Palestinian woman Warda Mattar feeds her newborn a date wrapped in guaze, instead of milk, amidst food scarcity and lack of milk, at a school where they shelter in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip. Image Credit: REUTERS

DEIR AL BALAH: After surviving on bitter loaves made from animal feed instead of proper flour, three young brothers who fled their home in Gaza City for a tent further south were tucking into a tub of halawa, a sweet crumbly paste.

Seraj Shehada, 8, and his brothers Ismail, 9, and Saad, 11, said they had run away in secret to take refuge with their aunt in her tent in Deir Al Balah, central Gaza, because there was nothing to eat in Gaza City.

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“When we were in Gaza City, we used to eat nothing. We would eat every two days,” said Seraj Shehada, speaking as the three boys ate the halawa straight out of the tub, with a spoon.

“We would eat bird and donkey food, just anything,” he said, referring to loaves made from grains and seeds meant for animal consumption.

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“Day after day, not this food.” Food shortages have been a problem across the Palestinian enclave since the October 7 start of the war between Israel and Hamas, but are particularly acute in northern Gaza, where aid deliveries have been rarer for longer.

Some of the few aid trucks to reach the north have been mobbed by desperate, hungry crowds, while aid workers have reported seeing people thin and visibly starving with sunken eyes.

Warda Mattar with the baby. Image Credit: Reuters

In central Gaza, the situation is marginally better, but still far from easy.

At Al Nuseirat refugee camp, just north of Deir Al Balah, Warda Mattar, a displaced mother sheltering in a school with her two-month-old baby, was giving him a date wrapped in gauze to suck on, for lack of any milk.

“My son is supposed to have milk as a newborn, be it natural milk or formula milk, but I wasn’t able to get him milk, because there is no milk in Gaza,” said Mattar.

“I resorted to dates to keep my son quiet,” she said.


In the tent in Deir Al Balah, the three brothers said they had lost their mother, another brother and several aunts in the war. They were left with their father and grandmother, and almost nothing to eat apart from loaves made from animal feed, said the eldest brother, Saad Shehada.

“It was bitter. We didn’t want to eat it. We were forced to eat it, one small loaf every two days,” he said, adding that they drank salty water and got sick, and there was no way to wash themselves or their clothes.

“We secretly came to Deir al-Balah. We did not tell our father,” he said.

The boys’ aunt, Eman Shehada, was caring for them as best she could. Heavily pregnant, she said she had lost her husband in the war and was left alone with her daughter, a toddler.

“I am not getting the nutrition needed, so I feel tired and dizzy,” she said.

She cannot afford even to buy a kilo of potatoes.

“I don’t know how to manage our affairs with these three kids, my daughter, and I am pregnant, I can give birth at any moment.” The war was triggered by Hamas militants who broke out of Gaza and attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostage, according to Israel.

Palestinians jostle for food. Image Credit: AP

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has responded with an air and ground assault on the densely crowded coastal territory that has killed more than 29,700 people, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The war has displaced most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people and caused widespread hunger and disease.

Gazans fear possible truce would only pause, not stop, the war

Meanwhile, homeless, hungry Palestinians fearing an Israeli assault on their last relatively safe haven in Gaza said they were desperate for a lasting ceasefire as the United States said a temporary truce could be agreed soon.

A proposed deal from the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in early March could stop the fighting for the first time since a brief truce in November and ease a human catastrophe unfolding in Gaza.

However, while negotiators discuss a reported proposal for a six-week truce, Israel’s enemy Hamas has said big differences remained and it was still demanding a permanent end to the fighting.

“We hope it will be a permanent ceasefire. We don’t want to go back to war because war after the first truce destroyed us and destroyed our houses,” said Rehab Redwan, a woman who had fled her house in Khan Younis to shelter in a roadside tent.

A child eats at a tent camp. Image Credit: Reuters

“Can you imagine - there’s no food, nothing to drink. There are no basics for life,” she added, saying she wanted to go back home even if it now rubble.

After nearly five months of Israel’s air and ground campaign, around 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have fled their homes, most houses are damaged or destroyed, famine looms and disease is rife, say aid agencies.


Walking with a small child through the crammed streets of Rafah, where most displaced Gaza residents have fled to and which Israel says it plans to assault next, Faraj Bakroon said reported conditions for the proposed truce made no sense to him.

As well as including only a weeks-long pause in fighting, there is no indication that Israel would allow people who fled south to go back to their homes in the north - particularly if they are men of military age.

“If the truce is like the previous one and they would start war again after it is over, we don’t want it. And if we can’t go to the north then a truce is not needed. Let’s keep the war until it is totally over,” he said.

“How will we go according to the age they specified? How do we take the children? We can’t leave our children behind and move. We need to bring them,” he added.

Still, for many people in Gaza any stop to fighting would be welcome, even if it falls short of a lasting ceasefire.

“We want a total truce in which we can live,” said Rashad Daher through his full white beard. But he added, “regarding this temporary truce, we ask God that it happens”.

Ahmed al-Far, living in Rafah after fleeing his home in Gaza City in the north, where Israel’s offensive focused first, said he hoped for a truce “so people can catch their breath and heal their wounds”.

“There are 150 to 200 martyrs daily among the people. It’s a huge loss for our people,” he said.