leading to disease and there being an explosive amount of medical problems that are going to develop in these areas that are unclean, where people have nothing, and where there’s no medical services. 

BRONNER: So beyond malnutrition, beyond dying from bombs and so forth, we’re looking at the long-term gastrointestinal disease. 

PHILLIPS-BARRASSO: Secondary mortality is what we call them. Yeah. 

BRONNER: Right. 

We’ll turn to the members in a—in a minute or two, but I wanted to just ask David, because you were talking about the difficulty. I’d like to talk a little bit about this pier that the U.S. built. But more importantly, the issue that all of you have raised is how does the food get safely to people. It gets—the trucks come, but then, you know, we’ve seen terrible videos of people going after it and so forth. The question is, whose job is it? Whose responsibility is it to provide security for the distribution of food? David? 

SATTERFIELD: At the end of the day, Israel has responsibility for facilitating the ability of humanitarian assistance—not just food but medical, water supplies, fuel—to reach the destinations necessary on a sustained basis to meet the needs of the population of Gaza. During our experiences collectively of the last seven months, we had seen by end of April/beginning of May the structures necessary to over time go from a wholly inadequate level of preventing formal famine and starvation, yes, but that’s a very low bar—it was not preventing chronic malnutrition, wasting, mortality, and morbidity amongst vulnerable population sections. But that was actually in our collective humanitarian sights as something that could be dealt with—volumes of fuel moving in, the ability without either predation or self-distribution as we flooded the zone with aid in those weeks. All of that boded well for being able to continue in a more focused manner—not to count trucks anymore, but to count the specific types of specialized assistance going in for those vulnerable populations, and to move beyond that to a restoration of commercial flows which are needed to supplement that humanitarian aid. That’s where we were. 

Rafah has disrupted this— 

BRONNER: Before Rafah. 

SATTERFIELD: —not completely, but significantly. And that’s what needs, and I think is now being addressed, to be unwound for things to be put back right. 

BRONNER: Yeah. I mean, we’re going to turn in one second to all of you. But I’d just say for one second the one thing about the Rafah endeavor is that it has been a little less of a sort of invasive affair than they—than one had feared, right? It’s been slowly and a little less aggressively, it seems to me, as I—if I understand correctly. But at the same time, a million people have run for their lives, of course. Am I right? Has it been a little less upsetting than you feared? 

SATTERFIELD: Ethan, I’m glad you raised the issue because I’m making here a critical point. We had two concerns about a Rafah operation. The first was the consequences on a compacted, multiply displaced population of 1.3 to 1.5 million. Where would they go? How would they receive humanitarian support—shelter, water, food, medical support—in Mawasi, on the beach, in what remains of Khan Younis, or Deir al-Balah, or the central camp areas? How would that work?  

The second concern was that the act of a kinetic operation, limited or not, would do two things. First, even if it was targeted on a small population set, the experience of the last seven months would precipitate a voting with feet. Much larger populations would in fact move than were actually directed or instructed to do by the IDF. And all of this would complicate the logistical physical ability to move assistance. Regrettably, all of those concerns, which we had outlined to the government of Israel at the highest levels of state, have come to pass in the course of the last fifteen days, twenty days. 

BRONNER: Yes. OK. That’s very helpful.  

OK. So it is now time to turn to the members who are watching from wherever they are. So somebody is going to—Dinah, you’re going to explain what they need to do, right?  

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.) 

We will take the first question from Craig Charney. 

Q: I’d like to thank you for a very powerful and very factual presentation. I’d like to look—I’m speaking from Charney Research, by the way. We’ve done work in both Gaza and the West Bank.  

I’d like to ask more about the non-military side. In the past seventeen years, Hamas has not just been the military force in Gaza, it has also been the civil administration and the police force. Now those functions are being canceled out. It’s not a day after problem. It’s the today problem. When Hamas sent police back, they were fired upon. The result is that there is a collapse of civic order. Desperate Palestinians and Hamasniks are looting the aid that’s going in. The question then is also, though, for the day after, because in the civil administration are we going to simply say anyone who’s been there for the last seventeen years cannot continue to serve? If so, who will replace them? If not, will we bring them in now on an interim basis? It seems to me that these questions are simply not being addressed. 

