In Gaza, everyone is hungry. Around 2.2 million people survive day to day on almost nothing, having no regular meals. The desperate search for food is incessant and usually unsuccessful, leaving the entire population – including babies, children, pregnant or lactating women and the elderly – hungry. The Gaza Strip was already in the grip of a humanitarian crisis before the war, mainly due to Israel’s 17-year blockade. Around 80% of the population depended on humanitarian aid. Some 44% of households were food insecure and 16% were at risk of food insecurity. Given this initial situation, we understand why Gaza plunged so quickly into a real catastrophe.
On December 21, 2023, the Integrated Food Security Classification (IPC) Famine Review Committee (FCR) released a report on the situation in Gaza. The CEF, made up of independent experts, uses the internationally recognized classification of food insecurity levels, the most severe being Phase 5 – Disaster/Famine. According to this method, urgent intervention is necessary from phase 3 (crisis or worse) in order to protect the population.
The CEF report is based on information collected in the Gaza Strip from November 24, 2023 to December 7, 2023. The commission found that during this period, in four out of five households in northern Gaza and in half In displaced people’s homes in the south, residents went several days without eating and many skipped meals to feed their children. Around 93% of Gaza’s population, or some 2.08 million people, were suffering from phase 3 or higher acute food insecurity, and more than 15%, or 378,000 people, were already in phase 5.
The report also projects that by February 7, 2024, the entire population of the Gaza Strip will reach phase 3 or worse. At least one in four residents – more than 500,000 people – are expected to be in phase 5, facing extreme food shortages, hunger and exhaustion. According to the report, if current conditions persist, there is a significant risk that famine will be declared across the entire Gaza Strip within six months. Such a declaration is made when 20% of households reach phase 5, 30% of children are severely malnourished, and two adults or four children in 10,000 die of hunger every day.
Similarly, a UNICEF survey dated December 26, 2023 found that a growing number of children were not receiving their basic nutritional needs. Around 90% of children under the age of two in Gaza consume foods from two or fewer food groups. In a survey conducted two weeks earlier, this figure was 80%. The nutrition of pregnant and lactating women has also been seriously compromised, with 25% consuming only one type of food and almost 65% consuming only two.
This reality is not a byproduct of war, but the direct result of Israel’s stated policy. Residents are now entirely dependent on food supplies from outside the Gaza Strip, as they can hardly produce food themselves. Most of the cultivated fields have been destroyed and it is dangerous to access open areas during the war anyway. Bakeries, factories and food warehouses were bombed or closed due to lack of basic supplies, fuel and electricity. The reserves of individuals, stores and warehouses have long been exhausted. Under these conditions, the family and social support networks that helped residents at the start of the war also collapsed.
Yet Israel deliberately refuses to allow enough food to enter Gaza to meet the population’s needs. Only a fraction of the amount of food entering before the war is allowed, with limitations on the types of goods, how they are brought in and how they are distributed across Gaza.
For example, almost all goods enter through the Rafah crossing, a pedestrian crossing that is not equipped for massive commercial transport, limiting the number of trucks passing through and creating a bottleneck . Although Israel recently allowed trucks to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing, which is also designed for commercial transport, this was only a symbolic addition and did little to alleviate the difficulties. Additionally, Israel requires humanitarian organizations to purchase food in Egypt and prevents them from purchasing it in Israel, which would allow for a more efficient and faster transfer of goods. Israel also prohibits Gaza’s private sector from purchasing food, which would significantly increase supply.
Humanitarian organizations are struggling to operate under current conditions, and most of the limited aid allowed in remains in Rafah instead of reaching residents across the Strip. Martin Griffiths, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, listed several reasons why aid cannot be distributed effectively. He noted in particular that trucks are inspected several times before Israel allows them to enter the Gaza Strip and that, even then, long queues form due to the conditions at the point of departure. Rafah crossing. What little food does get in is very difficult to distribute due to constant bombing, destroyed roads, frequent communications outages and shelters overflowing with hundreds of thousands of displaced people cramming into ever-increasing spaces. restricted.
Israel can, if it wishes, change this reality. The images of children begging for food, people waiting in long lines for paltry aid and hungry residents loading aid trucks are already inconceivable. The horror grows by the minute and the danger of famine is real. Yet Israel persists in its policy.
Changing this policy is not just a moral obligation. Allowing food into the Gaza Strip is not an act of kindness, but a positive obligation under international humanitarian law: starvation as a method of warfare is prohibited, and when a civilian population lack of what it needs to survive, parties to the conflict have a positive obligation to allow the rapid and unhindered passage of humanitarian aid, including food. These two rules are considered customary law and their violation constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
B’Tselem – Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories