Israel engineers “deep pockets of starvation” across Gaza

THE ELECTRONIC INTIFADA

Nora Barrows-Friedman, 14 February 2024

A crowd of children holding metal food containers.
Palestinian children face extreme hunger across Gaza. Deir El-Balah, 2 February. Omar Ashtawy, APA images

Israel is starving Gaza.

Children “are going without food for days, as aid convoys are increasingly denied permits to enter,” reported the BBC on 10 February.

The United Nations estimates that nearly one in every 10 Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 years old is now acutely malnourished.

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters on 2 February that the agency’s partners have indicated a “sharp rise in acute malnutrition” across the population in Gaza, “with a 12-fold increase compared to the rate recorded before the hostilities.”

There are only 70-100 trucks entering Gaza per day “in the best case scenario,” with only “two of those trucks going to the northern governorates,” according to estimates by the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

Before Israel’s attacks began in October, approximately 500 trucks entered Gaza each day.

“What enters the Strip does not meet the minimum level of the population’s needs in light of the severe, continuous and accumulated deprivation of food, drinking water and medicine supplies [amid its] growing need due to the ongoing siege and genocide,” stated Lima Bustami, legal department director at Euro-Med.

“The situation is getting more complicated because the people living in the Gaza Strip are under siege from all sides, making it impossible for them to produce the food they need locally or get it from other sources,” Bustami added.

Last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide. The order was among a number of provisional measures issued by the court in a case which South Africa is taking against Israel.

Israel is supposed to inform the court within one month what steps it was taking to comply with the 26 January order. A full examination of South Africa’s case by the ICJ will take place at a later stage.

Declaring a state of famine “may find its way before the International Court of Justice,” said Bustami.

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Such a declaration “could either lead to the request of an amendment [to the provisional measures issued on 26 January]… or as additional evidence that the court will weigh during its consideration of the merits of the case and issuing its final ruling,” Euro-Med stated.

A recent report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) says that between 8 December and 7 February, the entire population of the Gaza Strip, approximately 2.3 million people, has been classified as in “crisis or worse.”

“This is the highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified for any given area or country,” the IPC states.

Moreover, the IPC states that about half of the population is in a food emergency and “at least one in four households (more than half a million people) is facing catastrophic conditions” – characterized by an “extreme lack of food, starvation and exhaustion of coping capacities.”

According to the IPC, “even though the levels of acute malnutrition and non-trauma related mortality might not have yet crossed famine thresholds, these are typically the outcomes of prolonged and extreme food consumption gaps.”

The group notes the “increased nutritional vulnerability of children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly is a particular source of concern.”

Shipping containers left at port

Citing financial restrictions against UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, the Israeli government is holding up more than 1,000 shipping containers of vital food items at the Ashdod port, just 20 miles north of the Gaza boundary.

The shipments, which contain rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar and cooking oil, are enough to feed more than 1 million people for one month.

Last month, Israel said it would allow flour to enter Gaza through Ashdod, a major commercial port north of the Gaza boundary after international aid agencies warned of starvation in the northern areas and urged Israel to allow the use of Ashdod.

On 19 January, the White House issued a boastful statement saying that President Joe Biden “welcomed” Israel’s decision to “permit the shipment of flour for the Palestinian people directly through Ashdod port while our teams separately work on options for more direct maritime delivery of assistance into Gaza.”

But that flour has been sitting at the port for weeks.

Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, has admitted that he blocked the shipments in coordination with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister.

Axios reported on Tuesday that Smotrich “blocked the transfer of the flour after he was notified that it was destined for UNRWA, the primary aid group in Gaza.”

“He ordered the Israeli customs service not to release the shipment as long as UNRWA is the recipient,” Axiosadded.

In response, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller referred to discussions with Israel aimed at allowing the aid to be delivered.

“We had a commitment from the government of Israel to let that flour go through, and we expect them to deliver on that commitment,” Miller said on Tuesday.

Last week, Israeli naval forces attacked a food aid convoy that was reportedly heading to northern Gaza.

