Palestinians crowd together as they wait for food distribution in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Image Credit: AP

Starvation can be a weapon of war, an art form that Israel has shown itself particularly adept at in its ongoing scorched-earth military assault against the 2.4 million people packed in the 140 square miles that make up the Gaza Strip.

You must by now be aware, unless you are an alien from a distant planet, that Gaza now has been reduced to a Carthaginian wasteland where around 1.7 million people have been displaced, 32,000 killed, 75,000 injured and roughly 10,000 have gone missing, presumed dead and buried under the rubble — the rubble of homes, shops, libraries, hospitals, office buildings, market places and mosques (reportedly, one thousand of the 1,200 mosques in the territory have been partially or completely destroyed).

In one day this week, on Sunday, and in one place in central Gaza, in the town of Deir Balah, 92 people were killed and 130 wounded, including “11 people from the Thabet family, five of them children, while the body of an infant lay among the dead”. This news was reported en passante by the Associated Press. So routinised has the mass killing of Gazans become, you see, that we have ceased to turn away in nauseated disbelief at reading it!

The Thabet family killings are but one random case exemplifying the wanton violence that Israel has been inflicting on Gazan civilians over the last 24 weeks.

Read more by Fawaz Turki

Outright famine

But the focus of the international community this week has been not so much on the death and destruction wreaked on this little strip of land as on the unprecedented scale of food insecurity that the civilian population there have been made to endure — which has now reached the level of outright famine.

“In Gaza, we are no longer on the brink of famine — we are in a state of famine and this is unacceptable”, Joseph Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, said on Monday at the start of a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza. Then he added bluntly: “Starvation is here used as a weapon of war. Let us dare say by whom: By the one that prevents humanitarian support entering Gaza”.

It is thus clear that Gazans are now literally starving to death, and doing so not because of dislocations caused by, say, an earthquake, flooding, a tsunami, an extended drought or some other natural disaster but simply because Israel has put the strip under siege, all the while deliberately and calculatedly blocking aid by humanitarian groups from entering the enclave, a policy — clearly vindictive in the extreme — that has caused the catastrophic levels of deadly hunger that is now the urgent concern of the international community.

Also on Monday, a spokesperson for the Global Food Security Classification global initiative, which was set up by UN agencies and international relief groups in 2004, was reported in the media saying that famine was not imminent but already a fact on the ground, a fact that “put Gaza on the verge of a major acceleration of deaths from malnutrition”.

And you, dear reader, will agree with me, irrespective of what religious faith you embrace, that God has a special place in hell reserved for people who deliberately starve people — especially during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims around the world are known to fast at sunrise and feast at sunset while their fellow-Muslims in Gaza, this year, will fast at sunrise and continue fasting — or eat scraps, were they are able to find them — at sunset.

If not now, then when?

Children and babies deliberately made to die of hunger? This is beyond the pale of what we call a war crime. It is rather, shall we say, an act so egregious that it dare not speak its name.

“We have not seen that rate of death among children in almost any other conflict in the world”, Catherine Russell, head of the UN’s children’s agency, told CBS News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

“I’ve been in children’s hospital wards [in Gaza] where children suffered severe malnutrition”, she added. “ And all the wards were eerily quiet”.

The reason?

“[T]he children, the babies”, she explained, “didn’t even have the energy to cry”.

So, dear reader, let’s together tell the United States — the odd-man-out standing in the way of the international community’s call for a permanent ceasefire — this: Hang your head in shame for not putting an end to all this irremediable suffering.

And, yes, while we’re at it, let’s ask this same United States if it’s not time already for its presidents in the White House and its lawmakers in both chambers in Congress to recognise the fact that if we have to live in a world with rules, then these rules surely must also apply to Israel as they do to the rest of us.

If the time is not now, then when?

— Fawaz Turki is a noted academic, journalist and author based in Washington DC. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile