Friday, 27 October 2023 17:55

What is Happening in Gaza is Inhumane, illegal, and Unacceptable

A young girl eats bread distributed by World Food Programme, at a school shelter in Gaza. Credit: WFP/Ali Jadallah

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 27 (IPS) — Last August, 91 UN member states, “in a demonstration of solidarity and commitment”, signed a U.S.-Led Joint Communiqué condemning the Use of Food as a Weapon of War.

Roughly 345 million people – in 79 countries – face acute food insecurity, often caused or exacerbated by armed conflicts, the US said, pointing out that the joint communiqué was born out of the United States’ resolve to once again use its UN Security Council presidency to draw attention to conflict-induced food insecurity.

But paradoxically, one of America’s strongest political and military allies, is now “using starvation as a weapon of war against Gaza civilians”, says Oxfam, as it renewed its call for food, water, fuel, and other essentials to be allowed to enter Gaza.

The global humanitarian organization analyzed UN data and found that “just 2 percent of food that would have been delivered has entered Gaza since the total siege—which tightened the existing blockade—was imposed on October 9 following the atrocious attacks by Hamas and the taking of Israeli civilian hostages.”

While a small amount of food aid has been allowed in, no commercial food imports have been delivered, Oxfam said.

Asked if the use of food as a weapon of war was rare-- or common -- in military conflicts, Scott Paul, Oxfam America’s Associate Director of Peace and Security, told IPS unfortunately, we’ve observed a marked increase in the deprivation of food and other necessities in conflicts over the past few years.

“What is happening in Gaza is inhumane, illegal, and unacceptable”, he said.

“We must see more aid reach civilians in Gaza, but more importantly we need to see an end to the violence that is destroying bakeries and other key infrastructure and an end to the siege keeping out food and other vital goods,” he declared.

In 2018, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2417, which unanimously condemned the use of starvation against civilians as a method of warfare and declared any denial of humanitarian access a violation of international law.

Providing or withholding food during times of conflict has been described “just as potent a weapon as the guns, bombs, and explosives of opposing armies”.

As the escalation of the conflict extended to its 19th day, said Oxfam, a staggering 2.2 million people are now in urgent need of food. Prior to the hostilities, 104 trucks a day would deliver food to the besieged Gaza Strip—one truck every 14 minutes.

Despite 62 trucks of aid being allowed to enter southern Gaza via the Rafah crossing since the weekend, only 30 contained food and in some cases, not exclusively so. This amounts to just one truck every three hours and 12 minutes since Saturday.

Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s Regional Middle East Director said: “The situation is nothing short of horrific—where is humanity?”

“Millions of civilians are being collectively punished in full view of the world. There can be no justification for using starvation as a weapon of war. World leaders cannot continue to sit back and watch, they have an obligation to act and to act now,” said Khalil.

“Every day the situation worsens. Children are experiencing severe trauma from the constant bombardment. Their drinking water is polluted or rationed and soon families may not be able to feed them too. How much more are the Gazans expected to endure?”

According to Oxfam, International Humanitarian Law (IHL) strictly prohibits the use of starvation as a method of warfare and as the occupying power in Gaza, Israel is bound by IHL obligations to provide for the needs and protection of the population of Gaza.

Oxfam said that it is becoming painfully clear that the unfolding humanitarian situation in Gaza squarely fits the prohibition condemned in the resolution.

Clean water has now virtually run out. It is estimated that only three liters of clean water are now available per person—the UN said that a minimum of 15 liters a day is essential for people in the most acute humanitarian emergencies as a bare minimum.

Bottled water stocks are running low and the cost of bottled water has already surged beyond the reach of an average Gaza family, with prices spiking fivefold in some places.

A spokesperson for the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) pointed out that some of the food aid allowed in—rice and lentils—is useless because people do not have clean water or fuel to prepare them.

A series of airstrikes have left several bakeries and supermarkets either destroyed or damaged. Those that are still functional can’t meet the local demand for fresh bread and are at risk of shutting down due to the shortage of essentials like flour and fuel.

Gaza’s only operative wheat mill is redundant due to the power outages. The Palestinian Water Authority says Gaza’s water production is now a mere 5 percent of its normal total, which is expected to reduce further, unless water and sanitation facilities are provided with electricity or fuel to resume its activity, Oxfam said.

“Notably, essential food items like flour, oil, and sugar are still stocked in warehouses that haven’t been destroyed. But as many of them are located in Gaza City, it is proving physically impossible to deliver items due to the lack of fuel, damaged roads, and risks from airstrikes”.

The electricity blackout has also disrupted food supplies by affecting refrigeration, crop irrigation, and crop incubation devices. Over 15,000 farmers have lost their crop production and 10,000 livestock breeders have little access to fodder, with many having lost their animals.

Oxfam said that the siege, combined with the airstrikes, has crippled the fishing industry with hundreds of people who rely on fishing losing access to the sea.

Oxfam is urging the UN Security Council and UN Member States to act immediately to prevent the situation from deteriorating even further. Oxfam is also calling for an immediate ceasefire, unfettered, equitable access to the entire Gaza Strip for humanitarian aid, and all necessary food, water, and medical and fuel supplies for the needs of the population to be met.

“We can deliver lifesaving aid to those in urgent need,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said during the UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate on Famine and Conflict-Induced Global Food Insecurity, last August.

“We can ensure that people around the globe are fed, now and for years to come. If we do that, if we build a healthier, more stable, more peaceful world for all, we will have at least begun to live up to the responsibility entrusted to us, entrusted to this Council, entrusted to this institution,” he pledged

U.S. Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, “In a world abundant with food, no one should starve to death – ever. This is a humanitarian issue, this is a moral issue, and this is a security issue. And we must address the most insidious driver of famine and food insecurity: conflict.”

But two months later, reality has set in – this time in Gaza.

IPS UN Bureau Report