BRONNER: I mean, it sounds to me like that’s a—maybe Jamie wants to take it, or David? 

MCGOLDRICK: Yeah. I’ll have a go at that. Just to say that, you know, the situation on the ground is one of real desperation. And what you have is people who are looting the trucks that go through because they’ve been going through at a snail’s pace because the congestion in places like Rafah have been so bad. It’s quite easy to stop a truck by, you know, a parked car, or whatever. And then it gets self-distributed or it gets looted there and then. We used to use the blue policeman who—as Craig just mentioned—who were the Hamas police. But Israel, they started targeting them when they were used as escorts for convoys. And then what you had was this law and order vacuum, which is there at the moment.  

And that’s been exploited by lot of groups. People who were pushed out when Hamas was there, people who want to take a piece of the territory, people who want to be part of the day after governance structure. But I think that you had the mixture before of different types of administration—municipal and sector-wide or Gaza Strip-wide. What comes next is a big issue. And I think Israel themselves, I think, are creating insecurity for a future—a real unstable situation for them. 

SATTERFIELD: If I could add to what Jamie has said, and I agree with all of that, we have focused both privately but also publicly, from the president to Jake Sullivan, Tony Blinken, all of us, with Israel at the highest levels, on what are in fact the strategic necessities to provide for a day before and then a day after. And it must be, in our view, reflective not just of kinetic successes, military successes, but political, social administrative steps. Which have to include, in our view, a credible pathway to a two-state resolution.  

Now that’s a hard goal to see achieved right now. We understand that. But it has to be outlined as the political horizon, which provides a counter message to the very bleak Islamist extremist message of Hamas. But it is essential that there be a cogent, practical solution set for stabilization, administration of basic services, and then reconstruction of Gaza when the kinetic campaign ends. And we are very concerned, as we’ve said publicly, that there has been inadequate thought given to how one provides for that, that is practical and achievable. 

BRONNER: We’ll take the next question, please. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Elise Labott. 

Q: Thanks very much for doing this and for your presentation.  

David, I just want to pick up on something you said, which is “practical” and “cogent.” And, you know, I also want to—it seems as if everything is pretty tied to where the Israeli military and what their operations are doing at any given time. There’s no practical, cogent humanitarian corridor, for instance. I mean, seven months in, I don’t understand why—and you know this—you know, there—you can’t just throw some calories at the problem and increase the calories, and then you are able to ameliorate the situation. Why isn’t there some kind of reliable humanitarian corridor where things are going irregularly? And then if you move that to what you just said about the day after, it just seems as if Israel is just focused on the fighting and all the other things that are related to the conflict—whether it’s the day after or the—or the humanitarian situation. Like, that’s not even a consideration really. 

SATTERFIELD: Elise, let me just go back to the period that preceded May 6, May 7. There were such corridors. Many of the difficulties which the months preceding April had seen in moving effectively distribution, land corridors, inspection procedures, had been dramatically, significantly improved. But that was disrupted in part, certainly with respect to Rafah, which is closed, and Kerem Shalom, which is open but has major logistics challenges in moving assistance, as we call it, off the platform from inside Gaza into Gaza proper for distribution. That has been complicated. As, of course, has been the Egyptian refusal to allow any assistance or aid of any type to move out of Egypt into Gaza until Rafah reopens again. We had a situation in which those corridors existed, multiple corridors. Ashdod was now open for delivery of humanitarian assistance beyond flour. That has been, not completely—and I want to underscore that—assistance is moving in through those land corridors. But not at the volumes, not at scale as needed as the Rafah operation is taking place. 

BRONNER: Kate, did you want to say anything about it? Otherwise, we’ll go to the next question.  

PHILLIPS-BARRASSO: No. I mean, I just—I do want to just make a related point, which is—and we’ve lamented, you know, the focus on how many trucks are getting in, right?  

