powerful claim

Samantha Power blames World Central Kitchen strike on systemic Israeli issues

The USAID administrator’s characterization of the strike is at odds with Israel’s description of it as a tragic but isolated accident

Associated Press

USAID Administrator Samantha Power gestures during a press conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power characterized the Israeli strike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza last week as part of broader systemic issues in Israel’s military and deconfliction procedures, a description very much at odds with Israel’s characterization of the strike as a tragic but isolated mistake.

“The system that gave rise to the killing of these innocent aid workers is the same system that has made it so hard to bring about the kind of civilian protection that is needed as well for Palestinians,” Power said in testimony to a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, also linking the strike to the reported deaths of more than 200 other aid workers and 30,000 Palestinians, a statistic produced by Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry.

Administration officials have offered conflicting answers in recent weeks on whether they trust and utilize the casualty numbers provided by Hamas’ healthy ministry. Israel has described the World Central Kitchen strike as an unfortunate error and has disciplined IDF officials.

“The system for so-called deconfliction, where civilian sites and civilian gatherings, and the welfare of civilians, including aid workers… that system is really in need of this improvement,” Power continued.

She said Israel’s deconfliction system “doesn’t provide any assurance” that aid groups will be able to deliver “in safety or reliably” inside Gaza.

The former U.N. ambassador did not directly answer a question about whether Israel is deliberately using starvation as a weapon of war, as groups including the European Union, Human Rights Watch and some progressives have alleged, but said that Israel “has not done enough to facilitate the kind of humanitarian access we need” to stave off potential famine conditions, adding that there “have been a series of restrictions over many months” imposed by Israel.

Israel has said that conditions and humanitarian aid groups’ capacity inside Gaza, rather than Israeli restrictions on entry, have been primarily responsible for shortages.

Power described recent moves by Israel to open additional humanitarian aid corridors as a “sea change, which we hope is sustained and expanded upon.”

Power said that the administration has emphasized to Israel the importance of “maintaining the humanitarian hub, such as it is, in Rafah” to avoid further issues in distributing aid inside Gaza. “Our view,” she continued, is “that it would be a mistake” to carry out an operation in Rafah equivalent to those which Israel pursued in Khan Younis and Gaza City.

Power also appeared supportive of moves by other countries to resume aid to the scandal-plagued United Nations Relief and Works Agency, describing it as “the humanitarian backbone for the work all our partners are doing on the ground in Gaza.”

“We also need to have the resources to fund those other organizations, even as other countries step up to continue to support the backbone,” she continued, referring to other aid organizations inside Gaza that are supported by the U.S.

She named the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the International Medical Corps as some of the groups the U.S. is continuing to work with on the ground in Gaza. UNICEF, she noted at another point in the hearing, traditionally uses UNRWA infrastructure and resources for distributing aid.

She said the U.S. is awaiting the results of the investigation into UNRWA, and that its takeaways could potentially be applied more broadly, while also praising the ongoing work of UNRWA employees in spite of dangerous conditions for aid workers.

Power said that she’s not aware of any plan to replace UNRWA in the West Bank and Gaza going forward.

The USAID head emphasized that substantial and better-organized humanitarian efforts will be difficult to pursue until the fighting ends. She said that, in order to fully address the food crisis in the enclave, more trucks will need to enter than had been going in prior to the war.

She said that Israel has moved too slowly in opening up humanitarian corridors into the enclave, but said that there has been some change, which she linked to public and private pressure from President Joe Biden and the administration.

“President Biden has been pushing privately from the beginning. He’s been the lead humanitarian voice engaging every time he talks to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 topic” has been humanitarian support, she said. “I think what is different is the public nature of this” in recent days.

Despite allegations from the Israeli government of widespread misappropriation of aid in Gaza, Power said the U.S. has not received reports from its partners on the ground in Gaza that Hamas is systematically diverting food aid.

But she added that organized distribution of food aid has collapsed, leading to “depression” and scrambles for assistance, as well as “increased influence” of gangs and criminal groups.

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