"Israel MUST open the borders and allow the United Nations to deliver supplies in sufficient quantities."
Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday gave a qualified endorsement of American military airdrops of desperately needed humanitarian supplies into Gaza, echoing assertions from other human rights defenders that Israel must allow massive, immediate ground shipments of aid to reach the bombed and besieged Palestinians who are beginning to starve to death.
President Joe Biden announced Friday that the U.S. would soon begin humanitarian airdrops into Gaza, vowing to "pull out every stop we can."
"In the coming days we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who are providing airdrops of additional food and supplies," Biden said at the White House alongside his guest, far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The president added that he would also "seek to open up other avenues, including possibly a marine corridor," to deliver aid to Gaza.
Joe Biden says the U.S. aims to airdrop humanitarian aid to Gaza and insists on Israel's help.https://t.co/CRU38GsJsB pic.twitter.com/inWnkSPSsM
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) March 1, 2024
A senior Biden administration official who asked to remain anonymous toldPolitico that while there have been internal discussions regarding airdrops for weeks, Thursday's attack by Israeli forces on starving Palestinians gathered to receive food aid on al-Rashid Street in Gaza City prompted the president's decision. More than 1,000 civilians were killed and wounded in the massacre.
"The United States, which has helped fund the Israeli military for years, cannot sit back and allow hundreds of thousands of innocent children to starve to death," Sanders (Vt.) said in a statement. "As a result of Israeli bombing and restrictions on humanitarian aid, the people of Gaza are facing an unprecedented humanitarian disaster."
"But while an airdrop will buy time and save lives, there is no substitute for sustained ground deliveries of what is needed to sustain life in Gaza," he added. "Israel MUST open the borders and allow the United Nations to deliver supplies in sufficient quantities. The United States should make clear that failure to do so immediately will lead to a fundamental break in the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the immediate halt of all military aid."
Sanders has advocated strong measures including limiting U.S. military aid in an effort to compel Israel to stop the slaughter. However, the 82-year-old democratic socialist has come under fire for his unwillingness to call for Gaza cease-fire. Instead, Sanders has repeatedly urged a "humanitarian pause."
Israeli forces have killed more than 30,200 Palestinians in Gaza—most of them women and children—while wounding over 71,300 others and displacing around 90% of the besieged enclave's 2.3 million people. Children are now starving to death, and experts say adults, especially elders and other vulnerable people, will soon follow absent urgent intervention.
Israeli forces have bombed food production and distribution centers, destroyed crops, and killed livestock. They have also attacked fishers and fired on aid convoys. Israeli extremists have blocked convoys at border crossings, setting up encampments and even a giant bouncy castle where organizers served popcorn, cotton candy, and slushies to children.
United Nations food experts said this week that Israel's forced starvation of Gazans is genocidal.
Other human rights defenders also stressed the need for a massive ground-based relief effort for Gaza.
"Airdrops will not be effective in blunting the humanitarian crises in Gaza," said Dave Harden, a former assistant administrator at the United States Agency for International Development. "Airdrops are inefficient, expensive, dangerous, and only helpful when there are no other delivery options. Airdrops are primarily for the Biden administration's benefit—to paper over a massive policy failure."
Oxfam America president and CEO Abby Maxman
asserted on social media that "people in Gaza are starving, and any aid can feel like a lifeline to hold on to—but airdrops are not the answer."
"They are a chaotic and potentially dangerous fig leaf in the face of starvation and desperation," she added. "Full unfettered humanitarian access is needed now to save lives."
Echoing Maxman, Scott Paul, who runs humanitarian policy at Oxfam America, said that airdrops "would mostly serve to relieve the guilty consciences of senior U.S. officials whose policies are contributing to the ongoing atrocities and risk of famine in Gaza."
Joyce Ajlouny, the general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee—a Quaker organization—met with Biden administration officials Friday and pleaded for "an immediate and permanent cease-fire and full access for humanitarian aid."
"While we are happy to see any aid reaching people in Gaza, airdrops are not enough," Ajlouny said. "It is a cruel irony to drop food when at the same time you are directly responsible for dropping bombs. We need a cease-fire and full humanitarian access."
"But we also know that a cease-fire and humanitarian relief are not enough," she continued. "As a Palestinian, I know the history that got us here very intimately. And as a Palestinian and a Quaker I know that a just and lasting peace will only come when we address the apartheid state imposed on Palestinians for decades."
"Fourteen successive presidential administrations have supported the Israeli occupation. Now the Biden administration is funding a genocide," Ajlouny added. "Calls for restraint mean little when Israel is ignoring us and our tax dollars are used to pay for Israel's aggression."