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Conscious and unconscionable: The starving of Gaza

March 2, 2024 at 11:38 am

Palestinians queue for hours to receive food distributed by charitable organizations, in Deir Balah, Gaza on March 01, 2024. [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

The starvation regime continues unabated as Israel continues its campaign in the Gaza Strip. One of the six provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) entailed taking “immediate and effective measures” to protect the Palestinian populace in the Gaza Strip from the risk of genocide by ensuring the supply of humanitarian assistance and basic services.

In its case against Israel, South Africa argued, citing various grounds, that Israel’s purposeful denial of humanitarian aid to Palestinians could fall within the United Nations (UN) Genocide Convention as: “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

A month has elapsed since the ICJ order, after which Israel was meant to report back on compliance. But, as Amnesty International reports, Israel continues to: “Disregard its obligation as the occupying power to ensure the basic needs of Palestinians in Gaza are met.”

The organisation’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Heba Morayef gives a lashing summary of this conduct: “Not only has Israel created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, but it is also displaying callous indifference to the fate of Gaza’s population by creating conditions which the ICJ has said placed them at imminent risk of genocide.” Israel, Morayef continues, had “woefully failed to provide for Gazans’ basic needs” and had been: “Blocking and impeding the passage of sufficient aid into the Gaza Strip, in particular to the north which is virtually inaccessible, in a clear show of contempt for the ICJ ruling and in flagrant violation of its obligation to prevent genocide.”

READ: Gaza Health Ministry: Thousands at risk of death in northern Gaza Strip due to drought, malnutrition

The humanitarian accounting on this score is grim. Since the ICJ order, the number of aid trucks entering Gaza has precipitously declined. Within three weeks, it had fallen by a third, while an average of 146 trucks a day were coming in prior. Then, the numbers fell to about 105. Prior to the 7 October assault by Hamas, approximately 500 trucks were entering the Strip on a daily basis.

The criminally paltry aid to the besieged Palestinians is even too much for some Israeli protest groups, which have formed with one single agenda in mind: preventing any aid from being sent to Gaza. As a result, closures have taken place at Kerem Shalom due to protests and clashes with security forces.

Their support base may seem to be small and peppered with affiliates from the Israeli Religious Zionist Party of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, but an Israel Democracy Institute poll conducted in February found that 68 per cent of Jewish respondents opposed the transfer of humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza. Rachel Touitou of Tzav 9, a group formed in December with this express purpose in mind, stated her reasoning: “You cannot expect the country to fight its enemy and feed it at the same time.”

Hardly subtle, but usefully illustrative of the attitude best reflected by the blood-curdling words of Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who declared during the campaign that his country’s armed forces were “fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly” in depriving them of electricity, food and fuel.

In December 2023, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding, among other things, that the warring parties: “Allow and facilitate the use of all available routes to and throughout the entire Gaza Strip, including border crossings.” Direct routes were also to be prioritised. To date, Israel has refused to permit aid through other crossings.

In February, the Global Nutrition Cluster reported: “The nutrition situation of women and children in Gaza is worsening everywhere, but especially in Northern Gaza where 1 in 6 children are acutely malnourished and an estimated 3% face the most severe form of wasting and require immediate treatment.”

READ: Hamas: ‘International community failing to protect Gaza’s children from starvation’

The organisation’s report makes for ugly reading. Over 90 per cent of children between six to 23 months, along with pregnant and breastfeeding women, face “severe food poverty”, with the food supplied being “of the lowest nutritional value and from two or fewer food groups.” At least 90 per cent of children under the age of five are burdened with one or more infectious diseases, while 70 per cent have suffered diarrhoea over the previous two weeks. Safe and clean water, already a problem during the 16-year blockade, is now in even shorter supply, with 81 per cent of households having access to less than one litre per person per day.

Reduced to such conditions of monumental and raw desperation, hellish scenes of Palestinians swarming around aid convoys were bound to manifest. On 29 February, Gaza City witnessed one such instance, along with a lethal response from Israeli troops. In the ensuing violence, some 112 people were killed, adding to a Palestinian death toll that has already passed 30,000. While admitting to opening fire on the crowd, the Israel Defense Forces did not miss a chance to paint their victims as disorderly savages, with “dozens” being “killed and injured from pushing, trampling and being run over by the trucks.” Acting Director of Al-Awda Hospital Dr Mohammed Salha, in noting the admission of some 161 wounded patients, suggested that gunfire had played its relevant role, given that most of those admitted suffered from gunshot wounds.

If Israel had intended to demonstrate some goodwill in averting any insinuation that genocide was taking place, let alone a systematic policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian population, little evidence of it has been shown. If anything, the suspicions voiced by South Africa and other critics aghast at the sheer ferocity of the campaign are starting to seem utterly plausible in their horror.

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