Turkish aid flows into besieged Gaza Strip

While Palestinians in Gaza welcomed the arrival of basic goods, some were sceptical about its long-term benefits.

Palestinians unload Turkish aid shipments upon arrival in the Gaza Strip at Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and southern Gaza Strip
After being screened by Israeli authorities, the Turkish aid has been transferred into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Gaza City – The night before Eid, Basem Abu Attia received a call from a local official with some good news: His food package was ready for pick-up.

“I was very surprised,” Abu Attia told Al Jazeera. “I wasn’t expecting anything … I had nothing to give my family, so when the aid came I was overjoyed.”


More aid from Turkey has started flowing into Gaza this week under the terms of the recent Turkey-Israel deal, after the Social Affairs Ministry spent weeks organising the material. Distribution to about 75,000 families dependent on government subsidies began on Tuesday, although delivery was previously expedited to some of the neediest families, including Abu Attia’s.

The aid package included rice, oil, olives, dates and flour – basic items that Abu Attia, who lives in the Nuseirat refugee camp, cannot afford himself. His 10 children, the youngest of whom is three, were elated, he said – “especially with the chocolates”. He hopes that later deliveries will include toys for his children.

Just a week into receiving the package, however, all that remained was a bag of rice and a can of olives.

“We need a long-term programme, and we’re hoping the Turks will help us with this,” said Talla Abu Jomaa, the Social Affairs Ministry representative in Nuseirat camp, who delivered the aid package to Abu Attia.

READ MORE: Will the Turkey-Israel deal end Gaza’s siege?

Uncertainty was cast over the Turkey-Israel deal after a failed coup attempt by members of the Turkish military last week. But as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged in control, Turkish officials confirmed that the agreement remains on course.

“Nothing has changed on that front,” Dogan Eskinat, a spokesperson for the Turkish presidency, told Al Jazeera. “We are expecting a second large shipment to Gaza before the next Eid.”

The agreement between Turkey and Israel, announced late last month, ended a six-year impasse sparked by the 2010 Israeli attack on a Turkish flotilla attempting to deliver aid to Gaza. Ten Turkish activists died in the Mavi Marmara raid.

Turkey sends Gaza first aid in six years

Earlier this month, the Turkish cargo ship Lady Layla docked in the southern Israeli port of Ashdod carrying 11,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, including food packages, clothes, toys, diapers and other basic supplies. A technical team from Turkey’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources also arrived in Gaza to conduct a detailed study of local energy needs, which will reportedly be presented to Turkish officials for discussion.

After being screened by Israeli authorities, the contents of the Lady Layla have been flowing into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing. About 25 trucks have been entering Gaza each day, unloading supplies in the storage facility of the Social Affairs Ministry.

“There’s a lot of misleading information about the aid – that it includes trivial things, like chocolate and baby food. But this is not true [that these are trivial],” Etimad al-Tarshawi, the general director of development and planning at the Social Affairs Ministry, told Al Jazeera from her Gaza City office. “For the people receiving it, this aid is very important.”

With unemployment in Gaza at 43 percent, the World Bank has warned that the coastal enclave’s economy is on the verge of collapse. The Israel-Egyptian blockade on Gaza, in place since Hamas assumed administrative control in the territory in 2007, has severely limited the movement of commodities and people.

Weeks before the Turkey-Israel deal was announced, Tarshawi was in talks with Turkish officials about Gaza’s humanitarian needs, she said.

If they wanted to help us Gazans, they would do more to lift the siege. Food and diapers will not help save the Gazan people from unemployment.

by Hadi al-Farra, convenience store owner in Khan Younis

“The aid that entered Gaza recently is a small part of what was asked,” Tarshawi said, noting that she had proposed cash assistance for the 75,000 families relying on subsidies. Currently, they receive 1,000 shekels ($260) every three months from the government, a small amount compared with their daily needs.

“Cash is easier than bringing supplies from Ashdod,” she said. “It gives families the ability to purchase what they need, and at the same time injects money into the Gazan economy.”

Tarshawi also asked Turkey to support long-term social programmes to aid poor families and disabled people, along with an emergency fund offering families one-time assistance. 

“We are very optimistic,” she said. “Lady Layla was only the beginning. We are expecting more aid and cooperation from Turkey.”   

Eskinat confirmed that communication with officials in Gaza about local needs were ongoing, but added that the current focus was on water and energy needs: “This isn’t limited to humanitarian aid,” he said. “There are a lot of long-term projects we will launch.”

Eskinat said that Turkish support would not be limited to Gaza, either.

“We are also working on plans to build an industrialised zone in the West Bank,” he said.

Of the aid already received in Gaza, the Social Affairs Ministry will distribute 75 percent, and the Palestinian Red Crescent the remaining 25. Priority will be given to large, low-income families with more than nine members, as well as orphans.

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Not everyone is optimistic, however. Many Palestinians in Gaza have expressed concerns that the Turkey-Israel deal has not resulted in a lifting of the decade-long siege, and they do not believe it will solve Gaza’s myriad of infrastructure issues, including dire water and electricity shortages.

“If they wanted to help us Gazans, they would do more to lift the siege,” Hadi al-Farra, a convenience store owner in Khan Younis, told Al Jazeera. “Food and diapers will not help save the Gazan people from unemployment.”

Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political science professor at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University, described the Turkish aid shipment as a “symbolic gesture” towards the Hamas-controlled administration.

“What we need is access to movement and construction materials,” Abu Saada told Al Jazeera, noting that while Palestinians are grateful to receive some assistance from Turkey, “whether it will have any long-term impact on the daily lives of Gazans, I’m sceptical.”

Source: Al Jazeera