Bakeries smashed in Gaza bombardment exacerbate hunger crisis

Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, February 19, 2024. (AP Photo/ Mohammed Dahman)
Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, February 19, 2024. (AP Photo/ Mohammed Dahman)

The rubble and twisted metal of Kamel Ajour’s smashed-up Gaza bakery underscores one reason starving people in the north of the bombarded enclave are reduced to eating raw cactus leaves after nearly five months of war.

Bread will be critical to any sustained effort to relieve Palestinian hunger, with the UN saying that one in six children in northern Gaza is wasting from malnutrition, but most bakeries lie in rubble from Israeli bombardment and aid deliveries of flour are rare.

“We have five bakeries. This bakery was bombed and other bakeries have been damaged. We have three bakeries that can become functional,” Ajour says in a video obtained by Reuters in Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza City in the north of the enclave.

A crane lifted equipment that Ajour hoped to salvage from the ruins. Inside, the metal ovens and trays were in a ramshackle pile amid the wreckage.

An Israeli truce proposal now being studied by Hamas would reportedly allow for the import of bakery equipment and fuel to revive the ovens.

“It is most important to have a ceasefire and for bakeries to function again so we can find something to eat, and for our children, our loved ones, our families,” Basel Khairuldeen says in Gaza City.

With bakeries destroyed or unable to function for lack of fuel, people have had to bake bread themselves as best they can over fires made with wood salvaged from ruined buildings.

Even small amounts of flour are often impossible to find, or too expensive to buy when available. People make bread from animal feed and birdseed. Most say they only eat once a day, at most.

Sitting by a still intact house in Jabalia, the Awadeya family has taken to eating the leaves of prickly pear cactuses to ward off hunger.

While the fruit of prickly pear cactuses are commonly eaten around the Mediterranean, the thick, sinewy leaves are only ever consumed by animals, mashed up in their feed.

Marwan al-Awadeya sits in a wheelchair, peeling off the spines and slicing off chunks of the cactus for himself and two small children, in a video obtained by Reuters.

“We’re living in famine. We have exhausted everything. There’s nothing left to eat,” he said, adding that he had lost 30 kg (66 pounds) from hunger during the conflict.

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