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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Gaza’s Understanding of U.S. Humanitarian Aid: A “Free Lunch”

Filed under: Operation Swords of Iron, Palestinians, U.S. Policy

Gaza’s Understanding of U.S. Humanitarian Aid: A “Free Lunch”
Halal meals destined for an airdrop over Gaza are readied for loading onto an Air Force C-130J Super Hercules in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, March 7, 2024. (U.S. Department of Defense)

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. Therefore, Gazans interpret U.S. aid as an implicit justification for their actions on October 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 October 7 was a milestone in achieving victory in their dedication to 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 the IDF’s destruction of much of Gaza’s infrastructure while hunting 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 U.S. has not demanded public accountability for the actions of Hamas nor public 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 10/7 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, in this Gaza war, more humanitarian aid has been provided than in other operations, yet more of it has been hijacked by Hamas, and less of it 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. Yet, in Middle Eastern culture, giving without getting in return is considered submission. This action makes the giver a “sucker״ to be exploited cynically by his enemy.

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 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 militants. A “no free lunches” 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.