Displaced Palestinians gather to receive food in Rafah

Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a donation point in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 7, 2024.

(Photo: Yasser Qudihe/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden Aid Port Plan Rebuked as 'Pathetic' PR Effort as Israel Starves Gazans

"We need accountability, not more harebrained headline-chasing schemes," said a campaigner with Medical Aid for Palestinians.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce during his State of the Union address Thursday night that the U.S. military will construct a temporary port on Gaza's coastline to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, a plan that critics said is a far cry from what's needed to end Israel's forced starvation of the enclave's population.

It's expected to take up to two months for large aid packages to begin flowing through the seaport, which a White House official said would be able to "receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine, and temporary shelters."

"Wouldn't it be easier to demand Israel let in aid right now while Palestinian children are literally being starved to death?" asked Josh Ruebner, an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University and former policy director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. "Waiting 45-60 days to build a temporary pier doesn't help Palestinians starving to death today."

"Besides, how are you going to offload the aid from the pier to the land given that Israel shoots at Palestinian boats all the time?" Ruebner continued. "And even if you get the aid to land, how does it get distributed to those most in need? Maybe you should have thought about that before you cut off aid to UNRWA, the only agency able to distribute aid throughout the Gaza Strip."

The White House said Thursday that in addition to the aid port, it will "continue to work to increase the amount of aid flowing through existing border crossings at Rafah and Kerem Shalom." The administration also said the Israeli government, at the request of the U.S., has "prepared a new land crossing directly into northern Gaza," which Israel has mostly cut off from aid for months—causing children to starve to death.

"All of these efforts in order to avoid what actually matters: Stopping the war," responded Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. "Pathetic."

Biden's port announcement will come days after the U.S. began airdropping aid into Gaza as Israel continued obstructing ground deliveries and attacking aid convoys. According to the United Nations, 150 aid trucks at most are reaching Gaza daily—half of the bare minimum needed.

"Israel has mounted a starvation campaign against the Palestinian people in Gaza," Michael Fakhri, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, said Thursday.

"The aid that his administration is trying to get into Gaza can't get through Israel's blockade. Instead of announcing a total arms embargo—or at least until Israel allows aid to get in!—he is building a port."

Aid that arrives at the temporary U.S. port will be routed through Cyprus and "will undergo prior inspection by Israel," The Washington Postreported, raising concerns that Israel will impede the maritime shipments just as it has done with ground shipments.

U.S. officials claimed the port operation would not require any American troops on the ground but "did not provide details about how the pier would be built," The Associated Pressreported. "One noted that the U.S. military has 'unique capabilities' and can do things from 'just offshore.'"

Human rights groups and aid workers have implored the U.S. to exert pressure on the Israeli government—including by cutting off arms sales—to end its suffocating blockade, allow aid to flow freely through land crossings, and support a lasting cease-fire.

"Biden is sending Israel a new shipment of weapons every 36 hours," said Yonah Lieberman, co-founder of the progressive Jewish advocacy group IfNotNow. "The aid that his administration is trying to get into Gaza can't get through Israel's blockade. Instead of announcing a total arms embargo—or at least until Israel allows aid to get in!—he is building a port."

Rohan Talbot, director of advocacy and campaigns at Medical Aid for Palestinians, wrote on social media that "the infrastructure required to get aid to those who need it in Gaza already exists, the problem is just that Israel keeps attacking and obstructing it."

"We need accountability, not more harebrained headline-chasing schemes," Talbot added. "Literally nobody on the ground is advocating for this. They want you to stop providing the bombs doing the damage."

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