DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS have so far been ineffective in securing access to get enough aid into Gaza to address the mounting humanitarian catastrophe, worsening as Israel’s invasion of Rafah progresses, reports the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI).

The UK has contributed more than £70 million in extra funding since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October 2023. However, restrictions of movement in the delivery of humanitarian assistance – and repeated military strikes on aid convoys by Israel being met with ineffectual criticism by key donor countries including the UK – had the potential to damage trust in the international humanitarian system.

Land crossings are tightly controlled by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), with aid convoys subject to exhaustive inspections to prevent the delivery of ‘dual use’ items that might benefit Hamas or be used as a weapon. Stakeholders reported to ICAI an example of stone fruit being turned away for this reason. ICAI requested an interview with the Israeli authorities to comment on the reasons for the barriers to humanitarian aid, but no one was available.

The watchdog found that the UK’s aid response has focused on flexible funding to organisations already operational in Gaza such as the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

However, funding for UNRWA was paused in January 2024, pending an investigation into allegations by the Israeli authorities that several UNWRA staff were involved in the October 2023 Hamas attacks. An independent report led by the former minister of foreign affairs in France, Catherine Colonna, has noted that no evidence has yet been forthcoming that Hamas staff were involved and several donors, including Spain, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Australia and the EU, have since announced the resumption of UNRWA funding.

The report also notes that the US, Spain, Canada, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands have all paused arms licenses or shipments to Israel over fears that they may be used in violation of international humanitarian law. At the time of writing, ICAI says the government has declined to publish their assessment of whether international humanitarian law has been breached, but the foreign secretary, David Cameron stated in April that he expected Israel to “abide by international humanitarian law, even when challenged”.

ICAI Chief Commissioner Dr Tamsyn Barton said: “The desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza is becoming an unprecedented catastrophe as Israel’s invasion of Rafah gets under way. While the UK has significantly increased aid to Gaza in response to the crisis it’s clear that very little is reaching those who urgently need it, with restrictions on land access – the only way to move enough aid – increasing and the situation for aid workers increasingly perilous.

“That the UK and other donors’ diplomatic attempts to improve access and save lives have so far been ineffective shows how fragile the system underpinning international humanitarian law is, confronting a hugely complex crisis such as this. We note that other donors have taken steps such as stopping or reducing arms sales or resuming funding to the main humanitarian agency, UNRWA, while the UK has not.”

Commenting on the ICAI report, Halima Begum, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: “People in Gaza have been blockaded to the brink of famine. It is unacceptable that aid funded by the British taxpayer is not effectively reaching the people and families so desperately in need. Our government now needs to do the right thing, show its moral leadership and urgently exert every effort to put pressure on Israel to allow food, water and medicine to be delivered to those suffering so desperately.

“Needless to say, Oxfam GB sees a deeply concerning ethical contradiction between the UK’s ineffective efforts around humanitarian diplomacy and aid delivery to Gaza and its continued commitment to selling and delivering arms components to Israel that are being used to such devastating impact on so many lives.

“With Gazans under constant threat of aerial bombardment, it is obviously a very complex proposition to get aid in. In the last week alone, Israel has displaced 900,000 people from Rafah. People have been forced to move to places that were already overcrowded, and are having to survive in desperate, unsanitary conditions, with very little to eat. Meanwhile, thousands of trucks of life-saving aid are backed up at the Rafah border since Israel cut off this crucial life line. These land routes for aid must be reopened and aid drastically scaled up. It is not adequate or effective to rely on a maritime corridor or air drops.

“The Government also needs to face the reality that UNRWA is indispensable if Gazans are to get the aid they need. The UK should urgently follow the lead of other donors including Australia, Canda, France and Sweden and restart funding to UNRWA.

“In the meantime, the government must use every diplomatic and economic measure it can to pressure Israel to reopen the land crossings and call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, so lifesaving aid can get in at scale and to allow for the safe release of all Israeli hostages and unlawfully detained Palestinians.”

* The report is available to download here.

* Sources: Independent Commission for Aid Impact and Oxfam GB