BRONNER: Yeah, the truck counting. 

PHILLIPS-BARRASSO: Because—exactly, because it’s proximate metric that people can keep track of. But what we can say is what has been coming in is certainly not enough, or we would have not arrived at the figures that we see in terms of the hunger, you know, equation. So my hope is in the future, as hopefully the access situation improves, that the focus will become, you know, on the actual outcomes, right? How many people are actually getting this aid? Not is it getting inside and landing on the platform, but is it getting to the right people consistently enough that we see this catastrophic hunger situation turn around? 

BRONNER: Great. We’ll take the next question, please. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Stephen Gutow. 

Q: Hi. Thank you very much. And thank you for all the great work you’re doing. And I mean that. 

But two things hit me. I mean, like, what are the basic things that are sitting there, and they seem like they should be easier to move and change than some of the other ones. So changing Israel it’s going to be a hard road to hoe, just because of the politics, because of the prime minister. I mean, there’s no need to go into it. I think America is trying hard.  

Why is Egypt—why is it being such—oh, I’ll try to stick to the nice way to say it—so difficult to get to move and do something? I mean, what is—what’s going on? And what and what can we do, America as a country and others in the world? And I think all if you have to have thought of it. What could we do to move Egypt in a place where it really does try to create—you know, I don’t want to prolong the question—so that it does really try to create a peace? Because, you know, that would—that would give a lot of excitement to everybody, even to—well, I don’t know what it would do Hamas. I don’t understand how they think. But it would certainly give a lot of enthusiasm, power, possibilities to along with the other players. 

SATTERFIELD: Egypt historically—and I was chief of mission in Cairo many years ago and have worked with Egypt for decades. Egypt has two talismanic, existential concerns/interests with respect to Gaza. The first is that the Palestinian population of Gaza stays in Gaza and does not look to Egypt, or is pushed out into Egypt as a place of residence. Egypt has reason to be concerned about the consequences of any such step. We, the U.S., understand that concern. We respect it.  

But the second interest is in Rafah itself. Egypt wishes to maintain, has always sought to maintain, the existence of the Rafah terminal as an internationally recognized crossing point. May not have been designed for goods. It wasn’t. It was for pedestrian and small vehicle movement—ambulances, taxis, small buses. But to keep that crossing open as a direct means, recognized internationally, for Egypt and Gaza to interact. That is exceedingly important in an almost beyond here and now sense to Egypt. 

When Rafah was closed during the course of this campaign, and Egypt was asked to move the assistance in the Sinai through Kerem Shalom, through Nitzana, that puts that assistance under Israeli control. For all of us on the screen, as humanitarians, there’s no problem with that. It gets assistance, it gets fuel into Gaza, which is what we’re focused on. But for Egypt, it is a derogation or a step down a slope they don’t want to take, don’t want to proceed on, that gives up what, in their view, is an essential piece of Egyptians sovereign concerns.  

We are engaged with the government of Egypt, as is Israel, in trilateral and bilateral fashion as we speak to try to resolve this issue. Israel has agreed to reopen Rafah. The question is, under what modalities? And this brings up a challenging question—who runs the Rafah terminal? If the IDF departs, as they have agreed to do, Egypt won’t do it. You don’t have the Palestinian Authority in a position right now of agreeing to do it. It’s not an Israeli bar. It’s the PA doesn’t want to take this on. Who does it? And that’s a question we all will have to work through. It will be Palestinians. No question about that. But which Palestinians and how rapidly do you get them in place? 

BRONNER: It was the PA before, right? 

SATTERFIELD: It has not been the PA since 2007, when the Hamas coup ousted the PA and Hamas took over direct administration of the terminal. 

BRONNER: We’ll go to our next question, please. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Missy Ryan. 

Q: Hi. Missy Ryan with the Washington Post. Thanks, everyone, for being here.  

