International aid groups are warning that they cannot deliver basic services to the Gaza Strip, causing a “dire” humanitarian crisis that is set to worsen. About 63% of Gaza’s population receives aid from these groups. Israel stopped allowing deliveries of food, fuel, and supplies to Gaza’s 2.3 million residents on October 10, 2023 and is preparing for a ground invasion.
The same blockade that has prevented civilians and items like medicine from moving into or out of the 25-mile-long area has been in place for 16 years, but this blockade does not apply to food and fuel brought in by aid groups. Gaza, the size of Philadelphia, relies heavily on foreign aid for its economy and maintains a dependence on trade with other countries.
Gaza’s economic struggles are partly due to Israel’s permanent air, land, and sea blockades around the region since 2007, following Hamas’ rise to power. Egypt, which borders Gaza, also oversees one checkpoint that restricts people’s access. Although Israel has granted permits to 17,000 Gaza residents to enter and work in Israel, food, fuel, and medical supplies all first pass through Israel. Israel controls two physical checkpoints along Gaza, monitoring both the entry and exit of people and trucks. The blockades generally prohibit Gazans without work permits or special clearance from entering Israel.
The blockade intensified after Hamas’ surprise attack on 20 Israeli towns and military bases on October 7, leading to a broad blockade of imports into Gaza, stopping all food, fuel, and medical supplies from entering the region. Both the West Bank and Gaza have small economies with a massive deficit of US$6.6 billion in losses each year. Over 53% of Gaza residents were considered below the poverty line in 2020, and 77% of Gazan households received aid from the United Nations and other groups. The blockade’s economic and trade isolation is the largest cause of Gaza’s weak economy. About 64% of people in Gaza are considered food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to sufficient food.
Since 2005, Gaza’s food imports have increased by 50%, while the West Bank and Gaza produce 30% less. The blockade has made it difficult for Gaza to produce food within its borders, as Israeli airstrikes have destroyed farmlands and food crops, threatening fish stocks. Gaza’s weak economy and isolation have led to reliance on international aid organizations, such as UNRWA, which provides education, food aid, and healthcare services to over 3 million Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA is the second-largest employer in Gaza, following Hamas, and funds and runs 284 schools, employing over 9,000 local staff and educating over 294,000 children annually. It also runs 22 hospitals, employing nearly 1,000 health staff and generating 3.3 million patient visits annually. UNRWA’s schools are converted into humanitarian shelters during crises, providing clean water, food, mattresses, blankets, and showers.
Over 330,000 people in Gaza have been displaced from their homes, with over two-thirds staying in UNRWA schools. UNRWA has evolved into a parallel government alongside Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and other countries.
The U.S. has been the largest funder of UNRWA, a U.N. agency that relies on governments for its work. From April 2021 to March 2022, the U.S. provided over $500 million to Palestinians, including $417 million to UNRWA. The funding has fluctuated throughout different presidential administrations, with the Trump Administration cutting 30% of the organization’s budget in 2018 due to alleged jihad-glorifying textbooks. The Biden administration restored funding in 2021.
Republican politicians have accused UNRWA of “cozying up” to Hamas, while an internal ethics committee has accused top staff of misconduct and abuses of authority. Since the war between Israel and Hamas began, over 1,500 Gazans have been killed and 5,300 injured, while Hamas attacks have killed over 1,300 people in Israel and injured 3,200 others.
International aid groups and European Union officials have called for a humanitarian corridor in Gaza, a protected path for civilians, aid workers, and basic items to safely pass back and forth between Gaza and Israel and Egypt. However, no clear plans have been made for such a corridor.