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Israel uses starvation as weapon of war as Gaza goes hungry

Israel uses starvation as weapon of war as Gaza goes hungry
5 min read
02 January, 2024
Israel's violent siege of Gaza has led to chronic food shortages and skyrocketing prices, forcing Gazans to go hungry. Now 50% of Gaza is at risk of starvation.

In the heart of the Al-Karama neighbourhood, in the north of the Gaza Strip, Ebtisam risks her life to find a much sought-after ingredient: salt. 

Nearly three months into Israel's war on Gaza, the besieged enclave is faced with critical food shortages and exorbitant price rises, leaving hundreds of thousands at risk of starvation. 

"Less than a month ago, I could buy a kilogram of salt for a shekel ($0.28), now I pay two shekels ($0.55) for two tablespoons of salt. Most of the markets have been bombed. Salt is now scarce," the 37-year-old mother of five told The New Arab.

"We suffer from severe shortages for the most basic of items. A 50-kilogram bag of flour has increased from 60 shekels ($16.51) to 700 ($192.94). We needed to eat so I sold my most cherished possession, my wedding ring," Ebtisam painfully recalled.

"In return, I bought flour. The 50 kilogram bag is only enough for one month. It's no exaggeration to say that flour is now worth as much as gold."

On October 20, less than two weeks after October 7, Ebtisam was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was scheduled to begin chemotherapy on October 23. "Following the diagnosis, I was meant to adhere to a strict dietary regimen which included increasing my intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy," Ebtisam explained. 

However, the soaring prices resulting from the war have posed an ever-mounting challenge for Ebtisam to find the essential nutritional components. Neither she nor her husband are employed, and their sole reliance has been on the assistance extended to them.

"Prices have shot up. I used to get a kilo of oranges for two shekels ($0.55), mandarins for two shekels ($0.55), and strawberries for two and a half shekels ($0.69). But ever since the war, fruit prices have jumped five times what they used to be.

More than 576,000 Gazans face catastrophic levels of starvation [Getty Images]

"My doctor also emphasised the importance of protein in my diet," Ebtisam sighed. "However, today, one kilo of Turkey breast is 55 Israeli shekels ($15.16), compared to 20 Israeli shekels ($5.51) pre-war. I can no longer afford this dietary regimen. If I had to choose between buying chicken breast for myself or pasta for my children, I would opt for the pasta. If I am meant to die, so be it."

Since the onset of the war, Ebtisam has lost nine kilos of weight due to food scarcity and inflated prices take a toll on her family. “I was 80 kilograms, today I am 71,” she added.

Suha Abd-Alal shared the challenges she faces as a mother caring for her son, Majd, a one-and-a-half-year-old diagnosed with poliomyelitis since birth. The 28-year-old mother is currently displaced, living in a tent in Khan Younis. Suha is struggling from the financial strain they face during the ongoing surge in price. 

"I cannot afford the prices of diapers, baby powder, and milk. The cost of one bag of diapers has surged from 10 shekels to 30 shekels, and a can of milk now costs 50 shekels ($13.78) instead of 20 shekels ($5.51)," she said. 

Suha relies on milk provided by UNRWA but it is insufficient. She emphasised the soaring prices of essential items, particularly Cerelac, a milk substitute.

"There is no entity to control the prices. Those who sell baby food set exorbitant prices. Initially, I purchased seven 200-gram jars of Cerelac for 100 shekels ($27.56). Previously, I could buy half a kilo for 20 ($5.51). Some sellers asked for 200 ($55.11).

"Even if I attempt to negotiate the price, the seller refuses to go lower than 180 shekels ($49.60). Due to its scarcity, others are always willing to bid even higher," she added.

Desperation led Suha to depend on the generosity of a neighbour who shared Celerac from their UNRWA aid, providing much-needed relief. 

Highlighting the impact on food options, Suha said, "Even potatoes, my son's favourite meal, have become a luxury. Before October 7, I could buy 7 kilos for 10 shekels ($2.76). Today, 1-kilogram costs 15 ($4.13)." 

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The rising prices and limited resources present a grim reality for Suha and her son in their current circumstances.

Mohammed Al-Khaldi, a doctor from Gaza, highlighted the critical impact of malnutrition on the health of children. "The lack of nutrients leads to the deterioration of children's health, resulting in anaemia," the doctor explained.

"This necessitates the child's admission to the hospital. The impact is more pronounced on children afflicted with polio, as nutritional deficiency results in anaemia and a loss of body weight, particularly in muscle mass. Children with polio are generally frail, and this nutritional deficit may ultimately lead to a gradual decline in health and, in severe cases, death."

Sameer Abu-Mousa, a retailer from Beit Lahia, said, "The prices massively increased days after the war started. In the northern part of Gaza, there are no food resources, and the aid is so limited because Israel imposes restrictions on the movement of aid trucks there. Most wholesalers have shifted to the south, leaving only a few in the north, selling at inflated prices, especially with the absence of governmental oversight"

Walaa Sabah is a freelance journalist and community outreach and partnership officer at