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Almadhoun discusses the challenges and logistics of humanitarian aid in Gaza

March 1, 2024

Kristen Kinzler
AID IN GAZA: Hani Almadhoun discusses the obstacles faced in sending out aid to Gaza in Kresge Auditorium. Almadhoun shared his experience as a member of the UNRWA in conjunction with the struggles of his own family in Gaza.

On Tuesday night, Hani Almadhoun, director of philanthropy at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) USA, spoke at Kresge Auditorium about the logistics of sending humanitarian aid to Gaza as Israel’s offensive on the Gaza strip continues. Almadhoun has recently visited some of his family members in Gaza, and he took the time to talk about their struggles over the past five months.

Almadhoun’s lecture combined his professional work and Palestinian identity. Almadhoun is from north Gaza and came to the U.S. to attend college. After graduation, Almadhoun moved to Washington, D.C., where he started his career in the nonprofit sector. Almadhoun currently assists in leading fundraising efforts for UNRWA USA and frequently meets with the National Security Department and government officials.

Almadhoun was invited to campus by Professor of Government Ángel Saavedra Cisneros for this year’s John C. Donovan Lecture. Saavedra Cisneros met Almadhoun when they were both studying at Brigham Young University. Following the heightening of the conflict in October, Saavedra Cisneros immediately thought to invite Almadhoun to speak at Bowdoin.

“It’s a really engaging and important learning opportunity, but at the same time, we have the personal experience of someone who has lived through tragedy,” Saavedra Cisneros said. “We have a mix of experiences, from the organizational side to the philanthropic side to the personal aspects.”

Almadhoun began by explaining that UNRWA, unlike the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, only works with refugees in Palestine. While UNRWA is the largest actor in the region, the Red Cross and other United Nations programs, such as the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund, also work in Gaza.

UNRWA typically brings in $7 million dollars in a good fiscal year. Since October, UNRWA has raised $20 million.

The majority of UNRWA’s staff of 13,000 are local refugees in Gaza, which dramatically decreases the organization’s staffing costs. However, the organization has faced difficulty transporting food and equipment to the region.

UNRWA utilizes the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border crossings to deliver aid. However, Almadhoun cited several instances in which the Israeli government has turned trucks away or did not allow UNRWA vehicles to use permits that Israel had provided.

“UNRWA aims to deliver 500 trucks a day,” Almadhoun said. “In the past few weeks, the Israelis have slowed down the aid. In January, we got to 100 to 150 trucks a day. Now, the Israelis are only allowing 35, 20, sometimes even zero trucks a day. Despite the U.S. pressuring Israel to bring in humanitarian aid—they’re not really pressuring them hard enough—that creates a problem.”

Almadhoun noted that UNRWA shares the names of staff members, locations of storage units and the coordinates of workers with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) twice a day.

“Guess what? They still get bombed. More than 300 UNRWA facilities have been bombed, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. More than 400 Palestinians sheltering inside UN facilities have been killed,” Almadhoun said. “We have lost 158 people on our staff, the largest number of victims in UN history.”

Almadhoun detailed the deaths and struggles of his family members in Gaza. The auditorium filled with a tense, somber silence as Almadhoun discussed his brother, sister and other relatives who have been killed by Israeli bombings. He also recounted unjust imprisonment and mistreatment of Palestinian men by the Israeli government, including of his brother and nephew.

“UNRWA is the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza…. We are bound by a neutrality agreement. We cannot take sides,” Almadhoun said. “It’s frustrating. We can say Palestinians are killed, but we’re not in the business to say who killed them.”

Many attendees were moved by Almadhoun’s personal experience with the tragedy.

“It’s horrifying to hear the accounts of someone who has family being subjected to the unspeakable conditions in Gaza,” attendee Olivia Kenney ’25 said “It gave me a deeper understanding of how other members of the international community, including the U.S., are contributing.”

Almadhoun also acknowledged the recent allegations against UNRWA. Last month, Israel accused a dozen employees of the organization of involvement in the October 7 attacks by Hamas or aiding the group in the days after. The accusations caused at least eight countries, including the U.S., to partially suspend aid payments to UNRWA.

“The Israeli government has not shared any evidence with UNRWA until now. They just went to the media and told the story,” Almadhoun said. “I cannot do my work because of misinformation, rumors and allegations.”

UNRWA is conducting two independent investigations in response to the allegations.

“Feeding a hungry child should not be a political statement,” Almadhoun said in an interview with the Orient. “The IDF’s allegations are being investigated, and everyone that has been accused of anything has been let go without due process, just because we understand this is a sensitive time. My colleagues are working hard.”

Almadhoun feels that the most difficult part of his work is the sense of helplessness. Despite consistently meeting with high-ranking White House officials, he cannot get his mother out of Gaza.

“My family is in Gaza, getting killed, getting arrested, getting bombed, but I want to make sure I’m raising money so people have food to eat,” Almadhoun said. “The hardest part about all of this is, despite all our good work, I feel like a failure, because I cannot get food for my own family. We raised $30 million dollars last year, and I could not get a drop of water for my mom.”

Almadhoun ended his talk by encouraging the audience to help fundraise for humanitarian aid organizations and advocate for a ceasefire.

“We should advocate and center Palestinian voices and be conscious about where your money is going,” Almadhoun said. “But it doesn’t matter how many trucks you bring in a day—none of the work is going to get anywhere without a ceasefire.”


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One comment:

  1. Keith Halperin says:

    Maybe instead of parroting inaccurate assertions delivered by political partisan lecturers, the Orient should actually check them for accuracy and/or present opposing points of view.

    Is it relevant that UNRWA has credibly been accused of being complicit with Hamas? Maybe worth a mention in this news article?

    And as for the statement, “Now, the Israelis are only allowing 35, 20, sometimes even zero trucks a day,” on March 6th, COGAT posted this, “Over the last 2 weeks, an average of 102 food trucks entered Gaza daily. This is 46% more food trucks entering Gaza on a daily basis, compared to before October 7th.”

    Bowdoin deserves real and critical journalism, With respect to the situation in the Middle East, the Orient is merely a factotum for whatever Anti-Zionist zealot grabs a Bowdoin microphone.

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