Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The United Nations warned on Saturday that half the population of Gaza is now starving.
The World Food Programme (WFP) had reported at the end of November that in the north of Gaza, about half of the people were suffering “severe levels of hunger.” Meanwhile, nearly everyone had inadequate levels of food consumption, i.e. they were getting less than the recommended calories per day. While a couple of weeks ago 37% of the people in the south of Gaza were were experiencing severe levels of hunger, the relatively better condition of people in the south has since deteriorated as Israeli bombardments and ground operations ramped up in Khan Younis and elsewhere.
Already on December 7, the WFP posted at X about Gaza that “Almost no one has enough food. In some areas, 9 out of 10 people have gone a full day and night with nothing to eat.”
The WFP elsewhere warns of hunger that “Over time, people who suffer from chronic undernourishment lose their mental and physical abilities . . . Undernourishment also weakens the immune system. Deprived of the right nutrition, undernourished children are especially vulnerable to common infections and disease like measles and diarrhea.”
Aljazeera tells the story of Jana Qudeih (14 years old), who died on Friday after days without food but only water. Her emaciated body was buried in a shallow grave at the Taiba Government School where she sought shelter from violent Israeli air strikes, which continue, making it impossible to bury her at a cemetery.
“Jana,” by Juan Cole, Digital (Dream, IbisPaint, LunaPic), 2023.
On Saturday, Corinne Fleischer of the World Food Program posted a video of herself in Gaza where she remarks, “Look at the people. They are talking to us. They’re pleading to us to bring more food; and it is heartbreaking that we are coming through the border. We are seeing the food on the other side, and we can’t bring it in. Since the beginning of this conflict, we managed to bring only 10% of the food that is required here for 2.2 million people in Gaza. The pictures speak for themselves. Two weeks after the conflict started, it was like this. It’s empty. We absolutely need a ceasefire. We need to be able to bring more food to the border. We need to be able to bring it safely to the people. We need the people to be able to access it safely. I have been in many places in emergencies for WFP. Darfur, Syria . . . I mean what we’re seeing here is that there is no order anymore. Here in Gaza, the children I talked to still smile, but it is a very silent and sad smile. And that is heartbreaking.”
Back in Cairo from #Gaza: the fear, exhaustion and hunger I have seen continue to travel my mind and emotions.
— Corinne Fleischer (@Corinne_WFP) December 9, 2023
After she had left, she wrote on X, “Back in Cairo from Gaza: The fear, exhaustion and hunger I have seen continue to travel my mind and emotions.”
Fleischer, who is Swiss, became WFP Regional Director for the Middle East and Northern Africa late in 2020.
She said the only answer to the hunger was for World Food Programme to be able to deliver food to families, which in turn requires an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and more border crossing points (all but Rafah in the far south are closed, and often no trucks come through Rafah either).
Samer AbdelJaber, the World Food Programme country director for Palestine, posted to X of Gaza that “families are desperate, exhausted, hungry and living in overcrowded shelters with nowhere to go. It has been 2 months of unrelenting suffering.”
He posted a video from when he was in Khirbet al-Adas in Gaza in which he said, “It took us five hours to reach here from Rafah. Strange feelings. I am happy that I met my team, but I feel that they are totally different people. All the exhaustion that they feel, after all that happened during the past weeks. An uneasy 8 weeks. I feel they have the capacity and the determination . . . I look at people, they are all looking for a glimpse of hope. I wish that . . . The assistance entering is giving hope to people. At the same time, I wish the ceasefire would take place. Because people are exhausted. People need to feel safe, and secure. This is how I feel. I can’t describe it. This is not the Gaza I know.”
The Rome Statute underpinning the International Criminal Court forbids starvation as a method of warfare:
Article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the 1998 ICC Statute provides that “[i]ntentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival” is a war crime in international armed conflicts.
– Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted by the UN Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, Rome, 17 July 1998, UN Doc. A/CONF.183/9, Article 8(2)(b)(xxv).