January 12th, 2009
10:42 AM ET

Getting aid into Gaza: no dates allowed!

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/12/nelson_gaza_aid2.jpg caption="A Mercy Corp truck on its way to a checkpoint to cross the border to deliver food and other humanitarian supplies to Gaza residents."]

Cassandra Nelson
Mercy Corps


I arrived in Israel last week to work with Mercy Corps, an international aid organization, to assist the Gazans who are suffering from the conflict and more than 18 months of harsh blockades that have left their cupboards bare and their banks empty of cash.

The entire Gaza strip is on the verge of collapse: most people have no electricity, no running water and inadequate food supplies. Fuel is running low. And only a fraction of aid needed to sustain Gaza's 1.5 million residents is getting in.

Getting basic food and medical aid into Gaza Strip from Israel has proved to be extremely difficult. This is frustrating for people who work with aid agencies trying to help civilians stranded in a war zone.

The Israeli authorities have refused to allow almost all expatriate aid workers to enter Gaza since November 2008, so we work in Israel, and our national staff who live in Gaza work inside the territory to carry out the projects on the ground.

The Israeli authorities have isolated Gaza from the rest of the world – no people, money or goods can legally enter Gaza from Israel without the approval of the Israeli authorities. In 2007, an average of 500 trucks a day entered Gaza with food and supplies, according to Mercy Corps data. In comparison, one day last week, just 36 humanitarian trucks were allowed access to Gaza. With almost the entire population of 1.5 million Gazans dependent on humanitarian assistance, it is obvious that the incoming aid is not even remotely adequate.

We have spent nearly 14 days working through red tape and protocols that seem to change daily, to secure the permission to deliver food aid. We have a truck filled with rice, cooking oil, canned tuna fish and edible dates that will feed 2,000 people for about a week. Last Wednesday, the delivery was supposed go through, but at 2:00 a.m. we received notice from the Israeli authorities that the delivery was being postponed because it contained edible dates as part of the package. The dates had been on the packing list for days and were never questioned – not until 2:00 a.m. the morning we were supposed to go to the border. This is just one delay of many that we have been confronted with by the Israeli authorities. There are days when we seriously wonder if our aid will ever get in.

Later that night we removed the dates and the truck was repacked. Once again, we were given permission to go to the border to deliver the supplies.

I will soon go to the Kerem Shalom border checkpoint with the truck for another delivery. Fingers crossed.

Editor’s Note: Cassandra Nelson joined Mercy Corps in Afghanistan in 2002. She spends most of her time deployed in hotspots and hostile areas in need of humanitarian assistance. She has worked in Iraq, Darfur, Lebanon, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Liberia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Banda Aceh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Filed under: Crisis in Gaza • Israel • Palestine
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. PA

    Were the over 800 hundred Palestinians including women and children in Hamas houses, mosques, and schools as shields? In my view, that's a hard sell. If the people know that Hamas are using these buildings to use Gaza civilians as targets than surely Israel's Government know this also. Therefore, why would they directly fire missiles on these buildings knowing they would be killing innocent people? I don't believe it's a case of the world community not understanding but rather a case of the world community's disbelief that Israel a Christian Nation would give the Hamas military artillary preferance over innocent Gazan civilians! And then there's the many delays by Isreal in getting supplies to Gaza whist knowing children are suffering do to having no water, food, medical supplies, electricity, heat due to their missile attacks! The inhumanity is what the World Community fails to understand. There has to be other options. The numbers of casualties in Gaza vs. Israel is hard to ignore. And if Hamas must surrender to have Peace who are the aggressors?

    January 12, 2009 at 11:48 pm |
  2. sam

    That shows how israel trys so hard to make the life of palestinians so hard and bad , so they can break them but i dont think that will happen . Beacause you cant break a nation that has faith .Israel war is not on Hamas , it is on Humanity .

