palestine
© Hassan Jedi โ€“ Anadolu AgencyPalestinians, including children, wait in line to receive food distributed by charitable organizations amidst Israeli attacks in Deir Al- Balah, Gaza on May 28, 2024.
Two more US officials have resigned over the Gaza war, saying that the Biden administration is not telling the truth about Israeli obstruction of humanitarian assistance to more than two million Palestinians trapped and starving in the tiny coastal strip.

Alexander Smith, a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), said he was given a choice between resignation and dismissal after preparing a presentation on maternal and child mortality among Palestinians, which was cancelled at the last minute by USAID leadership last week.

Smith, a senior adviser on gender, maternal health, child health, and nutrition chose to resign on Monday after four years at USAID. In his resignation letter to the head of the agency, Samantha Power, he complained about the inconsistencies in USAID's approach to different countries and humanitarian crises, and the general treatment of Palestinians.

"I cannot do my job in an environment in which specific people cannot be acknowledged as fully human, or where gender and human rights principles apply to some, but not to others, depending on their race," he wrote.

In another resignation on Tuesday, a state department official from the bureau of population, refugees and migration, Stacy Gilbert, sent an email to colleagues explaining that she was leaving because of an official finding by the department that Israel was not deliberately obstructing the flow of food or other aid into Gaza.

According to the Washington Post, Gilbert took issue in particular with a formal state department report to Congress on 10 May, noting that Israel "did not fully cooperate" in the first months of the Gaza war but that it had "significantly increased humanitarian access" more recently. In fact, after a spike in humanitarian deliveries in late April and early May, they have fallen to near zero in the weeks since.

Asked about Gilbert's resignation, a state department spokesperson said that "we have made clear we welcome diverse points of view and believe it makes us stronger".

Smith and Gilbert bring the total number of Biden administration officials to have publicly resigned over US policy on Gaza to nine, though Josh Paul, the first official to resign, said that at least two dozen more had left quietly, without a public declaration.

"I'm aware that there are other resignations pending in the near future from officials with similar concerns in their own areas of work," said Paul, now a senior adviser at Dawn, a group advocating democracy and human rights in the Middle East and north Africa.
gaza pier
© US Army Central/ReutersUS troops assemble a floating pier to assist in the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.
The resignations have come as famine is spreading in Gaza, with only a trickle of humanitarian assistance arriving through land crossings controlled by Israel, and the collapse of a US-made pier intended for food deliveries, severely damaged by a Mediterranean storm earlier this week.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his war cabinet, have defied Biden by pursuing an offensive on Gaza's southernmost city, Rafah, where over a million Gazans had sought refuge from the Israeli assault. More than 900,000 of them have been forced to flee from the bombing once more in recent weeks.

The US president had threatened to cut off the supply of arms for use in any Rafah offensive, but his administration has not delivered on that threat, arguing that the assault on the city did not amount to a major operation as it did not involve large numbers of troops. However, the human impact, as Power, the USAID administrator pointed out, has been as catastrophic as if it was a major offensive.

"Despite currently more limited military operations around Rafah and the Egypt/Gaza border, the catastrophic consequences that we have long warned about are becoming a reality," Power told a meeting of donor governments on Wednesday. She added that USAID's partners in the region had said "conditions are worse now than at any period before."

"Hundreds of staff across the agency are working tirelessly to accelerate aid, to advocate for greater protections for civilians and the improvement of deconfliction, and to advance diplomatic efforts," a USAID spokesperson said. "Additionally, agency leadership continues to engage candidly with staff about USAID's work and perspectives on the conflict through a range of meetings, town halls, and other forums."

Since the beginning of the Gaza war, the US has announced some $180m in aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, while annual US military aid to Israel tops $3.3 bn.

Power has been more critical of Israel than other members of the administration, but Smith argued she should be going much further, and calling out war crimes.

"Even if you're responding to an attack, or under any circumstances, it is never legal to starve a civilian population," he said. "Everybody at the state department knows, and Samantha Power knows that. She has written three books about genocide and other development issues. I've read all of her books."
alexander smith
© Alexander SmithAlexander Smith (right), a USAID employee who has resigned over the Israel-Gaza war.
Smith said that the breaking point for his career as a state department contractor came last week, when he had been scheduled to present a paper to an internal USAID conference about maternal and child mortality in Gaza and the West Bank.

It had been cleared for publication by the conference organisers but when it came to the attention of USAID's Middle East section on 20 May, Smith was asked to make redactions. He said those edits included removing a slide outlining applicable international humanitarian law, and any language implying recognition of a Palestinian state, including references to agencies which have Palestine in their title, like the UN Family Planning Association (UNFPA) Palestine.

After 24 hours of discussing edits, the USAID leadership changed its mind and ordered Smith's talk to be cancelled altogether, deleting mention of it from the conference website.

A USAID official said Smith's talk had been cancelled because it was outside his area of expertise.

"This individual's work responsibilities did not include supporting USAID's response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza or the devastating impacts of the conflict on women and children," the official said. "The proposed presentation did not go through the standard agency review and approval process with their supervisors and subject matter experts working on this topic. These procedures are in place to ensure accuracy of public information."

Smith argued his expertise in maternal and child health and nutrition was relevant in all areas of humanitarian crisis.

As for the reasons for his dismissal, the USAID official said they could not discuss "specific personnel matters and why this individual is no longer employed by their contractor for USAID."

On 23 May, two days after his speech was cancelled, Smith was called by Highbury, the contractor which was his direct employer and told his contract would be terminated early, citing "personality differences". He was also informed that the "client", the infectious disease section of USAID, was not happy with him "regardless of [his] performance". Smith showed the Guardian evidence that his job appraisals had been very positive in the years before the Gaza war, and he had been given commensurate pay increases.

Highbury gave Smith the option to resign if he chose to, and he opted to take the opportunity to speak out.

"USAID has always prided itself on our programs supporting democracy, human rights, and rule of law," Smith wrote in his resignation letter. "In Ukraine, we call for legal redress when people are victimised, and name perpetrators of violence ... We boldly state "Slava Ukraini" in peppy promotional videos."

"When it comes to the Palestinians, however, we avoid saying anything about their right to statehood, the abuses they're currently suffering, or which powers have been violating their basic rights to freedom, self-determination, livelihoods, and clean water," he said.