Famine Stalks the People of Gaza
Gaza was the world’s largest open-air prison before the war, and it is now being turned into the world’s largest charnel house.
The UN emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, issued a grim warning about the humanitarian crisis created by the war in Gaza:
The UN’s top aid official has said the Israeli military campaign in southern Gaza has been just as devastating as in the north, creating “apocalyptic” conditions and ending any possibility of meaningful humanitarian operations.
The resumption of the military campaign and the continuation of the siege are a death sentence for civilians in Gaza. Even during the truce there was nowhere near enough aid reaching the people, and now it is impossible for any aid to reach them. Pre-war conditions in Gaza were already very bad, and in the last two months they have become nightmarish. Gaza was the world’s largest open-air prison before the war, and it is now being turned into the world’s largest charnel house. This is what comes from providing unconditional support to a policy of collective punishment.
The UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territories offered a similarly bleak assessment of the situation:
Throughout the Gaza Strip, Israel’s bombardment of Palestinians has intensified in recent days, and provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance has all but ceased, raising the spectre of disease, hunger, and death for Gaza’s 2.2. million civilians.
The World Food Program raised the alarm that Gaza is “on the brink of famine. Haaretz recently spoke with Jeremy Konyndyk, the president of Refugees International, and he said that the famine warning should be heeded:
“That is not a word any humanitarian organization uses lightly – it is used very sparingly, because there’s a risk it could get overused and watered down. The WFP knows better than anyone, so when they warn about the risk of famine, I take that extraordinarily seriously,” he says.
As Konyndyk explains, Gaza is especially vulnerable to famine because of its dependence on imports. It is worth noting here that the few means that the people of Gaza have to grow and produce their own food are also being destroyed by the Israeli military. Human Rights Watch has reported that satellite imagery shows the razing of orchards, fields, and greenhouses. We saw something similar during the war on Yemen where the Saudi coalition targeted farms and fishing vessels to strike at local means of food production at the same time that they used the blockade to strangle the country.
Widespread hunger is making the population more vulnerable to the spread of disease, and the lack of clean water and sanitation mean that waterborne diseases will start moving quickly through the population. The Haaretz report went on to say, “The combination of food insecurity and vulnerability to waterborne diseases, Konyndyk says, is “a terrifying combination to me, as someone who’s been around humanitarian response for a long time.” If conditions in Gaza are allowed to continue deteriorating like this, we will be looking at massive loss of life from disease and starvation that could have been prevented.
This is what was obviously going to happen when the Israeli government put the entire population under siege and then began devastating their public infrastructure and health care facilities. Haaretz quotes Konyndyk on this point:
He faults the Biden administration for empowering Israel to conduct an offensive from the outset “in a way that was so disproportionate and showed such disregard for civilian harm,” calling this “the inevitable outcome.”
“Siege tactics at a population level is not a close call in terms of international law. That is collective punishment and it is illegal,” he says.
The Biden administration started off pledging that they would put human rights at the center of their foreign policy. Now they are supporting a government as it bombs civilians with abandon and creates famine conditions in one of the most impoverished parts of the world. The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, said this in a statement yesterday:
The pulverising of Gaza now ranks amongst the worst assaults on any civilian population in our time and age. Each day we see more dead children and new depths of suffering for the innocent people enduring this hell.
The people of Gaza are being starved by a blockade. This is not an accidental byproduct of war, but the predictable result of a policy to deprive the population of the basic necessities of life. They are also enduring one of the most intense bombing campaigns of this century. Hundreds of thousands have already seen their homes destroyed, and the vast majority of the population is now displaced with winter only weeks away. This is one of the worst man-made disasters in decades, and it will only get worse unless something is done to halt it.
Many innocent people are going to die from hunger, sickness, and exposure in the coming weeks and months, but most of that could still be prevented if the war and siege ended now. The U.S. is enabling the disaster, but it is also within our government’s power to put an end to it. If our government fails to use its considerable leverage to avert this catastrophe, it will be one of the most shameful episodes in the history of U.S. foreign policy.