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Hope grows for UN mission to ‘flood’ Gaza with food, despite fears of imminent Rafah invasion

That’s according to the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, speaking in-depth to UN News exactly six months since hostilities began with the Hamas-led terror attack. He underlined that the entire UN aid effort is about saving lives “and nothing else.”

The veteran humanitarian was speaking as the Israeli defence forces said on Sunday they had withdrawn a division of troops from Gaza to prepare for “future operations” at the end of a week when the Israeli leadership also pledged to increase the volume and flow of aid following pressure from Washington – although it’s unclear when any changes in policy will materialise.

Mr. McGoldrick said the combination of political and domestic pressure and growing international condemnation following the killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers together with months of UN advocacy, should translate into increased aid for desperate Gazans.

“Slowly but surely” Israelis are realizing the extent of the humanitarian crisis, especially in northern Gaza: “Hopefully with all these pipelines opening…We can start to swamp and flood the place with food and other items, we can get ourselves ready with whatever comes next”, he said.

Jamie McGoldrick – Ad Interim Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian Territory meeting Palestinian Red Crescent Representatives in Rafah, Southern Gaza

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

UN News: We will have to start with the reports emerging about Israel’s troop withdrawal from southern Gaza. What’s your comment on that?

Jamie McGoldrick: I think this phase of the military operation, they must have had it finished in Khan Younis. I think that’s where and they are taking the brigades out. What that means is that hopefully that will be a lot more secure in those areas and maybe people can start to go back to where they came from. But it’s also a worrying issue in the sense that maybe they’re going out to regroup and get ready for the proposed Rafah incursion.

UN News: You mentioned that Israel has made several commitments to increase aid to Gaza in response also to the UN’s repeated requests. You stated seven commitments. Can you please explain to us the most crucial of those?

Jamie McGoldrick: „Well, I think that the most crucial of them is is getting more openings and more pipelines into Gaza. I mean, right now we’re very restricted in terms of what we’re able to bring in.

We have only one major crossing point, which is Kerem Shalom, to Rafah, and that allows us 250 trucks a day. We need to get up to about 500 plus a day. And in order to do that we’ve been asking since day one for more actual pipelines in from the Jordan pipeline right now, we’re only get 100 trucks a week.

Children fill containers with drinking water in the Al-Shaboura neighborhood in Rafah, southern Gaza.

Children fill containers with drinking water in the Al-Shaboura neighborhood in Rafah, southern Gaza.

We should be getting 30 to 50 trucks a day. And then in the north, Ashdod, the very well-functioning modern port, we are asking for that to be opened up again. And that could again bring us in another 100 trucks a day.

So those combined with Kerem Shalom, we would have almost 500 trucks a day, which would then satisfy the needs on the ground. And more importantly, in the north, where there is imminent famine.

UN News: From your contacts with the Israeli side. When will these commitments be implemented, and when do you think Gazans will start to feel their impact?

Jamie McGoldrick: Well, we hope quickly. We were told that, in our meetings on Friday, that these things were underway and preparations were taking place. And we know there was a meeting yesterday in Jordan with all the parties, US, UN and the Jordanian Armed Forces, to come up with some way of addressing the limited pipeline we currently have.

Equally, we’re pushing with the Israelis to find out when can we get the Ashdod port opened up for more supplies and directly into Erez, or one of the other northern crossing points, not having to come south.

I think that would allow us a very fast and swift increase in the amount of food going in. At the moment, we’re only getting about 10 to 20 trucks on any given day to the north, and we need to be having 30 trucks every single day without fail, in order for us to address the serious food insecurity and especially the imminent famine among the most vulnerable groups there.

UN News: The commitments vary from planning to intent to assurances, are they enough to implement the quantum leap the UN has called for for aid delivery and also to avert the looming famine in Gaza?

Jamie McGoldrick No, I think that what we’ve got on the table is these developments that have been promised to us. And as you remember, they came off the back of a long advocacy campaign by ourselves and the Country Team to push for these openings, to push for a bigger pipeline, to push for better deconfliction and a better interface with the military, the IDF.

And tragically, that’s only come as a result of the very serious incident that took place the other day with seven World Central Kitchen people who were killed and also political – a push by President Biden and phone calls to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I think all of those combined around the same time into this one week, and then that allowed us then to start to get some of these, shall we say, some of these concessions we’ve been asking for some time.

And I think there’s a meaningfulness there and maybe a significance there that we shouldn’t expect them all to come on stream straight away, but we can start to work on them.

But more importantly, the public declaration allows us to get them locked in, and then we can go back and push. And right now we’ve got high level delegations in the region and also in Tel Aviv, who are pushing themselves for a number of issues, including all of these new promises or concessions we’ve been given.

