'We didn't die from airstrikes but we are dying from hunger'

‘Hunger is killing us’: Gazans increasingly desperate amid growing humanitarian crisis

Food is running out in northern Strip’s Jabaliya, with aid agencies unable to reach the area due to fighting, looting; man says he slaughtered his horses and fed them to his family

Palestinians line up for free food in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Feb. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Palestinians line up for free food in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Feb. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

At the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza, Abu Gibril was so desperate for food to feed his family that he slaughtered two of his horses.

“We had no other choice but to slaughter the horses to feed the children. Hunger is killing us,” he said.

Jabaliya was the biggest camp in Gaza before the war, which was sparked when Hamas-led terrorists carried out an unprecedented attack on southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and taking 253 hostages to the Strip.

Gibril, 60, fled to Jabaliya from nearby Beit Hanun when the fighting started.

Home for him and his family is now a tent near what was a UN-run school in the area that was for years known as a Hamas stronghold.

Contaminated water, power cuts and overcrowding were already a problem in the densely populated area. Poverty, from high unemployment, was also an issue among Jabaliya’s more than 100,000 residents.

File: Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, February 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Now food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the fighting, and the frenzied looting of the few trucks that try to get through.

The World Food Programme this week said its teams reported “unprecedented levels of desperation” in Gaza while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.

Scavenging and begging

In Jabaliya, bedraggled children wait expectantly, holding plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food is available.

With supplies dwindling, costs are rising. A kilo of rice, for example, has shot up from seven shekels ($1.90) to 55 shekels ($15.19), complained one man.

“We the grown-ups can still make it but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” he said angrily.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the alarming lack of food, surging malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.

A man walks past a truck carrying humanitarian aid from the UK that entered Gaza by truck through the Kerem Shalom on February 17, 2024, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib/AFP)

One in six children aged under two in Gaza was acutely malnourished, it estimated on February 19.

In a report on Thursday, the UN said that the average daily number of trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza had dropped from 200 in January to 57 in the last two weeks, with only 20 trucks making it through some days.

Israel has denied fault for the low numbers and blamed humanitarian organizations operating inside Gaza, saying hundreds of trucks filled with aid sit idle on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom Crossing. The UN, in turn, said it can’t always reach the trucks at the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.

Trucks carrying aid into Gaza have intermittently been held up at Kerem Shalom by Israeli protesters demonstrating against sending humanitarian aid to the Strip while hostages remained in Hamas captivity.

Police prevent activists from blocking trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, January 29, 2024. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Additionally, Israel has long accused Hamas of appropriating and stealing aid from an increasingly desperate civilian population.

Gaza has received 13,834 trucks of humanitarian aid since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, according to a Friday update by Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

According to COGAT, 254,210 tons of supplies have been transferred to the Gaza Strip, including 167,080 tons of food.

However, Gazans have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves to try to stave off the growing hunger pangs.

“There is no food, no wheat, no drinking water,” said one woman.

“We have started begging neighbors for money. We don’t have one shekel at home. We knock on doors and no one is giving us money.”

‘Dying from hunger’

Tempers are rising in Jabaliya about the lack of food and the consequences.

On Friday, an impromptu protest was held involving dozens of people.

One child held up a sign reading: “We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger.”

Another held aloft a placard warning “Famine eats away at our flesh,” while protesters chanted “No to starvation. No to genocide. No to blockade.”

A man sits on the rubble overlooking the debris of buildings that were targeted by Israeli airstrikes in the Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

In Beit Hanun, Gibril used two horses to harvest a parcel of land. But the war destroyed that, along with his house, leaving him with nothing.

Gibril kept the radical decision to slaughter his horses to himself, boiling the meat with rice, and giving it to his unwitting family and neighbors.

Despite the necessity, he said he was still wary of their reaction. “No one knows they were in fact eating a horse.”

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