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Starvation: Israel’s criminal weapon of war

Palestinians attend the Friday noon prayers in front of the ruins of the al-Faruq mosque, destroyed in Israeli strikes in Rafah.
Palestinians attend the Friday noon prayers in front of the ruins of the al-Faruq mosque, destroyed in Israeli strikes in Rafah.
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02 Mar 2024 12:03:37 GMT9
02 Mar 2024 12:03:37 GMT9

The international community has been calling on Israel for months now to end its weaponization of starvation against the civilian population of Gaza. Israel’s publicly stated hope is that by inflicting suffering on the Palestinian people they can extract a better negotiated deal with Hamas.

But such Israeli action is a war crime — the full enormity of which became clear on Thursday, when Israeli troops opened fire on starving Palestinians scrambling for food from an aid truck convoy just outside Gaza City, and more than 100 of them were killed.

International humanitarian law and the laws of war make it abundantly clear that the starvation of civilians as a weapon of warfare is prohibited. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states clearly that intentionally starving civilians by “depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies” is a war crime. Criminal intent does not require the attacker’s admission, but can also be inferred from the totality of the circumstances of the military campaign. In the case of Gaza, both intent and action have been documented. From day one of the Israeli war, its defense minister said publicly that no food, water, or electricity would be allowed into the enclave.

“Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza, as well as its more than 16-year closure, amounts to collective punishment of the civilian population, a war crime. As the occupying power in Gaza, under the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel must ensure that the civilian population gets food and medical supplies,” Human Rights Watch said in December. The situation by the end of February had become much worse.

Not only have the Israelis denied entry of food and other humanitarian aid into the northern parts of Gaza, where there is a border with Israel, they have also done so from the southern border with Egypt. Israel has bombed trucks from Egypt, compelling the Egyptians to accept Israeli control of when and how anything is allowed to cross into Gaza. As a result, every truck carrying food supplies has to first go all the way to the Israeli border point, where it is checked. After this time-consuming check, the trucks, accompanied by Israel, are allowed into Gaza via the Rafah crossing.

Humanitarian aid workers speak of the need for hundreds of food trucks to enter Gaza every day to meet the needs of the starving population. The absence of food has become so extreme that a 3kg bag of wheat is being sold for $100, which almost no family in Gaza can afford.

The Israeli effort to use starvation as a weapon has turned starving Palestinians into dead Palestinians

Daoud Kuttab

The situation in the south of Gaza became even more dire as the Israeli military moved from north, to center, to south. They occupied Gaza City, then Khan Younis, while encouraging Palestinians to move south to Rafah, where up to 1.5 million people are now trapped. They cannot return north without risking their lives, and the Egyptians will not allow anyone to cross into Sinai for fear that Israel would never allow them to go back —ethnic cleansing, yet another war crime. The meager number of food trucks that finally make it to Rafah are naturally overwhelmed by the starving population.

Instead of allowing the normal entry of sufficient food supplies into Gaza, the Israeli effort to use starvation as a weapon has turned starving Palestinians into dead Palestinians. While the situation in south Gaza is dire, the starvation level in the north is even worse. Israel is refusing to allow wheat trucks into the north because of a handful of radical Jewish Israeli protesters. Had they been Palestinians they would of course have been instantly shot dead. But since they are fellow Israelis, the army, happy to keep the humanitarian pressure on, has done little to allow the trucks of wheat, which Israel promised their US allies would be delivered to north Gaza, ever to arrive.

The dire situation in north Gaza has led the Royal Jordanian Air Force to organize daily air drops, even though occupying armies are obliged by international law to provide all the humanitarian needs of people under their direct military control.

Israel’s belated response to Thursday’s massacre was to claim that they opened fire only on people who “posed a threat,” and that most of the dead were trampled in a chaotic stampede for food. But as enlightened Israelis such as the journalist Gideon Levy have repeatedly observed, Israel is unique in claiming victimhood while painting the real victims as responsible for their own deaths. “I don’t remember one occupation where the occupier presented himself as the victim,” he said.

The World Court, Israel’s strongest allies including the US, in fact the entire world is calling on Israel to stop using starvation as a weapon of war. The time has come for the world to begin imposing sanctions on Israel. Any country that supplies weapons to Israel is complicit in its war crimes and the genocide of the Palestinian people.

• Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and a director of Community Media Network. X: @daoudkuttab

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