The big differences between the White House and Republicans over providing more weapons to Israel — the House GOP wants to cut IRS funding as a condition for support, for example — have obscured a smaller one on humanitarian aid for Gaza, where Israel and Hamas are fighting.
While the Joe Biden administration included $9.2 billion to deal with humanitarian needs in Gaza, Ukraine and surrounding regions affected by the conflicts, the bill Republicans pushed through the House last week included no similar amounts.
And that was by design.
Gaza, with about the same square mileage as Las Vegas but three times the population — more than 2 million Palestinians — has been constantly hit by Israeli military strikes and water and electricity cutoffs. But many Republicans on Capitol Hill have little desire to send humanitarian aid there for fear it will end up in the hands of Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government, or because they believe others should take the lead on aid.
“I think there’s a vetting issue,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said last week.
“I think we don’t want to do anything that can arm Hamas, but food, water, medicine — I’m OK with that,” he said.
That same worry about the aid falling into the wrong hands was echoed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
“I worry about any money going to Gaza going to Hamas,” Graham said.
“I think we just ought to provide lethal aid [to Israel] and let the Europeans and other allies deal with the humanitarian aid,” he told HuffPost. “There’s a lot of concern about [aid] being diverted to Hamas.”
The tempo of humanitarian aid going into Gaza has stepped up sharply since the war began, but not enough for critics noting that Israel’s tactics have resulted in indiscriminate civilian dead and wounded.
McCaul said the number of trucks entering Gaza has increased to 100 after starting with just a handful.
Cindy McCain, executive director of the World Food Program, said the increase in aid has not been nearly enough to keep up with the need.
“Right now, parents in Gaza do not know whether they can feed their children today and whether they will even survive to see tomorrow,” McCain said Sunday.
With the United States facing criticism both for arming Israel and for sending in military assets like aircraft carriers to deter other powers in the region from broadening the war, a package without humanitarian aid could send another signal to Arab countries that the United States does not care what happens to Palestinians.
“I don’t care what kind of signal it sends. The signal is that we think Israel ought to be able to defend itself. I think that’s the most important thing,” Cornyn said.
McCaul said organizations like the World Food Program and other nongovernmental groups could provide aid on the ground if surrounding Arab countries won’t take in Palestinian refugees. He said he expected an area in southern Gaza would become a temporary humanitarian zone while Israel concentrates on flushing out Hamas fighters in the north.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar could fund such relief efforts, McCaul said. “If they’re not going to take refugees, then for God’s sakes, they can help fund it,” he said.
And McCaul did not rule out some U.S. humanitarian aid “at the end of the day.”
Still, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a strong critic of Israel’s methods, said downgrading the need for humanitarian aid would send an unmistakable signal.
“It’s a terrible signal, absolutely terrible,” she said. “It will be a determinative factor for many people in terms of how we see this conflict and how we see support and aid going forward.”
CORRECTION: A prior version of this article misstated the population of the Gaza Strip.