Dying in Gaza's sea: The desperate chase for aid packages

Twelve Palestinians drowned while trying to reach aid dropped off the enclave's shores

Gazans gather on a beach to collect aid dropped into the besieged enclave. Reuters
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Mohammed Masoud fought for his life in the sea off Gaza to retrieve aid packages dropped from aircraft and survived. Twelve others were not fortunate enough to return to the shore.

With the scarcity of food and increasing fears of famine nearly six months into Israel's relentless war, many in the ravaged Palestinian enclave often risk their lives to swim for long distances to secure the much-needed supplies.

“I saw death with my own eyes in the sea when I went after the aid," Mr Masoud, 35, told The National.

“In front of me in the sea, I saw young people drowning. I couldn't do anything to help them. The sea was pulling them in and most of us didn't know how to swim."

The father of four is from Jabalia refugee camp, in northern Gaza, where famine is expected to hit by the end of May if a ceasefire agreement is not reached and urgent aid delivered, a UN-backed report said this month.

Over the past 24 weeks, Gazans in the north have endured miserable conditions under a relentless Israeli bombardment supporting the military's ground offensive. Most civilians from northern areas, including Gaza city, have fled south. The 300,000 or so who remain have been cut off from aid since the war broke out in October.

The critical circumstances have compelled international entities and humanitarian organisations to seek other ways to deliver aid to Gaza. One method is to drop aid packages, which occasionally land in the sea.

The National boards an aircraft dropping aid over Gaza

The National boards an aircraft dropping aid over Gaza

Gaza's health authorities said 12 people drowned in the past few weeks while trying to reach the aid in the water. Mahmoud Ibrahim, 20, was among them. The Palestinian, who lived in the northern area of Beit Lahia, was his family's sole breadwinner.

He would venture out to bring food and drink home to his parents and sisters.

Despite suffering from speech and hearing problems, he was always "distributing kindness … and running to help others", his father, Fathi Ibrahim, told The National. "Mahmoud used to go to chase the air drops. The day he became a martyr, I told him not to go into the sea because he didn't know how to swim.

"As the young men told us, Mahmoud failed to get the aid that had landed on land. After despair, he decided to go into the sea."

His family was unaware of his fate until men told them of his disappearance. The next day, the waves carried his body and several others ashore.

“My message to the world is that the injustice to us, the Palestinian people, must stop," said Mahmoud's father.

Gaza was already highly dependent on aid before the war broke out, after a Hamas attack killed about 1,200 people in Israel. More than 32,400 people have since been killed by Israeli fire, and aid deliveries by land, controlled by Israel, have been reduced to a trickle.

Palestinians have resorted to grinding animal feed to make flour, while hundreds of others have been shot dead by the Israeli military while waiting for food aid. At least 27 people, most of them children, have starved to death in Gaza's hospitals, the enclave's health authorities said.

At the shore, Omar Al Daour was watching an aid drop operation, but when the packages dropped into the sea, he decided not to chase the boxes because he was afraid of drowning.

“The weather was very cold and the waves were very high," said Mr Al Daour, a father of three from northern Gaza. "Eventually, everyone who came out was dead."

Updated: March 28, 2024, 2:28 PM