Let aid workers into Gaza

Children ride a donkey-pulled cart along a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb. 9, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

In the battered streets of Gaza, the air is thick with despair. Families, stripped of their livelihoods due to the conflict, now plead for the most basic needs. Aid workers offer one of the few lifelines left for these families, but now they too are getting caught in the crossfire. The protection of these workers goes beyond safeguarding lives; it is directly tied to the delivery and fair distribution of vital supplies among a starving population.

In Gaza, aid workers are hampered by constant Israeli bombardment. More than 2.3 million Palestinians have been displaced to the Rafah region (which Israel is now also attacking), where they lack essentials like food, medicine and electricity. The presence of aid workers becomes even more crucial in these situations, not only to distribute aid, but to help maintain order and prevent widespread conflict. Their role in managing resource allocation can mean the difference between life and death.


As a nurse who has volunteered with KSRelief, a Saudi humanitarian organization, in one of the world’s largest refugee camps in Jordan, I witnessed firsthand the pain and trauma that refugees endure. I’ve also seen how critical humanitarian aid can be — both during active conflict and, perhaps more importantly, in its aftermath.

At the camp in Jordan where I volunteered, aid workers provided clean water, sanitation and educational programs for children. They worked tirelessly to keep health facilities running for continuous care, and organized support sessions to help individuals cope with displacement. They made personal visits to the disabled and the sick. The workers’ efforts were comprehensive, aimed at preserving refugees’ physical and mental health as much as possible.

Similarly, in Gaza, the protection of aid workers is synonymous with the survival of thousands of civilians. But increased risks to personal safety are deterring personnel from working in or traveling to high-risk areas. This compromises access to vital aid for those in need. Non-governmental organizations face considerable challenges in recruiting and retaining skilled workers amid such dangers. When aid workers are forced to withdraw from high-risk zones for their own safety, it creates a gap that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable who rely on these services for their survival and recovery.

The harsh reality is that there will always be casualties in an armed conflict. Yet the blatant disregard for International Humanitarian Law and the restriction of aid by Israel mark a failure in the global commitment to equity. The international community must stand ready to shield aid workers and allow them to do their work, and to maintain our humanity by ensuring those in crisis have hope that aid will reach them without barriers.

Citizens worldwide must lobby their governments to insist on a cease-fire, specifically for civilians and aid workers.

Abeer Alharthi is a Public Voices fellow of The OpEd Project and Academy Health.