Starvation as a weapon of war

5 April 2024
Bella Beiraghi
Rafah, Gaza, 28 March PHOTO: Abed Rahim Khatib – Anadolu Agency

“This was not just a bad luck situation where ‘oops’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place ... this was a very defined humanitarian convoy that had signs in the top, in the roof, a very colourful logo ... it’s very clear who we are and what we do.”

This is what José Andrés, World Central Kitchen founder, told reporters after an Israeli air strike killed seven humanitarian aid workers in Gaza on Monday. The charity’s three-car convoy was attacked while travelling along a route south of Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza. Andrés said that they were targeted “systematically, car by car” despite having pre-approved and coordinated their travel route with the military.

They were killed while attempting to deliver food to Palestinians, who are being systematically starved.

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, published on 18 March, warns that famine is imminent in Gaza’s northern governorates and will occur if Israel does not end its bombardment of the enclave and allow for the sustained passage of essential supplies and services to the population. The governorates of Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah could face famine conditions by July, according to the report.

The entire population of the Gaza Strip is in acute food insecurity. But more than 1 million are in the IPC’s highest category, “phase five—catastrophe”, which it characterises as a situation of “starvation, death, destitution, and extremely critical acute malnutrition”.

More than 300,000 Palestinians are believed to be trapped in the worst affected northern areas, encircled by the Israeli occupation and unable to leave. Since January, they have been forced to survive on an average of 245 calories a day, according to Oxfam­—just 12 percent of the recommended intake to sustain a person’s weight.

Imagine what it’s like struggling to survive on less than a can of beans per day. Imagine what it’s like to witness the people you love—friends, neighbours, children, siblings, grandparents—suffer the same. All while you have barely any access to clean water, or a toilet, or medical support, and knowing that every functioning hospital in your area has been destroyed.

This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

It is a deliberate strategy. Last week Israel blocked UNRWA, the largest relief agency in Gaza, from delivering aid to the utterly ravaged north. The nightmare in northern Gaza has spread to the south as Israel’s bombing of Rafah continues.

One and a half million Palestinians, sheltering in a 64-kilometre square area, are already experiencing “very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality”. The IPC report warns that a large-scale ground invasion will plunge these Palestinians into famine, with military closures of all passages for humanitarian aid, including the Rafah crossing.

Palestinians must be given immediate and unrestricted access to food, water and medicine. Internal food production systems and infrastructure must be restored or rebuilt. But that can happen only when Israel permanently halts is genocidal military invasion.

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