HomeWorld NewsAnalysis | Israel’s war on Hamas brings famine to Gaza

Analysis | Israel’s war on Hamas brings famine to Gaza

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The warnings were being sounded for weeks. The United Nations, international relief organizations and some foreign governments voiced their fears over the ongoing humanitarian calamity in the Gaza Strip, where more than 2 million Palestinians are caught in the crosshairs of Israel’s punishing campaign against militant group Hamas. Food and other critical supplies remain scarce, while aid deliveries have been stymied by Israeli authorities that encircle Gaza’s borders.

Those warnings reached a crescendo Monday with the release of new report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a global multi-stakeholder initiative working on food security and nutrition analysis. It found that 1.1 million people in Gaza — roughly half the beleaguered territory’s population — are expected to face catastrophic levels of hunger and starvation between now and July. Many of those at immediate risk live in Gaza’s devastated northern regions, which are cut off from the south by Israeli forces and receive only a paltry trickle of the already-meagre aid that’s entering Gaza.

The fact of a “famine” is tied up in a complicated set of bureaucratic criteria, as my colleague Andrew Jeong outlined. It is usually declared by governments, though some U.N. officials have done so in contexts where no prevailing governing entity was capable of formally assessing the situation. The IPC uses a five-tiered classification system where “famine” is the fifth tier and “emergency” the fourth.

“Compared to the IPC’s previous analysis in December 2023, acute food insecurity in the Gaza Strip has deepened and widened, with nearly double the number of people projected to experience those conditions by July,” my colleagues reported. “In the IPC’s five-tier classification of food crises, Gaza now has the largest percentage of a population to receive its most severe rating since the body began reporting in 2004, Beth Bechdol, deputy director general at the Food and Agriculture Organization, told The Washington Post.”

What makes this calamity all the more stunning is that it’s entirely the product of human decisions: Gaza’s civilian population is starving because of an Israeli siege, not an earthquake, extended drought or other natural disasters that have blighted parts of the world subject to famine. That reality is agonizing for U.N. officials.

“We haven’t seen that rate of death among children in almost any other conflict in the world,” Catherine Russell, head of the U.N.’s children agency, told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program Sunday. “I’ve been in wards of children who are suffering from severe anemia malnutrition, the whole ward is absolutely quiet. Because the children, the babies … don’t even have the energy to cry.”

“This is the highest number of people facing catastrophic hunger ever recorded by the Integrated Food Security Classification system — anywhere, anytime,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a news briefing Monday. “This is an entirely man-made disaster — and the report makes clear that it can be halted.”

Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official, said more than 1 million people are at risk because they have been cut off from aid, markets have been collapsed and fields destroyed. “The international community should hang its head in shame for failing to stop this.”

Israeli officials, chiefly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, appear unmoved by the state of affairs. They blame Hamas for bringing about this crisis and reject growing calls for a cease-fire, which now include prominent Democratic lawmakers in Washington. “In the international community, there are those who are trying to stop the war now, before all of its goals have been achieved,” Netanyahu said in an interview on CNN over the weekend. “If we stop the war now, before all of its goals are achieved, this means that Israel will have lost the war, and this we will not allow.”

On Monday, international humanitarian organization Oxfam released a report outlining how Israel has stymied or constrained the delivery of aid, including attacks on humanitarian convoys, “unjustifiably inefficient” processes of inspection of the relief supplies, and denial of access to humanitarian officials and aid groups.

Israel has been using “starvation as a weapon of war,” for more than five months, Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s Middle East and North Africa regional director, said in a statement. She said that the humanitarian situation in Gaza has “actually worsened” since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to enable more aid into the enclave. “Israel’s deliberate manufacturing of suffering is systemic and of such scale and intensity that it creates a real risk of a genocide in Gaza,” she said.

That’s rhetoric that mainstream politicians are also echoing. “In Gaza we are no longer on the brink of famine; we are in a state of famine, affecting thousands of people,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, said Monday at the start of a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza in Brussels. “This is unacceptable. Starvation is used as a weapon of war.”

But respite is not in sight, with Israel and Hamas still at loggerheads over the possibility of a cease-fire brokered through U.S. and Arab mediators.

“For nearly a month, the news coverage has been about efforts being made toward a truce,” Atef Abu Saif, a Gaza-born novelist and the Palestinian Authority’s minister of culture, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that detailed his mother’s death in a tent in Gaza. “Just a temporary truce! After so many weeks of such modest hopes, ‘truce’ has become everyone’s favorite word: a cherished, idealistic, holy concept. It’s such a meager thing to hope for — a few days without killing. But even this feels out of reach.”

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