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Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Warn of Food Insecurity and Widespread Hunger in the Gaza Strip

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25 January 2024

Date: 1 February 2024

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al-Haq, and Al Mezan warn of the increasing risk of famine in the Gaza Strip, as Israeli occupation forces (IOF) continue to obstruct and hinder the entry of much-needed humanitarian assistance into the Gaza Strip–– especially in the northern areas, where the Israeli authorities have barely allowed the entry of any humanitarian trucks since 7 October 2023. The continuation of this dire humanitarian situation risks creating an unprecedented level of food insecurity amongst the population. The international community must abide by its obligations under international law, and work seriously towards protecting the Palestinian people from the threat of famine, including by putting pressure on Israel, the Occupying Power, to “allow, facilitate and enable” the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”, as per UN Security Council Resolution 2720, adopted on 22 December 2023.[1]

At the time of writing, initial information was received by our organizations that the IOF opened fire on thousands of civilians near Kuwait roundabout, south of Gaza city, while they were waiting for aid trucks to enter the northern part of Gaza. As a result, according to initial reports, at least 20 civilians were killed and 150 others were wounded. This is not the first time that such an incident occurs as our organizations have recently documented several such incidents whereby the IOF targeted civilians who gathered to wait for aid trucks on Salah al-Din Road and Al-Rashid Street in Gaza city.

Our field researchers obtained testimonies from a number of residents in the northern Gaza Strip, providing information on the dire humanitarian conditions and the lack of food, clean water, and medical aid, necessary for a decent life and means of livelihood. It was noted from these testimonies that humanitarian aid was not able to reach a large number of Palestinians who have remained in their homes, or to those displaced to other parts of the northern Gaza Strip. This is due to the complete absence of international and local humanitarian organizations, and the resulting loss of control over the equitable distribution of the incoming aid. It is further evident from the videos circulated on social media which show residents stampeding the limited aid trucks that the Israel occupation authorities have allowed to enter into several areas of the northern Gaza Strip.

Muhammad Qweider, a father of five children, who lives on Al-Sahaba Street in the center of Gaza City, stated the following: “I cannot provide food for my children and we survive only on rice. Wheat flour is not available, and if it is available, the price of a kilo reaches about 10 dollars, and we cannot afford to buy it. We grind animal and bird feed (corn and barley) to get flour. There are no vegetables or fruits available, and there is no canned food or milk for children. We are suffering from real starvation.”

The starvation policy pursued by the Israeli authorities is an example of the collective punishment policies that Israel has been inflicting on the civilian population of Gaza, which have intensified since 7 October 2023. Estimates indicate that about 400,000 Palestinians who remain in Gaza city and the North Gaza District are on the verge of starvation as Israel prevents adequate aid from arriving to the northern districts, which are currently separated by the IOF from the rest of the Gaza Strip.

Important food items, such as vegetables and fruits, and safe drinking water are unavailable. Several main water plants have been deliberately targeted and destroyed by the IOF while the rest remain non-operational due to the lack of fuel. Residents are forced to produce bread using flour made from animal feed mixed with corn and eat tree leaves, given the lack of sufficient meals and others deprive themselves of food to provide it for their children.

In an official joint-statement, the heads of several United Nations agencies said that they have “managed to deliver limited humanitarian assistance in Gaza, despite extraordinarily difficult conditions, but the quantities fall short of what is needed to prevent a deadly combination of hunger, malnutrition, and disease.” They warn that “shortage of food, clean water, and medical assistance is particularly severe in the northern areas,” and called for a “fundamental change in the flow of humanitarian aid” given the growing risk of famine and exposure of people to deadly disease outbreaks.

The UNRWA Commissioner-General also stated on 17 January: “There is very little information about the north of the Gaza Strip, as access to the area remains highly restricted. I was not authorized to visit; Our convoys and aid trucks are often delayed for long hours at the checkpoint. Meanwhile, many desperate people now approach our trucks to get food directly off them, without waiting for it to be distributed. By the time the Israeli authorities give our convoys the green light to cross, trucks are almost empty.”

Our warning of famine is reinforced by the findings of The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Initiative’s (IPC) report. The report said that the risk of famine is “increasing each day that the current situation of intense hostilities and restricted humanitarian access persists or worsens.”[2] According to the report, the entire population of the Gaza Strip (about 2.2 million) is the highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified for any given area or country. One in four households, more than half a million people, are experiencing an extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion of coping capacities.

Around 1,100 patients are in need of dialysis and according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, 400 of them are unable to to have treatment due to the siege imposed on Nasser Medical Complex since Monday, 22 January 2024. There are also 71,000 diabetic patients and 225,000 who are in need of treatment for high blood pressure. Food insecurity and widespread hunger pose a great threat to the lives of these patients and exacerbate their condition leading to more fatalities amongst them.

Our organizations stress that Israel's use of starvation as a method of war is prohibited by international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.[3] It is also prohibited to attack, destroy, transfer or disable objects and materials that are indispensable for the survival of the civilian population. Moreover, Israel has an obligation to allow humanitarian aid to come into the Strip without any impediment or restrictions. According to Article 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “[I]f the whole or part of the population of an occupied territory is inadequately supplied, the Occupying Power shall agree to relief schemes on behalf of the said population, and shall facilitate them by all means at its disposal.”

Further the denial of food, water and humanitarian aid, when denied with the intent to destroy the Palestinian people as a group, may amount to an act of genocide. The International Court of Justice has issued legally binding Provisional Measures Orders to this effect, finding that Israel is plausibly committing acts of genocide, and ordering that “The State of Israel shall take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”.

In light of the deteriorating situation, our organizations renew their call for the necessity of implementing an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza and an end to the ongoing genocide against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. We also call on the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to put pressure on Israel in order to remove the obstacles and restrictions imposed on the delivery of aid to all areas of the Gaza Strip, especially northern Gaza, ensure the entrance of a large number of aid trucks to address the extremely worrying humanitarian situation, especially in the northern parts of the Gaza Strip, and ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and Palestinian civilians in the process.  

 


[1] Security Council Resolution 2720 (2023).

[2] Integrated Food Security Classification, “Gaza Strip: Hostilities leave the entire population highly food insecure and at risk of Famine,” 21 December 2023, available at: https://www.ipcinfo.org/ipcinfo-website/alerts-archive/issue-94/en/

[3] Article 8(2)(b)(xxv), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court