Sat, Jul

Killing Palestinians by Blocking Aid. Killing Palestinians by Airdropping Aid.


HUMANITARIAN AID - There’s lots of talk underway about airdropping food to the 2.3 million people struggling to survive under Israeli bombardment in the ruins of the Gaza Strip. Many humanitarian aid experts say that the plan is expensive, inefficient and insufficient to deal with the level of famine and death by starvation and dehydration now raging across Gaza.

It is also dangerous. On Friday, five Gazans were killed and 10 injured after provisions that were airdropped onto the Strip fell on top of them, underscoring the very real risks that come with the practice.

Experts in public relations and good television, on the other hand, have long recognized the value of video footage of Air Force personnel crouched at the open hatch of low-flying planes pushing out pallets of food, and the graceful lines of parachutes floating to earth, with grateful refugees running across the beach to claim them.

All that talk makes it easy to avoid discussing Gaza’s true urgent need — an immediate and lasting ceasefire, and unhindered access on the ground for unlimited truckloads of humanitarian assistance.

Some of the dangers of airdrops are obvious. Parachutes blow off course. Sometimes, like on Friday, heavy pallets can come loose from their parachutes and crash down on individuals merely hoping for a bit of food for starving babies or a sip of water for dehydrated elders.

And with such small amounts arriving relative to need, airdrops are ready-made for chaos and injury. Hostile military forces add to the instability. In Gaza, chaos during the flour massacre of Feb. 29 ensued as Palestinians seeking food aid were targeted and killed by Israeli forces.

Since the first weeks after Israel’s assault began on Oct. 7, it has been clear that there is no safe place in Gaza, and that means no safe place for airdrops, including the beachfront of the coastal Strip.

Beyond the dangers that any airdrop faces in conflict or famine areas, sometimes particular risks make such a plan life-threatening. The U.S. military should know those risks all too well.

On Oct. 7, 2001, just three weeks after the horrific crimes of 9/11, Washington began its invasion of Afghanistan with a massive bombing assault on Kabul and other cities. Desperate Afghans fled to the mountains to escape. They faced the early winter cold with nothing, and the U.S. insisted, against the advice of experienced humanitarian organizations, that an airdrop was the best solution. Of course, the made-for-TV visuals of U.S. planes dropping food to impoverished refugees had nothing to do with it.

But it got worse. The food packets were wrapped in yellow plastic to protect the pallets when they hit the ground. It turned out the wrapping was identical to the yellow-wrapped cluster bombs the Pentagon was dropping nearby. As a result, children were reportedly killed running to pick up what they thought was food.

Word got out, and journalists started asking questions. In response, the U.S. began radio broadcasts in Persian and Pashto, announcing that “the Partnership of Nations is dropping yellow Humanitarian Daily Rations, and “In areas far from where we are dropping food, we are dropping cluster bombs.”

“Although it is unlikely, it is possible that not every bomb will explode on impact. These bombs are a yellow color,” it warned. “Please, please exercise caution when approaching unidentified yellow objects in areas that have been recently bombed.”

The warning came too late for some Afghan civilians. On Oct. 22, 2021, nine civilians were killed and 14 more injured when the U.S. dropped cluster bombs on the village of Shaker Qala near Herat in western Afghanistan.

On Nov. 1, 2021, the Pentagon announced it would change the food packet wrapping to blue — eventually.

While the situation is different for Palestinians, there’s one danger particular to Gaza today. The 2.3 million Palestinians there have lived under a crippling siege for 16 years in which there was never enough access to food and clean water. In the last several months, virtually the entire population lacked enough food, and children are especially vulnerable.

The United Nations World Food Program says about 1 in 6 children under the age of two in northern Gaza are already suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting — “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world.” Many of those children need specially designed therapeutic food supplements if they are to survive.

The Pentagon is dropping meals-ready-to-eat (MREs), processed food designed for healthy adult soldiers, most of which require clean water and fuel to prepare. A child who hasn’t had a piece of bread in weeks, desperate for food, wolfing down unfamiliar rations from the sky, is likely to get sick immediately — or worse.

Between the distraction, the potential of confusing food with weapons and the potential for malnourished children and elders to eat items dangerous to their bodies, food airdrops are not the answer. At worst, they can be fatal.

We still need a ceasefire and full access to unlimited truckloads of humanitarian aid. The airdrops are not designed to save lives, but, as an Oxfam America official described, they “mostly serve to relieve the guilty consciences of senior U.S. officials whose policies are contributing to the ongoing atrocities and risk of famine in Gaza.”

(Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and serves on the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace. Her most recent book is the 7th updated edition of "Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer" (2018). Her other books include: "Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer" (2008) and "Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy US Power" (2005). This article was first featured in CommonDreams.org.)