    January 12, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  3. Terry

    If Ms. Nelson is so concerned about getting supplies into Gaza, why doesn't she use the same pipeline that Hamas is using to get their rockets and missiles into Gaza. These aren't bottle rockets that they are firing into Israel, so they must be using some covert way of getting the weapons into the area. Why can't that way be used to bring in some of the food and other supplies? Enough of the sympathy for these people. These are the same people who laughed and cheered when the twin towers went down 7 years ago. Or have you folks, especially the so-called sympathetic westerners, forgotten about that? Hamas doesn't want peace. They want their people to suffer so they can play the sympathy angle and continue to get monetary support, not to feed the people, but to buy more weapons to fire at, and kill, Israelis. Tell me I'm wrong!

    January 12, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    I wonder what it was about the edible dates that was a problem? That seems strange.

    I know the work is discouraging when roadblocks are put in place that you have to work around. Just know that for each person that receives the aid is one more person saved for a future. Hopefully that number will grow. Until this is over know that your efforts are appreciated – in Gaza and back here at home.

    January 12, 2009 at 4:36 pm |
  5. War on Hamas

    Aid for the Gazans ? How about aid for the 1.5 Jews bordering Gaza ? They have been dealing with seven years of Hamas rocket fire. The world community fails to understand that Israel never targets civilians. Hamas should be held accountable for 100% of the civilian losses in both sides of the border. Hamas uses houses, mosques and schools as shields to launch rockets from. Those places become military targets during a conflict by allowing the terrorists to operate from there.

    January 12, 2009 at 3:00 pm |
  6. Linda

    Can someone please explain this to me?
    Maybe I’m naive, but if the Hamas cares so much about their citizens why won’t they just surrender?
    I know it’s kind of an extreme approach but even the Nazis and the Japanese eventually surrendered to protect the life of their people.

    January 12, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  7. PA

    Cassandra it must be more than heart wrenching and taxing to be in your position seeing first hand these people's needs and having absolutely no means available to deliver to Gaza. I hate to say it but I don't see anything changing in the next week with Bush's statement that Hamas needs to stop firing their rockets into Israel. Unfortunately most seem to be on Israel's side. .. I DO NOT agree with the President's stand on this issue.

    The Gaza people are human beings with a right to the same freedoms as we are. They've been locked in for at least three years under the new Government. Still that's no reason for all Democratic Nations to turn a blind eye, pretend they don't exist. Hamas may be firing rockets but there is much warfare coming back at them. Warfare that's killing, injuring innocent Gaza citizens. Just? Not by any Christian standards I know. And isn't that what this war is about? Ironically Israel is depriving Gazan people of the basic rights and human decency they claim they're fighting to achieve! I have to ask "What would Jesus do? " Deploring Situation from where I sit.

    January 12, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  8. Shai

    It is terrible how Hamas is using the humanitarrian crisis as its hostige. Few days ago during the daily cease fire, and many other times in the past 2 years, it had targeted those same check points where trucks go into Gaza, firing bomb shells and rockets dirctly at them. Obviously, Hamas is trying to create an even worse humanitarian situation in order to use it for its own propoganda.

    January 12, 2009 at 11:59 am |
  9. Chris

    The Serbs did the same thing to me in Sarejevo they encircled the city just like Gaza bombed us day and nite allowed small amount of food in and then would say you see we are the good guys. Isreal just like Serbia claimed to be the victoms we all know now who was yhe bad guys. Funny Isrealis have close ties with Serbia two of a kind

    January 12, 2009 at 11:56 am |
  10. Chris

    Hasn't this fighting been going on since Cain and Abel? I doubt talks and/or a truce will have any long term effect, it never has before. I thinkg the U.S. needs to be neutral for once.

    January 12, 2009 at 11:44 am |
  11. Cindy

    During any war it is always tough and extremely dangerous trying to get aid to the civilians that live in the area where the fighting is taking place. At least Israel is allowing some aid in. If they didn't want to they could not allow any in...but they'd be ostracized by the world.

    Hamas isn't innocent in this deal. They are playing a role in this thing too. If it weren't for there incessant lobbing of rockets into Israel then things wouldn't be so bad in Gaza now.


    January 12, 2009 at 11:10 am |