David, my question is for you. It seems to me like a very plausible scenario here is that the Israeli military continues to sort of incrementally expand its operation. You know, we’re seeing reports of tanks edging into the western part of Rafah City this morning, but that they try to avoid the kind of military operation that would force the United States to designate it, you know, the kind of big, full-fledged offensive that they’ve been advocating against. And also that there’s not any real Israeli sea change in the aid situation. Maybe some incremental changes there as well.  

So, number one, do you agree with that as a—as a plausible, if not likely, scenario? And then my question for you is, what’s the implication of that? What do you think that kind of scenario—what would that mean for the larger trajectory here as we, you know, everyone tries to bring stability to the region, and the Biden administration also tries to advance its larger plan? 

SATTERFIELD: Miss, as Matt Miller would say, you’ve managed to pack of several very critical and important questions into a single ask, but I’ll try to take them on. First, yes. We have had senior-level exchanges with the government of Israel over the direction of operations in central Rafah. You heard Jake Sullivan’s comments day before yesterday, public comments, that we do not regard the current character of the operation as crossing the lines that we had outlined, as of concern. But let’s go then to the next question. A status quo on humanitarian assistance, that is things just as they are today or have been over the past two weeks, is not acceptable. There has to be mitigation undertaken, both on routings, on expediting procedures through checkpoints, moving out of Kerem Shalom, which still remains a critical point of entry more for commercial goods right now than for humanitarian, because of the Egyptian refusal to allow anything to move. But that has to work.  

The JLOTS is already working the maritime corridor, alternate routings that appear to be much better in terms of securing the safe, un-self-distributed movement of aid. And the northern crossing, which is now open and operating, Erez east, the old Erez crossing, also is acting with greater efficiencies than in the past. But that cannot be static. That humanitarian picture must continue to improve and grow back up to something that approximates scale, that allows us to go to what Kate and Jamie have described as the objective. Which is not counting trucks, but getting specialized feeding in and being assured that we have the certainty that that aid is reaching the vulnerable population sets, center, south, and north.  

Now, the final question of where does this all go, that addresses the issue I referred to which the president, Jake, Secretary Blinken have all addressed in our meetings with senior Israeli government officials and publicly, that there must be a strategic plan for how one creates and sustains a day after that is something other than a Somalia-like chaos, which is terribly damaging for Israel and Israelis and their future, for the region itself, for U.S. interest and, above all, for the civilian population of Gaza. 

BRONNER: Thank you, David. We’ll take our next question, please. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Evelyn Leopold. 

Q: Can you hear me?  


Q: I still find it very difficult to visualize how you have a war and can get aid through at the same time, without a pause or a—some kind of a—of a ceasefire, even if it’s only a temporary ceasefire. 

BRONNER: Jamie. (Laughs.) 

MCGOLDRICK: Yeah, I think—I think we would like to have a ceasefire and a humanitarian pause, if we can get that. In between times, I think what we are doing, as David mentioned, is we’re trying to create routes that can get a sufficient amount of aid in. And that seems not to be the case at the moment. We have this intermittent flow because it was happened in Rafah, the blockages in Kerem Shalom, and the inability for us to get a sufficient quantity through the north and south of the Gaza Strip.  

I think it’s also worthwhile reflecting on the fact that we have a difficult relationship with IDF, as humanitarians. I mean, they don’t quite understand how we work. We’ve never worked with them before. They’ve never worked with humanitarians before. They don’t understand what drives us. And I think because of that, there have been a number of incidents which have caused us to have difficulties actually delivering humanitarian assistance. We had a death of a U.N. security person two weeks ago. We had the World Central Kitchen’s six, seven staff killed. And that creates a problem for us.  

So we need to have a different discussion with them, better discipline, better understanding that they have a responsibility to facilitate our work and to protect us as workers. And that’s not been something that’s been, I think, a part of this discussion. And I think a ceasefire, a pause, would give us a chance to put the weapons away and build that relationship, build the trust, and build an understanding of each other. Because it’s certainly not there at the moment. Thanks.  

BRONNER: That’s very interesting. Kate, do you want to address that?  

