February 22, 2024

Last week, Democratic senators Jeff Merkley and Chris Van Hollen made a trip to the Rafah border crossing in Egypt. The crossing is where many aid trucks enter the Gaza Strip. The situation in Gaza is very serious, with more than twenty-three thousand people killed in Israel’s military campaign. However, the number of food, medical, and other vital aid shipments is insufficient. The United Nations last week reported that only a hundred and forty-five trucks entered Gaza through Rafah and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing, which is close to Rafah, but on the Israeli side. This is not nearly enough, and human-rights groups say more than three times that amount are needed. Israel claims that aid trucks must be closely inspected to prevent weapons from being smuggled into Gaza. However, after observing the inspection process at Rafah, Merkley and Van Hollen called the Israeli approach “arbitrary.”

In an interview, Senator Van Hollen discussed his view of the problems with the American-Israeli relationship, why so little aid is reaching Gazans, and whether Israel is concerned with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. He believes the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is worsening due to food scarcity and a decrease in supplies. They witnessed humanitarian goods rejected by Israeli inspection points and described the process as arbitrary. The senators plan to relay their observations to the American envoy coördinating the humanitarian effort, David Satterfield.

Senator Van Hollen expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza and a reduction in civilian casualties. He called for a humanitarian timeout and criticized the Biden Administration’s failure to achieve its goals in negotiating with Israel. He believes that the Administration hasn’t exercised its influence and leverage effectively, as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to disregard U.S. requests. Senator Van Hollen stated that the U.S. needs a strategy to hold Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition more accountable. He also believes that the timing of the Administration’s strategy is crucial, notably after the horrific Hamas attacks of October 7th. Even though the Administration has made some marginal gains, it has not had a significant impact.