The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Israel engineers “deep pockets of starvation” across Gaza


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.


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 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).





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