PHILLIPS-BARRASSO: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, from the beginning, you know, from the first few weeks of the of the response, Mercy Corps has called, first and foremost, along with almost every major humanitarian operational aid organization in Gaza, for a ceasefire. And I just want to stress that this is not out of an ideological standpoint at all. It’s purely operational and practical to the—to the question that was just posed to us, which is in this environment it is incredibly difficult to deliver a volume of humanitarian aid that would matter and turn the tide on these numbers when we have such an unpredictable security situation and, as Jamie noted and has been, you know, a part of this conversation, so many deaths of humanitarian aid workers and people seeking humanitarian aid. There have been a lot of distribution sites that have been hit.  

So, yes. We have been calling for a ceasefire because we do think it is actually a very critical part of the solution. And, just to Elise’s earlier question, I do worry that this has not been sufficiently a priority, I think, as was stated. You know, this is—we work in war zones in a lot of places in the world. It’s never easy. We take a lot of risks. But this is a category apart. It has been so unpredictable. And, you know, the rules constantly changing, the border crossings constantly changing, rejections here, you can’t bring this in here. The sum total of all of these challenges have led to this situation. So it’s hard for us to understand how anyone would expect us to deliver humanitarian aid unless dramatic attention is paid by the Israeli authorities to systematizing, regularizing that delivery, providing those safety guarantees. And, in the absence of that, only a ceasefire will do to actually be able to deliver humanitarian aid at a meaningful scale.  


BRONNER: David, did you want to say something? Yeah. 

SATTERFIELD: Well, there could be a ceasefire today. There could have been at any point over the last weeks. There is one party and one party only for the failure to have a ceasefire in place. And that is Hamas? A ceasefire, in our view, must be accompanied by, attendant to, consequent to a release of hostages. There are almost 130 Israeli hostages living and dead that remain in Hamas’s hands. Hamas has rejected, that’s the simple truth of it, all previous proposals that would have elicited immediately a very significant ceasefire, with the potential for further ceasefires, as further releases of hostages took place.  

Now, we have been relentless in our pursuit of hostage releases and the ceasefire that would come with that. Bill Burns will be traveling very, very soon for continuing the discussions with our partners in the region—Egypt and Qatar—on how one can best propose this. But responsibility lies with Hamas. And, certainly, we share Kate’s concerns. But in fact, there was a successful effort—or, an increasingly successful effort to get humanitarian assistance at scale finally into the north, as well as into the center and south. That has been logistically impeded by the Rafah campaign. But we hope it can be put back on track. But you can indeed do this.  

And I’ll make one final reflection. The repeat engagements of the IDF in places where they had been before. There’s a reason why the IDF is in Jabalia, why they were in Zeitoun, two areas of the north which have been the subject of kinetic ops in the past. It is because Hamas has resumed military activity in those areas, rocketing, launching attacks. It is not accidental. It is a consequence of the very significant embedding of Hamas and Hamas’s determination to demonstrate that it is still there and that the world must cope with it as the governing force. That is not an acceptable situation for the United States, nor is it for Israel. 

BRONNER: Thank you. We’ll take the next question, please. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Dennis Coleman Jett. 

Q: Why couldn’t a U.N. peacekeeping force administer the Rafah crossing? 

SATTERFIELD: Dennis, we have, all of us—Jamie and I—have looked at this issue going back to October and November, when we had the challenge of how do you get some form of international, if possible, monitoring presence in that crossing. At that time, it was to facilitate the exit of the over 2,000 citizens of countries trapped in Gaza by the campaign. And the issue here is it’s very difficult. To get an international body, there are really only two that would seem to fit the bill—IOM and you EUBAM, the European Union Border Assistance Mission—to come in.  

There are major security concerns. Hamas had challenged the ability of any international party to operate in the crossing. But, Dennis, we are reaching out right now to IOM, to EUBAM, to the U.N., to see if there is a solution set here. I have to tell you, analytically, having worked versions of this particular issue at Rafah for over twenty years, since before the unilateral withdrawal in 2005, the ultimate answer here has to be a vetted Palestinian presence with an ability to provide for them, from a distance, security against Hamas pressure, against Hamas attack. I think, at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to turn out to be the way this works. 