UN News: You mentioned that the Israel in recent days has acknowledged the immense scale of suffering in Gaza and its own ability to facilitate the increase of aid. Is that another argument that the UN actually was standing ready to do everything it can but there were so many constraints? And in your assessment wasn’t that clear to the Israeli authorities before the immense suffering and its ability to facilitate?

Jamie McGoldrick: I think you have to recognize that there’s more than one Israel. I mean, there’s, it’s not a homogeneous body. You’ve got the political side of things, which is very much leaning on the right wing now.

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You’ve also got a war cabinet made up of people who have very serious war aims after the 7th of October, tragic events. And then you have civil society who are pushing very hard for hostages to be released.

And that’s the combined parts of Israeli civil society and the politicians. And then you’ve got the army, the army themselves, the IDF, we’ve got the coordination liaison administration, and you’ve got COGAT, which is the body we deal with on a regular basis. So there’re many fragmented parts.

And so, we have to find a way of convincing them or getting them to understand. And slowly but surely that has happened. And I think it comes as a direct result of the evidence that we’ve shown that more children than there should have, have died in the north of malnutrition and emaciation.

They should understand why we’re there and what we’re trying to do, and it’s only to save lives and nothing else

And I’ve seen myself in Kamal Adwan’s hospital two weeks ago the depths and the direness of people’s suffering on the children’s ward was just something that should not happen in this day and age.

And I think that combined with the politics, combined with the push and the advocacy from the highest level, people like President Biden and all of this team that’s come into the region for this. And I think a general recognition that progress has not been made and that we’ve been calling this out for a long time.

And I think it’s now we are starting see that landing within the different parts of Israel, to understand that they have to do more with us and allow us to do more for the people of Gaza, and they shouldn’t be suspicious and mistrustful.

They should understand why we’re there and what we’re trying to do and it’s only to save lives and nothing else.

A tent built with canned food cans in the middle of a makeshift shelter in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza.

A tent built with canned food cans in the middle of a makeshift shelter in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza.

UN News: And with these commitments, if they’re all implemented, what will be the other challenges you worry about, facing aid delivery?

Jamie McGoldrick: Well, I think that what we face right now is a situation where it’s very unstable and very hostile military activity there. Many millions of people are suffering. Everybody in the Gaza Strip needs some sort of support from us.

And with the fact that the law-and-order issue is certainly pertinent there because people are very desperate. And so when they see trucks, they come and they attack the trucks and loot them and ransack them.

And that means that some of the food isn’t getting to all the people that should get it. And so, it’s important for us to stabilize things. And the way we stabilize things is just to swamp the place, to flood the place with food everywhere.

Demonetize it, take away the value that’s there. And so that that state stability would then allow us to have a much easier way to deliver assistance.

Because right now our planning horizons are two to three days, and we only have two or three days stock in country at any one point in time so we have to change that – the instability, the lawlessness, the security vacuum – and have for ourselves a massive amount of food available because we know the Rafah incursion’s coming and we need to be able to pre-position stocks. And right now, we can’t do that.

UN News: When you say we know that the Rafah incursion is coming, you don’t have any hope that maybe this will be averted, that the Israeli side has started to listen and to respond positively to world pressure?

Jamie McGoldrick: I think they are listening to that. But I think they also have war aims, which I think would trump any humanitarian objectives.

And I think we just have to be in a situation to recognize that for them, the war is not finished, for them the end game is not yet there. And I think the withdrawal from Khan Younis is to prepare them for what’s next.

And I think that’s something even the Israeli population, who are looking for the hostages to come back, there’s a large percentage of them – any survey done of the public opinion – they are very much in favour of ending this going through Rafah.

And for us we don’t play a part of any movement of population. But we have to be ready for the possibility of people leaving Rafah, because there’s very few places for them to go. And for us, we really struggle to pre-position enough material, non-food items, shelter, material and water, especially at this time of year when the weather is becoming so hot and the ability to have mobile health support and protection.

So, all of those things are real big issues for us, and we really don’t have the capacity and resources and ability right now. And we’re really struggling to get prepared. So hopefully with all these pipelines opening, all of these new openings in the North – we can start to swamp and flood the place with food and other items, we can get ourselves ready for whatever comes next.

UN News: So basically, you’re in a race against time?

Jamie McGoldrick: Well we are, right now we’re just basically living in a hand-to-mouth existence. We’ve barely been able to deal with the issues we have facing us. We’ve only got a short pipeline, we’ve only got a small stock, and we’ve got massive needs.

And of course, this doesn’t include the North, which is even more harrowing in terms of the humanitarian needs. Until we can address that, we’re in no position to be able to say that we can put aside stocks as you would do in other emergencies, other disasters…And yet the planning is underway for a Rafah incursion, which could move up to 800,000 people.

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