OpinionIsrael at War

Gaza’s understanding of US humanitarian aid: A free lunch

In the West, it may seem cruel to demand something in return for aid. But in the Middle Eastern, giving without getting in return is considered submission.

U.S. Air Force loadmasters and crew chiefs load bundles of humanitarian aid destined for an airdrop over Gaza onto a U.S. Air Forces Central HC-130J Combat King II at an undisclosed location within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility on March 16, 2024. Credit: U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs.
U.S. Air Force loadmasters and crew chiefs load bundles of humanitarian aid destined for an airdrop over Gaza onto a U.S. Air Forces Central HC-130J Combat King II at an undisclosed location within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility on March 16, 2024. Credit: U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs.
Dan Diker (Facebook)
Dan Diker
Dan Diker is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the longtime director of its Counter-Political Warfare Project.
Zvi Yehezkeli
Zvi Yehezkeli
Zvi Yehezkeli is an Arab Affairs correspondent and head of the Arab desk at Israel’s Channel 13 News.

Gazans interpret U.S. humanitarian aid without a quid pro quo as unqualified American support for Hamas and Gaza and a rejection of Israel. Gazans note that the United States helps them more than the Arab states do. Therefore, Gazans interpret U.S. aid as an implicit justification for their actions on Oct. 7, 2023.

Gaza views American air drops, seaport plans and aid convoys as concrete illustrations of American solidarity with Palestinian “liberation,” which aims to eradicate Israel. Unconditional aid strengthens the Gazans’ sense of self-righteousness and understanding that Oct. 7 was a milestone in achieving victory in their never-ending jihad against the Jewish state.

Humanitarian aid programs prove to the Gazans that they and the Americans “think alike.” Like the Americans, Gazans believe that Israel has “gone too far” in its war against Hamas terrorists. Like the Americans, they would welcome—though have not called for—a ceasefire. These points prove to the Gazans that there is essentially no debate between them and the Americans, and statements by American politicians such as Sen. Charles Schumer enhance the Gazans’ impression.

This assumption is only strengthened by the fact that the United States has not demanded public accountability for the actions of Hamas nor public statements of regret from Palestinian Authority officials. U.S. aid does not come with a “price tag” of thanks or loyalty to American aid providers.

Similarly, Israel has fallen for the same deception. Israel has taken a non-transactional approach in its unilateral water allotment to Jordan. Symbolic of Jordanian politicians’ and citizens’ support of Hamas’s atrocities, a shawarma restaurant named “October 7” was opened in Amman and widely and triumphantly promoted in viral social media clips. Still, Israel has not imposed sanctions or registered its outrage with Jordanian officials.

Additionally, more humanitarian aid has been provided to Gaza during this war than in other operations, yet more of it has been hijacked by Hamas so that less aid overall reaches the people who need it. Even so, both mainstream and social media portray “starving Gazans” as the victims of Israel and not the strategic victims of Hamas. 

The U.S. humanitarian aid approach has been a strategic mistake. In the more “forgiving“ Western culture, it may seem “cruel” to demand something in return for aid. But in Middle Eastern culture, giving without getting in return is considered submission. This action encourages cynical exploitation of the “giver.”

The forgiving and dovish Western approach to humanitarian aid weakens Israel and the West, bolsters Hamas and renders these programs political and perceptual failures for Israel and the West. The Israeli government was naïve in providing even relatively small amounts of petrol to Gaza during the war, failing to calculate the damage it would do not only in the hands of Hamas fighters but also the psychological power and perceptual triumph it would provide to Hamas-supporting Gazans as a sign of Israeli surrender and capitulation.

The answer to this appearance of submission may not be abruptly stopping aid, but rather establishing the conditions and methods by which it is distributed. Aid givers should demand that receivers declare at distribution centers that they are not aligned with Hamas. A “no free lunch” policy would have Israel and the West demand accountability in aid organization and distribution. Without supervision, aid provides oxygen to Hamas, buying it time for continuing terror and disinformation warfare that seeks to turn the United States and other Western powers against Israel.

Originally published by The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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