Food and starvation as weapons of war

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You don’t have to go on a diet here in Gaza. Israel controls the food supply and makes that decision for us. It is mandatory and has been ever since the siege started. There is no food to eat. There is not even flour to bake bread, birthday cakes, or pastries. Nor is there any baby food.

Since the crossings were closed, people in Gaza have slowly started to starve to death. Babies included. People are now so hungry that they are eating grass and animal feed. This is humiliating.

Destroyed bakery.
The bombed-out Al Berka Bakery in Deir Al-Balah. Photo: Dima Maher Ashour

Living in Gaza makes you face the prospect of three kinds of deaths. Either you are killed violently by a rocket, slowly by starvation, or miserably by disease.

Even during a temporary ceasefire, there are never enough supplies of food, medicine, and fuel. This makes life very difficult and makes survival a struggle.

Gazans are starving. We are fleeing from our certain deaths. It is like scenes from “The Hunger Games” are being filmed here. But this isn’t Hollywood — this is our real life. Our real suffering, misery and pain. We have nothing left to eat.

Gaza was close to famine after one month of the blockage, back in November. Food was running out and people were becoming increasingly desperate. But now, after 6 months, we are facing the real effects of famine.

Deliberate Israeli policy

It would be a mistake to think that this was a tragic consequence of war. There is no doubt that this is a deliberate policy of the Israeli government. International aid that was due to enter Gaza is being prevented from reaching the starving innocent people here. Israel deliberately prevents it from reaching our citizens so that we have a choice of dying of hunger or leaving our homes and abandoning our land.

Gaza isn’t just hungry. It is forced to be hungry by a genocidal regime. But how many acts of genocide does it take to be genocide and the world to act? That is my question to the outside world. They are causing death by violence, starvation and disease. None of this is by accident. They want to remove us from this land.

Can you imagine being so desperate that you bake bread using animal feed in order to silence your hunger? I heard from a young child in northern Gaza that they sifted the worms out of the barley in order to make flour and bake bread. These are desperate conditions.

Shooting at starving citizens

When a small amount of aid was finally allowed to be brought into Gaza, the Israelis did not allow the aid trucks to reach Gaza City. Instead they made the starving citizens walk to the outskirts and wait for it on the city’s borders. It was during one of these trips that my cousin, Ali, was shot. He had gone to the Kuwait Roundabout to find some food to save himself and his family. Fortunately he survived, but this shows how difficult the Israelis make it to do the simplest of things: feed your starving family.

Abdullah, my neighbor, wasn’t so lucky. He remained in our neighborhood of Al Zaytoun and was besieged in his house with his family for ten days without food or water. Once the Israeli forces finally withdrew from the area, they still denied him the opportunity to feed his family. The first chance he got, he went to the Kuwaiti Roundabout to find the aid trucks.

But the Israeli forces fired toxic gas at him and a group of others trying to feed their families. He suffocated and he died with an empty stomach. He had defied their attempts to force him to leave his home, his city, and his family. And this had cost him his life. I often wonder if anybody ever brought food back to his family as they sheltered in their home waiting for his return.

Bag of flour labeled as a product of UNRWA.
Some rare food aid received by the writer’s family. Photo: Dima Maher Ashour

Before long, Israeli attacks on innocent civilians waiting on the outskirts of the city where aid would be delivered were common. It was a new way to kill, a way that they could be sure to get starving people to congregate together and make us an easier target. At the Kuwaiti Roundabout alone, there were 12 attacks in March 2024 — all targeting innocent people seeking humanitarian aid.

It was not only the Kuwaiti Roundabout that became a dangerous place for starving Gazans to seek food. There was also the Nablusi Roundabout close to the Gaza Sea. This was previously a very happy place for Gazans, but Israel turned it into an infamously tragic place, a place that witnessed the horrendous “Flour Massacre” that made news headlines across the world. At least 118 people were killed and hundreds more injured when an Israeli drone targeted people seeking flour from aid trucks. Once the drone had done its damage by opening fire and killing most of the victims, an Israeli tank proceeded to drive over the bodies and crush to death anybody who was still alive.

That is why it is no surprise to us when Israel targeted six foreign aid workers and their Gazan colleague who were selflessly working for World Central Kitchen to bring vital humanitarian aid into our country. It is part of their plan to use starvation and forced famine as an act of war and genocide. Again, this made news headlines across the world and, for a short while, increased the political pressure from world leaders on the Israeli government. However, we do not see them stopping their brutal tactics, as the airstrikes continue, and the famine and despair deepens.

A stolen olive harvest

And yet we hang in there. Despite the overwhelming violence and persecution. And heartbreaking indifference shown by world leaders.

The reason why is because we love our country. Gaza possesses us as we possess it. Those who refused to leave their homes in the North have enraged the Israeli occupiers and it uses a policy of starvation to force them out.

We don’t want to rely on humanitarian aid. All we need is for this genocide to be stopped. Then we can grow our own food in these fertile lands and be self-sufficient. Eating oranges and tomatoes grown by us in our own soil. Just stop the gunfire and we will do this. We did it before and we will do it again.

Israel stole our olive harvest season last year. They forced us to leave our lands as the trees were ready to give their fruit. We were supposed to pick our olives in October, but Israel prevented us from doing so. When I was forced to move to the south with my family, I saw the oil and olives arrive in some of the rare aid packages that we received. It made me think of how happy we would be during the harvest season. How we would sing and dance and be happy, while picking the black olives from the green.

Uncooked bread circles laid out on a rug.
Bread made with the flour provided by UNWRA. Photo: Dima Maher Ashour

Today, we don’t have our olives or our oil. But we do have a hope that one day we will harvest our olive trees once again and be self-sufficient and in charge of when we can eat. Like any other person across the world can. It is not a lot to ask. Is it?

So after 200 days of this genocide, Gazans still face the same problem as they did on the first day. There is not enough food or water.

Every single component of a decent, normal life has been taken away from the civilian population in Gaza. We have nothing but our prayers for an end to this genocide. But how many acts of genocide will it take to make a genocide and for the world to act and stop this?

A bitter postscript

Just a few days after I finished writing this story, I had the devastating news that my cousin Ali, who still defiantly lived in the North of Gaza, was killed. This time he was attacked by the Israelis while trying to make a phone call to his family in Rafah. He was killed in a missile strike.

Israel did not like that he survived the flour massacre. His defiance was his death sentence. His only crime was being Palestinian and living in Palestine. They want to kill us all and eliminate any chance for us to survive and remain on our land.

Ali was 36 years old and leaves behind his wife Zahra and their four children, Rana, 14, Oday, 13, Rahaf, 9, and Sara, 4, whom he used to call “farasha,” his little butterfly.

My family is devastated by our latest loss, just like thousands of other families across Gaza and the West Bank. I ask again how many acts of genocide does it take to be genocide and for the world to act?

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