'I would rather die under Israeli bombs than starve': Hundreds of Palestinian families flee Gaza's north for food

'I would rather die under Israeli bombs than starve': Hundreds of Palestinian families flee Gaza's north for food
"Soldiers from the Israeli army mocked us (...) They were laughing at us and asking us what Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, had done to us," one woman said.
4 min read
04 March, 2024
A Palestinian family eat cactus leaves as they struggle to find food due to ongoing Israeli blockade as they take refuge in a UNRWA school, seeking safety amid Israeli attacks in Beit Lahia, Gaza on 28 February 2024. [Getty]

Contrary to their hopes of remaining at their homes, hundreds of Palestinian families fled from the north of the besieged Gaza Strip, heading south to escape death by starvation in light of increased restrictions by Israel.

Walking long distances by foot under continual Israeli bombing and gunfire, families show signs of exhaustion, fatigue, fear and noticeable weight loss. 

Separately speaking to The New Arab, several families described the situation as horrific, adding, "We are dead in any case, whether we are in the north or the south (...), so I would rather die by Israeli bombing than starve."

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Umm Mohammed, who was at a Jabalia camp in the northern Gaza Strip, told TNA that she had attempted to remain steadfast and stay at home until the end of the war, but the threat of death for her and her four children forced her to leave.

"For five months, my children have not been able to eat the food that helps them move forward in life (...) We have no flour, no bread, no fruits, no vegetables, or any meat or poultry," she said. 

Since 7 October, Israel has been launching a large-scale war on the Gaza Strip after Hamas led a military attack on the Israeli military bases and civilian settlements within and around the "Gaza envelope".

Amid the war, Israel imposed a total blockade on Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip after dividing the enclave into north and south parts and preventing the entry of humanitarian aid and other essential goods.

All international and diplomatic efforts have so far failed to convince Israel to protect civilians from its war, particularly the more than 500,000 Palestinians remaining in the northern regions of the coastal enclave.

"No one has mercy on us. The whole world is watching the massacres that Israel is committing against us, and none of them have done anything (...) Everyone is watching our children die, and they don't even want to save us. They believe that we are just numbers and that we will end one day," Umm Mohammed remarked bitterly. 

Umm Mohammed's journey to find food for her and her children was difficult. She was forced to walk about four hours with her children in tow to reach the coast of Gaza City. There, she was stopped by the Israeli army stopped her; she and her children were searched and then interrogated for an hour before being allowed to move on.  

"Soldiers from the Israeli army mocked us (...) They were laughing at us and asking us what Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, had done to us. They told us that he had brought us destruction and left us alone to die with our children, either because of the bombing or because of hunger," Umm Mohammed said of the experience.

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"They [the Israelis] want us dead, and I want to stay alive to tell the story of our tragedy to the whole world. I am a civilian and have nothing to do with military activities. Still, I will tell my story to this unjust world so they can bear their responsibilities towards us civilians," she added. 

Saad Shehadeh experienced a similar journey. The 10-year-old boy escaped northern Gaza with his two brothers to the south on foot, despite extreme dread that the army would likely kill them during their journey.

Shehadeh, who showed signs of exhaustion, lost his mother and brother in an Israeli bombing. He and his two brothers survived the strike and were pulled out from under the rubble. 

"My father is also missing, and I do not know where he is," he told TNA. 

"After losing my mother," the 10-year-old boy said, "I lived in our house alone without being able to provide food. We ate bitter bird food and drank salt water. I was afraid that we would die of hunger after we survived the Israeli bombing."

Recently, Shehadeh and his two brothers arrived in the city of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, where relatives received the boys and set up a tent for them to sleep.
"Here I found food, bread, and drinking water, but I have not found safety yet... I want to live safely like all the children in the world, to grow up with my brothers, to complete our studies and become active in our society," he said. 

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Extreme hunger prevails in the northern Gaza Strip, impacting tens of thousands who remain there. The spectre of famine looms over all of the Gaza Strip, as about two million people suffer from a severe shortage of food, medicine, and adequate shelter due to intentional restrictions by Israel. 

The Commissioner-General of UNRWA warned, in several statements, that the agency had reached a "breaking point," with Israel's repeated calls to dismantle it and donors, led by the United States, freezing their funding to it to meet the unprecedented humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, the health ministry said that at least 16 children had died due to malnutrition, dehydration, and the lack of medication, while about six children were still in intensive care.