BRONNER: Dinah, we’ll take another question, please. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next question from Joel Braunold. 

Q: Thanks so much. 

Given the current dispute with Egypt sending aid to Kerem Shalom, over Ramadan it was reported that the Moroccans managed to land a shipment of aid through Ben Gurion Airport, and then that was then transferred into Gaza. Would it not make sense to try and see that instead of using el-Arish that humanitarian assistance was diverted to Ben Gurion. The Egyptians would lose the customs revenues, which they actually rely on. The Egyptians would gain the customs revenues from that, and it would therefore at least change the dynamics of the current negotiations, of which Gazan civilians are the ones who suffer the most. Thanks. 

SATTERFIELD: Joel, delivery of aid by aircraft, whether it’s dropped or landed, is extraordinarily, spectacularly inefficient and costly. There is another alternative, though, which is Ashdod. And we have seen international parties, including the U.N., switching assistance that was destined for Port Said or el-Arish into Ashdod Port for direct delivery through the Erez crossings. That’s the way to work this. If we cannot get—and our first goal here, of course, is to get a resumption of Egyptian willingness to see a delivered. The millions of liters of fuel that were moving into Gaza come out of Egypt. Small quantities can be moved by land through Kerem Shalom, and have been. But it’s very small, indeed. And it’s not an aviation channel here. You need land crossings or major sea deliveries to a port. 

BRONNER: Dinah, we have time for maybe one last question. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take the last question from Lauren Leader. 

Q: Thank you. My question is for Kate and Jamie, especially. And, David, I appreciate your comments.  

I have yet to hear any international calls from aid organizations or, frankly, from the U.N., for getting humanitarian assistance or demanding medical assistance be provided to the hostages, who are still being held by Hamas. And we saw the horrific video this week of the young girls who have been clearly abused beyond any ability to comprehend. I’d like to know why and when the international humanitarian community is going to make a stronger plea to get aid and medical assistance to the remaining hostages. 

MCGOLDRICK: I’ll take that. I mean, I think there have been discussions going on, not publicly, with Israel, and the U.N., and organizations like the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, in order to try and get medicine and other support to the hostages themselves; at the same time, calling for the hostages to be released, along with the other package of humanitarian requirements as well. So I think it’s—a lot of the stuff, that’s not done in public domain. It’s done in private. But it’s been—it’s happening with the political parties, it’s happening with the humanitarian parties, other parties as well. So that has happened. It’s not easy because how difficult—we know there was—there were drugs that were—medicine that was sent targeted to specific hostages that were supposed to end up with them, and didn’t. They were then discovered in a cupboard in al-Nasr Hospital later. So the systems that were in place were not working. 

BRONNER: Kate, you want to just address that?  

PHILLIPS-BARRASSO: No, I mean, Jamie covered it. But I just want to stress that in all of our, you know, advocacy calls for, as I mentioned before, a ceasefire, an end to the siege, we always include release the hostages as part of that. You know, and I think that’s all there is to say there. That is a big aim as well, I think, of the humanitarian community, is to see that situation come to a successful close. 

SATTERFIELD: And I would just add, it is very inaccurate to somehow hold the ICRC, or the international humanitarian community, responsible for the inability, because Hamas rejects, to deliver assistance to the hostages. The ICRC has tried mightily to do what it can through direct and very sensitive contacts to get access, proof of life, delivery of assistance. Hamas and Hamas alone is responsible for rejecting it. It is, I’ll use the term advisedly, a very cruel and inaccurate canard to somehow label the entire international humanitarian community or the ICRC specifically as responsible for what Hamas has done and continues to do. That is simply wrong. 

BRONNER: Well, our time is up. And a really very complex topic that has drawn enormous emotion around the world. And I want to thank all three of you for, you know, really clear and still impassioned presentations and answers to questions, and also to the members for their questions, and Dinah for being the host. So thank you all very much.  


MCGOLDRICK: Thank you very much. 

SATTERFIELD: Thank you. 


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