Along with blocking or attacking aid trucks, Israeli forces are also shooting at fishers attempting to provide food for their hungry families. 

On 8 February, the bodies of two fishers “were recovered after their boat was reportedly struck by Israeli forces in western Rafah” the day before, reported the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“The port of Gaza has been severely damaged, and most of the fishing boats have been destroyed,” the UN added.

Israel is systematically destroying farms as well.

In December, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization used satellite imaging to assess and analyze damage to Gaza’s arable land.

The agency reported that more than 27 percent of all cropland in Gaza was damaged, as was more than 20 percent of all greenhouses. Nearly 500 irrigation wells were damaged as well, the UN noted.

At the end of January, however, the UN Satellite Centre “showed damage to 34 percent of arable land,” UN OCHA reported.

“Most of the infrastructure of the agrifood sector was damaged, ranging from commercial facilities (livestock farms, stores for products and inputs, etc.) to household facilities, such as home barns and animal shelters.”

“Deep pockets of starvation”

“Everyone in Gaza is hungry. Many are starving,” stated the World Health Organization on 8 February.

“Infectious diseases are spreading. Hunger is weakening people’s ability to fight off disease. Without enough food, more people will become sick and die,” the agency warned.

Phillippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, stated last week that half of the agency’s humanitarian aid mission requests to areas in northern Gaza “were denied” since the beginning of the year. 

The UN, he said, “has identified deep pockets of starvation and hunger in northern Gaza where people are believed to be on the verge of famine. At least 300,000 people living in the area depend on our assistance for their survival.”

Israel’s accusations that a handful of UNRWA staff participated in the 7 October attacks led by Hamas has prompted 16 countries to suspend their funding of the agency.

Settlers block aid

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have allowed – or encouraged – Israeli settlers to block and disrupt humanitarian aid convoys from entering Gaza through the southern Kerem Shalom crossing over recent weeks.

The area has been designated as a closed military zone since last month. “But there are no checkpoints at night, making it easier to bring in busloads of protesters,” according to The Washington Post.

Israelis have been holding dance parties while celebrating the military’s destruction in Gaza and the starvation of Palestinians.

“The army is with us, the police is with us,” a young Israeli taking part in the blocking of humanitarian aid told The Washington Post

“They don’t want us to be here, but they get it. They let us. We are talking with them, we are having fun with them, we are offering them everything they need,” the Israeli said.

In October, Israeli lawmaker Tally Gotliv advocated for using starvation as a weapon against Palestinians in Gaza, which is a war crime. 

“Without hunger and thirst among the Gazan population, we will not be able to recruit collaborators, we will not be able to recruit intelligence, we will not be able to bribe people, with food, drink, medicine, in order to obtain intelligence,” Gotliv said.

Palestinian human rights groups say that this kind of genocidal rhetoric by Israeli leaders is not an aberration. Rather, it is policy. 

“The starvation policy pursued by the Israeli authorities is an example of the collective punishment policies that Israel has been inflicting on the civilian population of Gaza, which have intensified since 7 October 2023,” said the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al-Haq and Al Mezan in a joint statement earlier this month.

The groups added that “Israel’s use of starvation as a method of war is prohibited by international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

“The most brutal militaries in history have used deliberate starvation as a tactic; the criminalization of such a tactic is a keystone of international law,” stated the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee. 

The decision by 16 countries to pause their funding of UNRWA and thereby collectively punish the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, especially after the International Court of Justice found that Israel is plausibly committing genocide, “represents a shift by several countries from potential complicity in genocide to direct involvement in engineered famine,” warned the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention.

The institute – named after Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who coined the term “genocide” in 1944 – added that the decision by the 16 governments “is an attack on what remains of personal security, liberty, health and dignity in Palestine.”


NORA BARROWS-FRIEDMAN
Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).

Starvation begins to bite in Rafah

Bread is prepared in a makeshift oven.
A man prepares bread over a makeshift wood-burning oven. (Mahmoud Nasser)

It was 6:00 am on 15 December, when my mother woke me to take our turn in the line at a nearby bakery, 15 minutes away on foot.

