Government tells High Court it has taken action to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza

State says it has opened new crossing, improved distribution coordination, but UN agency says ‘no meaningful improvement’ has been seen on the ground

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Armed and masked Palestinians seen on trucks loaded with international humanitarian aid entering Gaza through the Israeli Kerem Shalom Crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, April 3, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Armed and masked Palestinians seen on trucks loaded with international humanitarian aid entering Gaza through the Israeli Kerem Shalom Crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, April 3, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The government has told the High Court of Justice that it has already taken action to increase the supply of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, including opening a new crossing into northern Gaza, increasing operation hours for goods crossings into the territory, the addition of aid coordinators inside Gaza, and the entry of over 100 trucks for internal distribution of the aid.

The details were provided in the framework of a petition filed by the Gisha human rights organization, arguing that the government was hindering the supply of humanitarian aid to Gaza in various ways, and asking the court to order the government to allow the unfettered entry of such aid to the territory.

Aid agencies have said that hundreds of thousands of Gazans are suffering from severe malnutrition and hunger, particularly in the north of the territory, where international humanitarian organizations have warned of impending famine.

But the government has contended for months that there are no limits to the amount of aid that can enter Gaza and repeated that assertion in the details it provided to the High Court on Monday in a supplementary submission, which the court had requested earlier this month.

Following the strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy in March and threats by the Biden administration to retract support for Israel’s Gaza campaign, Israeli authorities reported dramatically increased numbers of trucks entering the Strip every day, an effort that Washington has acknowledged.

But the outgoing head of the United Nations’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Jamie McGoldrick said on April 12 that conditions on the ground have yet to improve, while OCHA’s figures for the number of trucks entering Gaza is far lower than those cited by the government in its response to the petition.

Palestinian children said suffering from malnutrition receive treatment at a healthcare center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

In a decision following an April 4 hearing, the High Court told the government specifically to state how much aid is needed to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, what the bottlenecks are limiting the provision of humanitarian aid, and what it intends to do to increase the entry and supply of aid.

In its response on Monday, the state declined to state how much aid it believes Gaza needs. But it did detail what it said were the bottlenecks for supply.

The state’s response declared that Israel is currently carrying out security inspections on some 350 to 400 trucks of aid a day, which go through the Kerem Shalom Crossing from Israel to Gaza or the Nitzana crossing from Egypt to Israel, from which trucks are then routed either to Kerem Shalom or to Rafah between Egypt and Gaza.

The submission also stated that some 332 trucks entered northern Gaza from April 7 to 13, almost three times the number from the previous week.

But it claimed that as of April 11, there were 600 truckloads of supplies that had been transferred into Gaza territory and were awaiting collection and distribution, indicating, as it has done for months, that the problem is not with the actual supply of aid, but rather with distribution within Gaza by aid agencies.

The state also said that Hamas has demanded that international humanitarian organizations coordinate the distribution of supplies with the terror group, which the submission said gave Hamas substantial influence over the aid distribution chain. It also pointed to instances in which humanitarian aid had been looted from trucks, warehouses and distribution points by Hamas and other Gazan terror groups, criminal gangs in the territory and normal residents.

The concerns of aid organizations in distributing the aid, the active hostilities and the difficult conditions on the roads meant that some of the international groups on the ground are often reluctant to conduct distribution missions, the state added.

An image of what the Defense Ministry’s COGAT agency says is uncollected consignments of humanitarian aid inside Gaza awaiting distribution by aid organizations, April 11, 2024. (Courtesy: COGAT)

The submission said that 74 new trucks purchased by the UN and aid groups had been sent into Gaza along with 30 used trucks in order to facilitate distribution inside the territory.

And it said that the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) agency of the Defense Ministry was working to open up roads in the Strip where the Israel Defense Forces is operating and is providing personnel to coordinate between the army and the international organizations working on the ground.

Additionally, the state said the IDF was itself working to enable the movement of aid through roads where it is active as aid groups have demanded.

Critically, it noted that the government had authorized the opening of a new goods crossing, dubbed the Northern Crossing, from Israel into northern Gaza, where the humanitarian crisis is most acute, largely due to the great difficulties of aid distribution until now to that part of the strip.

That was a key demand of the petition and of aid agencies.

The submission stated that the security inspection capacity for aid trucks has also been increased, although it did not provide further details, and noted that with the recent summer daylight saving time switch, the hours of operation for Kerem Shalom and Nitzana had been increased by one hour during the week, and that the crossings were now operational for five to six hours on Fridays.

The state also noted that the government has now approved the use of the port of Ashdod for supplying aid to Gaza, a key demand of the petitioners and international aid groups, but said that this decision has yet to be implemented.

And the government stood by its assertion that the IDF has rejected only a tiny fraction, some 1.5 percent, of distribution requests inside Gaza, and contended that all food and water consignments are automatically approved for distribution.

Humanitarian aid enters the northern Gaza Strip where hunger and malnutrition are most acute according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 2024. (Courtesy: COGAT)

Addressing journalists via a video call on Friday, OCHA’s McGoldrick warned, however, that much more aid was still needed to alleviate the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

“The conditions on the ground haven’t improved in any meaningful way,” he said. “If we don’t have the chance to expand the delivery of aid in all parts of Gaza, but in particular to the north, then we’re going to face a catastrophe.”

McGoldrick also said there are still a range of constraints on the distribution of aid, such as access denials and long hours of waiting at checkpoints.

OCHA also has far lower numbers of trucks entering Gaza than those cited by COGAT. According to OCHA, 143 aid trucks entered Gaza on April 14, while COGAT said that 316 trucks had passed into the territory.

OCHA says that many trucks that enter through the crossings are only half full because of Israeli security inspection rules, and that they count only repacked full trucks that are sent out for delivery within the territory.

Gisha said in response to the supplementary submission that it detailed “future actions” with no timetable for implementation, and that no budgets had been allocated for the plans either.

It said that that response was intended to “deceive the court” and that Israel was “trying to hide the fact that practically speaking it continues to evade its responsibility for the situation and its obligation to allow the distribution of aid to civilians throughout Gaza — and instead of acting, it points an accusatory finger at aid organizations.”

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