January 22nd, 2009
10:31 AM ET

Getting aid into Gaza: Despite cease-fire, still no access

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/22/mercycorps.update.1.jpg caption="A family in Gaza returns to their home."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/22/mercycorps.update.2.jpg caption="Children in Gaza fill water containers during the cease-fire."]

Cassandra Nelson
Mercy Corps

January 19

It is the second day of the ceasefire. The Mercy Corps staff in Gaza are all very happy with the news. No one is sure if it will last, but for now I can hear the relief in their voices. Unfortunately, massive challenges and frustrations remain.

Despite the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's comments saying aid would be distributed in Gaza, and Minister Herzog's press conference comments yesterday where he stated aid was being rushed in, most of the international aid community is still being denied access to Gaza.

Yesterday, I received good news—or so I thought. My name was cleared by the Israeli Defense Ministry to enter Gaza, along with dozens of other international aid workers.

I immediately set to work to organize the logistics for reaching Gaza City: a driver to pick me up – along with my colleague - on the other side of the border. I also had to coordinate with or local staff to set priorities for our first entrance into Gaza in months. The last time most expatriate aid workers were able to travel to Gaza was in November.

I also called the Israeli Defense Forces Coordination Liaison Administration to the Gaza strip (IDF-CLA) to arrange for our entry through the Erez border checkpoint. This is when the good news started to unravel.

I spent the entire afternoon dialing and re-dialing all the numbers we were given for the IDF-CLA. After hours of no-answer, I finally got a live person on the other side of the phone. The Lieutenant told me to call back at 9:00 PM and they would tell us if we could enter Gaza. I called at 9:00 and no answer. I called at 9:30 and no answer. I called at 10:30 and still no answer.

This morning I called at 7:30 am and reached someone. Again they told me they didn’t know if we would be allowed to cross the border and to call back at 8:40 am. At 8:40 I got through and was told to call the Major instead. When I reached the Major he told me we would not be allowed to access to Gaza today, despite the fact that the border would be open for other people to cross. He said to call back in the afternoon to see about our chances of entering tomorrow.

I quickly called the other major international aid organizations working here and found that they were being refused access to Gaza, too.

It is hard to understand why international aid workers are being denied access while journalists and others are being allowed to enter.

With an estimated 100,000 people displaced from their homes in Gaza, we are keenly aware of the need for humanitarian aid. Food and other essential items, such as formula and diapers for babies and toddlers, is needed. The number of local staff present in Gaza is not enough to meet the immediate needs.

Thousands of displaced people are attempting to go home – the shelters are overcrowded and families have nowhere to stay, so many are on-the-move. But they are facing terrible dangers as they go home to areas strewn with unexploded ordinances, missiles, shells and other ammunitions that did not explode but are still “live” and extremely dangerous. International aid teams who specialize in removing unexploded ordinances need immediate access to Gaza or more lives will be needlessly lost.

It is initially estimated that about 5,000 homes have been destroyed and over 20,000 homes are damaged. Families need immediate assistance and supplies including plastic sheeting to repair their homes.

But aid supply trucks are still not being allowed to enter in sufficient quantities. Saturday less than 20 humanitarian trucks were allowed entry. Sunday about 130 trucks entered, but this is the same number as was entering before the ceasefire. Much of the international aid community is incredibly frustrated that the Israeli authorities have not yet made good on their statements.

The Mercy Corps team has to make difficult decisions and work with the resources available. Our top priorities are families who have completely lost their homes in the bombings and the families who have had to flee their homes because they are located in hot spots and are too unsafe.

We are distributing the plastic sheeting we have in Gaza now, but it will be gone in the next couple days.

My teammates who have been living and working around the clock, under-fire, in Gaza throughout this ordeal need support and a rest. My colleague and I will be on the phone again tonight, trying to push for the permission to enter Gaza.

The ceasefire will enter day three tomorrow. How much longer can the Israeli authorities continue to deny international aid workers access to Gaza?

Click here for Cassandra's earlier blog posts.

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 • Global 360°
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Janet Lynch

    Who are we kidding!! Israel has carte blanche in Gaza!
    The palestinian people wan't their freedom.
    But Hamas will learn just as the IRA did that terrorism won't get you what you want.
    especially when the goverment they are fighting has the might to pulverize them.there has to be another way!!

    I don't like to see killing and blood shed on either side.

    January 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  2. robyncaffrey keyser west virginia

    this is for cindy's coment

    i think your so wright !

    yes we can

    January 22, 2009 at 11:20 am |
  3. Cindy

    You would think with the fighting over that Israel would allow aid in! It's crazy that they aren't! Maybe they are just being cautious about who they let in because this cease fire is so new and they don't want any guns or what not getting into Gaza to help Hamas if they wanted to begin firing on them again.

    But I do hope that they start letting more aid in soon.


    January 22, 2009 at 10:47 am |