There are two lines, one for women and one for men. My mother was number 29, I number 30. We had arrived before the bakery opened to ensure our turn.

The number of waiting men soon tripled, far surpassing the number of women. The bakery’s proprietor decided that every customer could purchase just 10 pieces of bread each, since hundreds were already queuing by the time he opened at eight.

There were six employees in the bakery, including the proprietor. Each one was assigned a certain task.

One rolled the dough into balls and placed them in a wooden tray. Another moved those trays to a third employee, who fixed the dough before it was baked and divided into portions. A cashier took money.

I stood in the queue for six hours. One advantage of getting there early was that I managed to grab a chair for my mother, who cannot stand for extended periods as she has severe pain in her legs and back.

After four hours of standing, I felt lightheaded. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me and was barely able to keep myself from collapsing. Did I feel this weak because I was starving or because I was thirsty?

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Exhaustion

I had gone to the bakery on an empty stomach. I had eaten my last meal, a can of peas, 18 hours prior.

I am used to it now, in this, the third month of Israel’s genocidal aggression. I eat only one meal, usually around midday. It’s hard to find food in Rafah’s stores and markets. Israel continues to prevent the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and only a trickle of food for the more than 1 million displaced people in Rafah enters any given day.

Supermarkets are empty. There is no food – not even snacks and beverages – on their shelves, and they stay open only to sell internet bundles.

There are also no longer any vegetables or fruit available in the markets. Rafah’s marketplaces typically depend on the produce harvested in the fields on the eastern boundary of Khan Younis. However, these lands are now off-bounds to farmers.

Back at the queue, I managed to leave my place for a moment to get some falafel and water from nearby stores. The sustenance cleared my head, and my mother and I eventually managed to get our bread.

That alone, after six hours, felt like an achievement. And it doesn’t always work out that way. My brother-in-law did not manage to get to the front of the queue in time a day earlier, and we missed out on any bread that day.

When we got back to the flat where we are seeking shelter, I had to lie down. My feet were red and swollen. Luckily, my father had managed to get some painkillers a while back, so he gave me those. The pain still took hours to dissipate.

Desperation

The struggle for food has grown acute. Israel cut food, water, electricity and fuel supplies early in the attack.

At first there was still flour in the marketplace and bakeries were still working, selling a rabta of bread, 30 pieces, for $1.90, same as it cost before the war.

But as the south started filling with those displaced from the north, the wait began to get longer. And as individuals ran out of fuel to cook with, more and more people began to rely on the bakeries.

Some resorted to wood fires to make bread. Costs began to rise steeply, and a single rabta became unaffordable for most people, deprived of work and any income.

A month into Israel’s aggression, my father began to see that he could no longer afford to come to the bakery at the usual time. Some were starting to queue as early as 2:00 am. By then, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, had distributed flour to bakeries, stipulating that they now sell a rabta for just $1.10, affordable to most people.

During this period, we bought a rabta twice a week, as one was enough for three or four days for my 10 family members – my sister Samah, her three kids, her husband Abed, and my parents.

By then, my dad would go get a number at the bakery at 2:00 am and wait until sunrise when Abed would take over for another three hours to get the bread. Sometimes he returned empty-handed as either his patience or the flour ran out.

Deprivation

My father also registered us with an UNRWA school for flour. It took two weeks, but eventually he secured the family a 25 kg bag. It was a joyful moment that we thought might at least secure us all bread for a while.

It only brought more torment.

When my dad received the flour, I went to a Rafah market to buy salt, yeast and coal to make bread. But there was no yeast and no salt. I returned home carrying only a bag of coal, whose price had nearly doubled at that time.

It took days of me searching in every market in Rafah before I managed to get hold of a small packet of yeast, the price of which had risen four-fold, from just above a dollar to $4.30. Salt has become even more expensive. One kg now costs $5.40, 20 times its normal price of 25 cents.

