Famine and Death by Starvation Have Arrived in Gaza

For the first time, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) latest report does not warn of the onset of famine, but confirms that it has already arrived in northern Gaza, affecting some 300,000 Palestinians living there. According to a new report released March 18 by the UN monitoring team, over 70% of the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza face “catastrophic hunger”. The action required is straightforward: “an immediate political decision for a ceasefire together with a significant and immediate increase in humanitarian and commercial access to the entire population of Gaza”. Failing that, the authors estimate that 450 people per day may die, not from bullets or bombs, but a slower, more agonizing death, from malnutrition, disease, and starvation.

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated March 18: “The extent of Israel’s continued restrictions on entry of aid into Gaza, together with the manner in which it continues to conduct hostilities, may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime.” Even the frequently callous Josep Borrell of the EU accused Israel of “using starvation as a weapon of war”, provoking Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz to claim that “Israel allows extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

On the same day as the FAO report was published, Israel was responding in The Hague to South Africa’s latest request to the International Court of Justice for interim orders to prevent starvation and genocide in Gaza. The Israeli government found that the claims were “wholly unfounded in fact and law, morally repugnant, and represent an abuse both of the Genocide Convention and of the Court itself”.

The South African government, however, has not caved in to the pressure, as shown by Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor during her trip to Washington. “Provisional measures have been ignored by Israel”, she stated, “we’re seeing mass starvation now, and famine before our very eyes…. I think as humanity [we] need to look at ourselves in horror….”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to invade Rafah, in spite of the mass deaths of civilians that will certainly entail. He reiterated March 20 that “we are determined to achieve absolute victory, and we will achieve it”. However, indications are that the Biden Administration, faced with the outpouring of protests from its own electoral base, feels it cannot continue to support Israel as openly as before. Thus, the United States did not veto the UN Security Council resolution presented March 25, providing for a “Ramadan” ceasefire of one month. With 14 yeas, and the abstention of the U.S., the resolution passed overwhelmingly.

While the text also calls for the “immediate and unconditional” release of over 100 hostages held in Gaza, it does not make the ceasefire contingent on that release. It also obliges the parties to ensure humanitarian access for vital food and medical needs.

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