Humanitarian aid and the politics of annihilation

The United Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) briefing on the ramifications of Israel’s atrocious bombing of Gaza reveals one prominent detail. “The number of killed is increasing. There are not enough body-bags for the dead in Gaza.” Coupled with the news that Palestinians have been forced to dig mass graves, which is reminiscent of the 1948 Nakba, the observation illustrates a prevailing discrepancy: Gaza cannot keep up with Israel’s colonial violence.

In other news, the UN Security Council rejected a draft resolution by Russia seeking a ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, with five votes in favour, four against, and six abstentions. The representatives of countries voting against and abstaining from the resolution (some of these countries are donors to UNRWA) have given unanimous approval to Israel’s dehumanisation of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Noting that the ceasefire was requested for humanitarian, not political reasons, the politics that plays out in humanitarian aid could not be clearer.

There are not enough body bags for the dead in Gaza. According to a Reuters report from yesterday, 2,750 Palestinians were killed in Gaza since 7 October. Israel’s large-scale aggression has been flaunted to the world, packaged by its security narrative. However, it is the tangible details that stand out, despite how insignificant they may seem. There are not enough humanitarian basics in Gaza to cater for the Palestinian people’s daily lives, and this has become normalised even by humanitarian aid standards. Now, the international community is normalising another depth to the colonial violence narrative: the Palestinians murdered by Israel are not deserving of any dignity. Just as in life, Palestinians in Gaza have had to live in deprivation of access to clean water, medical supplies and interventions, to mention two examples; their demise is also steeped in deprivation of a proper burial.

Let us not forget that the UNSC resolution was rejected yesterday, because the opposing and abstaining countries have not only ostracised Russia politically, but also decided that their ties with Israel take precedence. At a time of dire need, such political actors have exposed the discrepancy between humanitarian aid and Israel’s colonial violence, between marginally supporting Palestine and unequivocally holding up Israel’s political pedestal and impunity.

In times of normalised Israeli colonial violence, UNRWA repeatedly warned of a funding deficit that would impact services offered to Palestinians. According to UNRWA, “neutrality helps to create what is termed humanitarian space”. The Agency also deems the concept of neutrality essential for its operations. Yet, UNRWA operates from a political space and a political agenda. Funding is determined by donor countries, many of which are politically aligned with Israel. The Agency knows that even if funding increases, it will never exceed what Israel inflicts on Palestinians even in times when there is no ongoing bombardment of Gaza, let alone in this instance, where Israel’s military might is still lauded by UNRWA’s donors as defence.

Israel’s colonial violence and its international accomplices are defining humanitarian aid. Such a parameter is not a measure of neutrality. Gaza does not have enough body bags because of Israel’s colonial violence, and humanitarian aid is so enmeshed with Israel that there is no shame in exposing such indignity. This should serve as a reflection on the entire humanitarian agenda when it comes to Palestinians, and a reminder of how politically depraved it is that the international community intends Israel’s annihilation for Gaza.

Humanitarian aid and the politics of annihilation

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