At that point, we had adjusted to eating meals without bread, typically rice, canned peas and pasta. We’d try to ensure that my three nephews and my sister – whose youngest, Muhammad, is just three-months-old – had two meals a day each. The rest of us would share one meal along with a few biscuits. Occasionally we could get falafel.

We tried to keep Fridays – the weekend in Gaza – special, as much as possible purchasing rice with chicken when available.

This gave some stability to the children. Aya, one of my nephews, said Fridays allowed him to remember happy weekends before the war, when chicken and other meats were freely available.

Starvation

The flour lasted three weeks. Then we had to get back to lining up outside the bakeries.

But in the past week, Rafah’s bakeries have gradually closed. The last bakery finally shut on 16 December. There is no longer, it seems, any flour in the Gaza Strip.

Yesterday, we wasted a whole day searching Rafah’s neighborhoods for a bakery, a shop or just someone selling some bread.

We had just given up when, at sunset, we saw a group of people gathering around a fire inside an UNRWA school. There, a man was making bread on an open fire. I was over the moon when I managed to purchase enough bread for my family for three days.

I don’t know what awaits us after these next three days. The bakeries are closed. The stores are closed.

We go to bed hungry. We wake up hungry.

UNRWA has begun distributing flour again. But when is it our turn? What will happen to us if they run out?

I fear that if we die, we will die of starvation before we can secure any flour in Rafah.

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.

Children are starving in Yemen

The White House should intervene

A Yemeni woman takes the clothes off her malnourished child. (Yahya Arhab/Epa-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock)

Editorial Board, Washington Post, November 20, 2017

IT HAS been two weeks since Saudi Arabia imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Yemen, a country already devastated by two and a half years of Saudi bombing. Before the embargo, Yemen was suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with 7 million people on the brink of famine and another 900,000 stricken by cholera. Those conditions have now grown far worse — and yet the Saudis persist with their siege. It is time for the Trump administration, which has indulged the Saudi leadership for too long, to intervene.

Yemen’s 28 million people depend on imports for up to 90 percent of their basic needs, including food, fuel and medicine. The vast majority of those imports come through the port of Hodeida, in northern Yemen, which along with the capital, Sanaa, is under the control of Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia imposed the blockade after a missile allegedly fired by the Houthis came close to its capital, Riyadh. The Saudis blamed Iran for supplying the weapon, though U.N. monitors in Yemen say they have not seen convincing evidence of that.

U.N. humanitarian officials warned that the shutdown would quickly lead to an emergency. Now their predictions are coming true. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Sanaa, Hodeida and three other crowded cities — with 2.5 million people in all — have lost access to clean drinking water because of a lack of fuel. One million children are at risk from an incipient diphtheria epidemic because vaccines are out of reach on U.N. ships offshore. According to Rasha Muhrez, Save the Children’s director of operations in Yemen, several governates are down to a five-day supply of the fuel needed to operate flour mills, without which the millions dependent on food handouts will starve. “This blockage has cut off the lifeline of Yemen,” Ms. Muhrez told us.

Last week the Saudis began allowing limited humanitarian imports through the southern port of Aden, which is controlled by their Yemeni allies. But that is not adequate access. That’s why three U.N. agencies — the World Health Organization, the World Food Program and UNICEF — issued a joint statement last Thursday saying that the continued shutdown of other ports and airports “is making an already catastrophic situation far worse.” A confidential report by U.N. monitors, seen by Reuters, went further, saying the Saudis were violating a 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution on Yemen by obstructing humanitarian assistance.

The Trump administration, through the State Department, has objected to the ongoing blockade and called for “unimpeded access” for humanitarian supplies. But many in Yemen suspect, with some reason, that the White House is tolerating, if not encouraging, the crime. Shortly before the siege was announced, Jared Kushner paid a visit to Saudi Arabia and reportedly met late into the evening with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince. Even if it was unaware of the subsequent crackdown, the White House has the leverage to put a stop to it. It should act immediately, or it will be complicit in a crime against humanity.