Gaza: famine as a weapon of war

Gaza: famine as a weapon of war

At that time, bread was like gold. » These are the words of a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, arguably one of the darkest chapters of World War II and a haunting reminder of the horrific toll paid by populations deliberately deprived of essential resources.

The use of mass starvation as a weapon of war echoes a historical barbarity that humanity should have made disappear long ago. This obvious strategy, reminiscent of ancient sieges where starvation was deliberately used as a weapon of war, highlights the disastrous consequences of collective punishment on innocent civilians.

In Gaza, Israel has deliberately blocked the delivery of water, food and other basic necessities to the besieged enclave’s 2.2 million residents.

While Gaza has been under siege by Israel since 2007, on October 9, 2023, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared a total blockade of Gaza, with Israeli forces launching a full-scale war against the Palestinian territory.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch called the Israeli government’s use of mass starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the besieged Gaza Strip a war crime.

“International humanitarian law, or the law of war, prohibits the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare,” the report said, citing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, established after the horrors of World War II.

A Palestinian child holds an empty pot as he waits to receive food distributed by volunteers for Palestinian families displaced by Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza, December 22, 2023 – Photo: Abed Zagout

Amid this turmoil, Gaza’s local cuisine has become a testament to resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity, with many using locally available ingredients to persevere despite limited resources.

Flour is the ultimate treasure, as bread remains at the heart of survival in Gaza. Basic Palestinian products such as olive oil, za’atar and the duqqawhich keep for a long time, have also been a lifeline for many who have been able to store or obtain them.

However, as Israeli forces continue to raze agricultural areas, destroying bakeries, food warehouses, flour mills as well as roads used to transport humanitarian aid, reliance on local produce only serves as a partial buffer for a “lucky” few from the acute shortage imposed by the siege, the large-scale bombing campaign and the land invasion.

Even to prepare meals, you have to find alternatives to cooking gas, such as firewood or pieces of cardboard.

More than 80% of the population of the besieged Gaza Strip has been internally displaced and their ability to move and search for food has been severely limited.

According to a report from Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), the proportion of households in Gaza affected by high levels of acute food insecurity is the highest ever recorded by the IPC initiative globally.

According to the UN-sponsored report, more than half a million people, or a quarter of Gaza’s population, are already facing famine.

“The situation is such that almost everyone in Gaza is hungry,” said Arif Husain, chief economist of the World Food Program (WFP). In early December, the WFP reported that nine out of ten people in Gaza were unable to eat every day and were skipping meals for long periods.

The deliberate restriction of essential supplies, including food, water and medical aid, is adding to the distress of a population already facing the harsh realities of a large-scale offensive.

In just two months, nearly 20,000 Palestinians have already been killed, 70% of them women and children.

The international community has a moral obligation to condemn such egregious tactics and prioritize diplomatic efforts aimed not only at imposing a ceasefire, but also at ending the siege of Gaza once military activities cease. ceased, to guarantee unhindered access to humanitarian aid and to seek a lasting solution that respects the dignity and rights of civilians trapped in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Middle East Monitor – Translation: Chronicle of Palestine